Garden Betty Builds a House / House & Home

A Surprise Move With a Silver Lining

A surprise move with a silver lining

Remember when things seemed to be cooking along last summer after we got our septic feasibility approved and our plans fully designed and engineered?

Fast forward to this summer… We recently celebrated one year of owning our property and as of last month, we’re living on it.

But we haven’t built our house yet. Haven’t even started.

Let me backtrack a bit.

Golden deciduous trees on our rural property

Last fall (November 2019), we finally got all the numbers together for our new construction. We finished our plans, found our general contractor, picked our subcontractors, and decided on most of our interior and exterior finishes.

It took a little longer than we expected to have real, hard numbers, but if you’ve ever built a home — or even just taken on a home renovation — you know the amount of decisions to be made (and the annoyance of waiting on other people) is mind-boggling, to say the least.

But with all of our costs broken down in detail, we could finally go to the bank and say, “Here’s our budget.”

However, I’d just had a baby (who’s now 10 months old — geez, if you want to time travel, be a parent) and we were exhausted from a hectic summer. We decided to take a break over the holidays and just enjoy family time before jumping into a new project.

In January 2020, we met with our bank to begin the loan process. Getting approved for a construction loan is very different from a mortgage loan, especially since we were taking on some of the work ourselves (unofficially acting as our own GC) and paying for certain things out of pocket.

Fresh snowfall on our Central Oregon property
Our mobile home in the snow

We knew from the get-go that building a house was more expensive than buying a house in Bend, but we didn’t know how much more.

We couldn’t get preapproved for a construction loan until we finalized our construction budget, but we couldn’t finalize our construction budget until we had our house plans. We also didn’t know how big or small to design our house unless we knew the costs, but costs can’t be estimated until the blueprints are done and finishes are chosen.

There are so many moving parts that all rely on each other in custom home construction that we more or less went into this blindly. And though we’d budgeted some money for closing costs and permits, we should’ve budgeted more for other soft costs like design and engineering, asbestos abatement, demolition, deposit for our GC — things we could’ve rolled into the loan, but preferred not to.

Our long-term goal is to pay off the house in 15 years, and we can’t do that with a larger loan.

Frequently Asked Question

How much does it cost to build a brand-new house?

In Bend, Oregon, the average cost of custom home construction in 2020 (not including the cost of land) is $250 to $275 per square foot.

That’s not nothing, which is why we plan to put in some sweat equity to save on labor (a significant portion of the budget).

So after getting all of our loan estimates, we decided to postpone the build for one year to save up more money.

Not only that, we decided to maximize our savings by moving out of our rental and into the mobile home on our property.

It was a tough call, let me tell you! It meant having to downsize while our family had expanded, and moving three more times before the new house would be built (into the mobile, then into a short-term rental during construction, and finally into our new house).

Fawn and deer wandering through the grass on our property

It also meant putting off our dreams for another year when we’re soooo close to achieving it.

But we felt it was the smartest thing to do. We’d spent most of our money buying the land, and we wanted to rebuild our savings and get a good safety net in place so we wouldn’t have to stress over finances.

You know the term “house rich, cash poor”? We wanted to avoid that.

By moving, we’d be able to live mortgage-free in the mobile home, build up more equity, and have cash on hand (more than we think we’ll need) for the eventual construction.

Frequently Asked Question

How are you able to live mortgage-free in the home?

We paid actual money for the property. It was money we’d originally set aside as a down payment for a house, but we ended up buying a tear-down (for the land) instead.

We also started seeing signs of volatility in the global economy…

Within a few weeks, quarantine went into effect all over the country and we were certain we’d made the right decision after all.

Did we dodge a bullet with labor shortages, supply chain delays, and stricter financing guidelines? Possibly.

It took all of May, June, and part of July to fix up the mobile home to make it livable for a family of four. (Things have moved much more slowly with a baby who’s newly crawling, and a toddler who’s needy and missing all her friends and teachers.)

Dad and daughters on a tree swing

We didn’t want to put a lot of money into a structure that’s just going to be torn down, but we had to make it clean and safe for our kids, and comfortable enough for us to work from home.

We ran into a few roadblocks with leaks and broken pipes (as we never thought to winterize the house, thinking we would’ve demo’ed it by now), but I’m happy to say we’re moved in and unpacked, and this humble little place really does feel like home the longer we’re in it.

The chickens are loving their new pasture — they have free range of more than half an acre right now. The weeds are overgrown and the grasshoppers are abundant, both of which are keeping our flock full and happy.

Flock of three chickens free-ranging in the tall grass in front of the coop

So what’s next? Is this an unexpected intermission during #GardenBettyBuildsAHouse?

Far from it!

Rather than designing the yard after our house is built, we’re going to work in reverse — plotting the entire garden now while we’re living here, and building the house next year.

Last week, I printed out dozens of copies of our site plan and started laying out not only the vegetable garden, but also the chicken run, greenhouse, pond, and food forest. The chicken run and vegetable garden will be a priority this summer, as they’ll be integrated in the final design.

We obviously won’t be planting anything this year, but have lots of raised beds and fencing to build to keep us busy the next couple of months.

I’ll share my garden plans as soon as I refine them a bit more. The silver lining to having extra time at home this summer (and not traveling like we normally do) is having this big, juicy project to take our minds off all the other unknowns.

Despite what’s going on in the world, I feel thankful that we have a warm roof over our heads, the means to provide for our family, and good health all around.

Our forever house will get built when it’s built.

Linda Ly About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »