Finding our Barndominium Builder
Updated: Dec 24, 2020
Sometimes, Google doesn’t have all the answers
Like most people starting this process, we relied heavily on Google. In the search for our builder, google let us down. We tried things like "custom home builders near me", "general contractors", or "barndominium builder", but we got just about nowhere. We called every reputable company we could find, and none of them were interested in our project.
After two weeks of reaching out to established builders, I was frustrated and completely discouraged, each call played out the same. "you want what?... why...well that’s a commercial building, not a house. No, you’re goanna want...blah blah blah" every person we called tried to tell us what we wanted, and totally ignored what we were asking for. Most were condescending and some downright confrontational. They spoke to us as if we were asking them to build a ball pit in our living room complete with a slide in lieu of stairs.
Ultimately, we gave up on the mainstream builders.
Come to find out, our state isn’t big on barndo’s
We moved to North Carolina from Central Texas, where barndo's are commonplace, so it was shocking when we realized that no one was building them here. I figured there had to be someone that didn't mind hearing me out on our dream or looking at my handwritten plans, so after the 2nd week of calling and being treated like I didn't have a clue what I was doing, I moved on planning the build myself. For us that meant making our own floorplans, researching the prices of steel buildings, finding our visual inspiration, and convincing someone to help me make it happen.
If you plan it, they will come
Moving on without a builder nailed down was exactly the right move for us. By the time I knew what I wanted, down to the roof pitch and type of building, we were in contact with a structural engineering firm. Our contact at the firm was supposed to help with the framing, electrical, and plumbing plans. They told me about a contractor they knew from a commercial job who might curious about our build. He shot me the contractor’s email and encouraged me to reach out. Turns out we were a perfect fit. Our contractor is new to running his own business, though he’s been working in the industry for more than 20 years (he's in his early 30’s so we were impressed with is experience).
The meet and greet
We met for the first time at our property, about two weeks after we bought it. At that point nothing had been cleared, the corners were barely marked, and you definitely couldn't walk it. We brought copies of all our plans, the site map (where the well, septic, and house will be placed), our site survey, and plenty of pictures from Pinterest. Although we could tell this would be new territory for him, he said something that encouraged us to move push on. “I think this would be a really interesting project to work out. I’ve built beach houses all over the island, but this would be a great challenge.” Those words were so relieving. We weren’t all in on him at that point, but E. and I had finally found someone willing to work with us on what we wanted, not what sounded the most simple or typical.
This takes time
From February through July our contact was minimal; He would call and text to check in on our status, and make sure there wasn’t anything we needed to make our decision. Our long pause was due to E. not having new orders. We’d have loved to order our building and start construction months ago, but you never know if the Navy will do what they say they’re going to do. In those months we kept researching, worked on our plans, and checked his references. Everyone he referred us to was complimentary and some of them invited us to see his finished work. In early July we got concrete orders to move to the coast and since then, everything is moving forward as planned.
Here we are, in August
This morning we had our most productive meeting yet. I started the day at 3:30 AM, worked on cleaning up our plans, making copies of relevant quotes and inspiration pictures, and laid everything out on our kitchen table for us to go over together. We started by reviewing our finalized plans, and then went down the original budget he presented, amending each line item with our new measurements and material choices. All of the homework I did over the last few months really helped smooth this meeting out. We knew what we wanted our insulation to consist of, our window and door sizes, ceiling heights, the cost of every fixture, the time it would take to get our building erected, and many more details that are going to help us get an accurate number for final costs.
Our recommendations at this point
Do your own research on potential builders- Don't be afraid to dig around or ask for proof of competence. You deserve to know what to expect of your builder.
Understand what you want your building to do for you- How will your contractor/architect/designer bring your dream to life if they don't know exactly what that dream is?
Spend the time and energy to wrap your mind around what things cost- Things don't always cost what you think they will, so get quotes on your own before you involve someone else in your build. Doing that will help you modify your plan to fit your budget.
Find someone who wants to make you happy- One thing we refused to settle for is a contractor who didn't care about what we wanted. The last thing Id encourage anyone to do, is work with someone who thinks they know more about your needs than you do. Your builder should strive to get you what you want. That's what you're paying them for.
Get everything out on the table before you invest- Its not always easy to be a "good" client, but sometimes you have to remember. you aren't the only person who has expectations. When dealing with contractors always be honest and clear, and ask them what their expectations are for you as a client. You don't want to be in the way or disrupt the hierarchy on the job site by swinging your "Its my house" power around. Your contractor has to delegate and deal directly with subcontractors, try to respect the relationship that he/she has with them. If you picked someone you can trust, this shouldn't be an issue.