Building a home is a wild journey full of twists and turns, and my family’s journey began years before we actually broke ground.
Like, five years… and I’m thrilled to say we’re finally moving ahead with construction! But before I fill you in on the whirlwind of the past few months, let me take you back to the beginning.
2017: House hunting
If you’ve been patiently following along on my blog series, Garden Betty Builds a House, you might remember that we started looking at real estate a few months before we moved to Bend, Oregon, in the fall of 2017.
Initially we were looking to buy a house (a fixer-upper), but realized that we could easily spend the same amount of money renovating an old home as we would building a brand-new custom home.
After more than a year of fruitless drive-bys and showings, we decided to refocus our search and look for empty, buildable parcels (or teardowns). Building a new home from scratch was never part of our life plan, but it made the most sense for our growing family and lifestyle.
We eventually found the plot of land that would become our forever home and closed escrow in the summer of 2019.
2019: Designing our house—then putting on the brakes
We spent the first few months of new landownership designing our dream house, even going so far as finding a builder and starting the loan process. We crunched all the numbers and the project was doable, buuuut…
We would’ve had to sacrifice our lifestyle to make ends meet. We would’ve had to be super careful not to go over budget, at all. We would’ve had to drain the rest of our savings in order to build a house. And none of that sounded fun, or smart.
It became clear that we needed to be in a better position financially before committing to the biggest project of our lives.
On top of that, strange things were happening in China and we had a weird feeling about all the volatility in the global market…
Perhaps there was some foreshadowing here? Because just a few weeks after we decided to put the project on hold, the entire world shut down and the construction industry would not be the same again.
2020: Moving into the teardown
We decided to move into the teardown on our property (after making a few minor structural and cosmetic changes) so we could live mortgage-free and spend the next year rebuilding our savings. (We had paid for the property outright using cash that was originally slated for a house down payment.)
The good: We got to live on the land and make sure we truly loved how the house was designed. At a time when all the trails and parks were closed, it was amazing to have all that space outside.
The bad: We’d just had a baby, so we essentially downsized our house at the same time our family had grown. (Fortunately, we had a 40-foot cargo container onsite where half our life was stored.)
I did mention that this temporary living arrangement was only supposed to last a year, right?
2021: Lumber became the new toilet paper
Well, one year turned into two loooong years.
As we all know, the world was far from returning to “normal” in 2021. Supply chains were still bottlenecked, and lumber prices were peaking at $1,600 per thousand board feet in May 2021 (exactly one year after we moved, and around the time we thought we’d start construction).
Honestly, we just couldn’t justify building a house when lumber was setting astronomical records!
It was a jarring contrast to the end of 2019 when we were designing our house: lumber prices had fallen to their lowest point (since 2015) at around $350 per thousand board feet. Our house would’ve cost several tens of thousands of dollars more to build, all with the same lumber.
To illustrate that rollercoaster, check out the graph below. The far right side shows where we were at in January 2023 when we broke ground—back to where we started at $351 per thousand board feet. Whew!
If the home improvement insanity had gone on any further, I was seriously considering looking into alternative framing methods like ICF or SIP, which do not rely on traditional timber framing. These were methods that we’d actually explored in our initial design research, but had written off because they were—at the time—more expensive than stick framing in our market.
But we continued to hold out hope.
To pass the time while we waited out world events, we started working on the backyard. I drew up garden plans for our 1 1/2-acre property, built a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden (a process that I turned into an online course called Lazy Gardening Academy), planted 18 fruit trees in our new orchard, and welcomed a few more chickens to our flock. I learned a lot in my first year with the new garden, especially when it came to winter gardening.
While our homestead was slowly evolving, lumber prices started falling by the end of 2021 and supply chain problems started easing—enough for us to revisit the idea of building a house. Which led us to…
2022: Picking up where we left off
In early 2022, my husband and I started talking in earnest about The House. We had our blueprints tacked to the wall of the dining room, reminding us every day of what the end goal was, and we were ready to permanently put down roots.
With our second kiddo now a toddler, we were also outgrowing the teardown. It was a 1974 mobile home that was showing its age, and we didn’t want to put any (more) money into repairs.
Like everywhere else, real estate prices in Bend skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021. This was true for existing homes as well as new construction. Our house—as we had designed it—was going to cost a lot more to build than we’d originally budgeted back in 2019.
Not only that, but interest rates were rising fast. Even though 6 percent wasn’t much higher than what construction rates were in 2019, it was considerably higher than the rates of 2021.
But in that same time period, my business grew unexpectedly (and continues to increase exponentially year over year, which was a major factor in getting our construction loan approved). We also exceeded our savings goals by 100 percent, so we felt confident moving forward.
Ah, but another twist!
Our original home builder (whom we’d met in 2019) decided to go on hiatus and spend a year or two overseas. That left us scrambling to find another builder who vibed with our vision and could start in fall or winter.
I researched dozens of builders in Central Oregon, read every review I could find, and even went so far as looking up permits for previous projects they’d worked on. I’m sure my husband thought I’d reached a new level of obsession.
Eventually, we landed on our ideal builder with solid relationships and a long history in town. He shared similar values (even similar interests, which we appreciate), didn’t try to gouge us, and happily sat down to a four-hour first meeting to go over our project with no guarantee that we’d hire him. I fully believe that everything fell into place as they were meant to.
He lived in the same neighborhood (we love the idea of keeping it super local), his longtime excavator happened to be our awesome next-door neighbor (a coincidence that we only discovered at the end of our meeting), and he was finishing another home build in fall, which meant he could move right into our project.
That summer, we updated our house plans to comply with current building codes, got our building permits, put more things in storage, and moved out of the teardown.
We rented a three-bedroom home in a newer subdivision not too far from the building site. Renting another house for 12 months (especially when rental prices were also going through the roof) was not ideal since we were “throwing away” a decent chunk of money on rent, but totally necessary for our mental health.
(We learned this lesson from friends of ours, who built their house a couple years ago in the same neighborhood. They lived on their job site in a travel trailer with two toddlers, an acre full of moon dust, and no washer and dryer. To this day, they joke about having PTSD and won’t even go camping in a trailer.)
After a somewhat harrowing underwriting process (which any self-employed person trying to get a mortgage might understand), we closed on our construction loan and demolished the teardown in November 2022.
2023: The next phase of our journey begins
So we’re entering a new year, and lumber prices have dropped to 2019 levels (though metal—and any building material made from petroleum—has gone up). There’s chatter of recession, which by some accounts is already here. Bend is experiencing its coldest and snowiest winter in several years, and I’m convinced it’s because we broke ground on our new house. (Finagle’s Law, right?)
But builders in Bend are hardy folks, and a little snow on the ground isn’t going to stop them (though it might delay certain stages like concrete pouring).
We’ve gotten lucky with some rain here and there, which melt away the snow and warm up the air. But until spring arrives, we don’t really know what will happen each week until that week. The crew is working fast and staying flexible to keep ahead of Mother Nature!
All that to say—it’s going to be an interesting (if not tumultuous) year with plenty more turns and detours.
For the next 9, 10, 12? months, I’ll be sharing updates on each phase of construction, giving you a glimpse into our house plans, discussing the finances of it all (which seems like a topic that’s often left out but is the part I’m always most curious about), and showing you what it’s really like to build a custom home from the ground up. Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Follow along as Garden Betty Builds a House:
- And Just Like That, We Are Officially Landowners
- Why We Decided to Build a Custom Home
- Pre-Construction Progress: Septic Feasibility, House Plans, and Property Cleanup
- How We Found Land to Build On—and How You Can, Too
- A Surprise Move With a Silver Lining
- The Home Building Begins: A Recap of the Last 5 Years
- Demo Day: Tearing Down Our Old House