Building vs. Buying

Build your own cabin or buy an existing cabin? It’s a big decision, and there are a few things I always like to tell people before they make it.

First, in most cases, you’ll get a better deal on an existing cabin. You’ll also be able to see exactly what you are getting, and there will be no misunderstandings about colors, appliances, and build standards. Most, if not all, of the problems will have already been solved by the previous owners of the cabin.

There’s an undeniable appeal to building your own dream cabin, on a piece of property that you’ve fallen in love with in the mountains. But you should go into it with your eyes open, knowing that it is a big commitment.

Let’s start with the lot. It will need a soil science test, at a cost of about $350, to determine whether it is suitable for septic approval. Assuming it is approved for septic, you will need a septic permit and a building permit. Some site work will probably be needed at the lot, which means tree cutting and grading.

The most important decision, of course, is who to hire as a builder. I’d like to tell you that all mountain builders are good builders, but that isn’t true. The established builders with good reputations are understandably busy, which means that they are probably booked a year or two ahead. In dealing with any builder, it is important to get more than one quote, and to specify exactly what you want in terms of basic construction and upgrades. The time to nail these details down is before the building starts. In designing your cabin, it is well to consider issues of conformity, which affect your new cabin’s potential resale value (see my discussion of conformity for details). It’s a very good idea to arrange to view other cabins built by the builders you are interviewing, and to try to talk to their owners about their level of satisfaction. You should be aware that the enforcement of building standards in our area is probably not as aggressive as what you are used to at home.

If you are in a position to supervise the building, or at least to personally monitor progress on a weekly basis, you will be much better off. It’s best to plan for delays, due both to weather and to your builder’s other projects. It’s a rare project that doesn’t have issues, and if you are the sort of person who becomes impatient and frustrated when things don’t go as you planned, building a cabin will definitely try your patience. You should be aware that mountain standards of politeness often lead people to agree to do things they have no intention of doing, or agree to meet deadlines they have no intention of meeting. Some say that if someone tells you he’ll be over on Friday, you should be sure to ask him if he means this Friday.

Still in all, if you have the resources, patience, and time to build your own cabin, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. With a little planning and persistence, you can get the cabin you want in a spot that you have chosen, and there’s probably no better feeling.


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