Are You Built for a Do-It-Yourself House Kit?

Hal M. Bundrick, CFP®
By Hal M. Bundrick, CFP® 
Edited by Amanda Derengowski

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"I wanted to build something,” Jennifer Buck says. So she’s building a two-story, 2,000-square-foot home in Sharon, Connecticut — from a kit.

"I'm going to be 48 years old. Before I get any older, I'm doing it," she adds. Though Buck admits to one important weakness:

“I'm awful at measuring."

You would think that’d be a deal breaker, she mentions with a laugh. Apparently not.

Half the cost of contractor bids

Jennifer Buck and her DIY home, mid-build.

Jennifer Buck and her DIY home, mid-build. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Buck.)

Buck’s project is a sizable two-story house. Dave Kimball of New Hampshire-based Shelter-Kit, which sold Buck her home, says most of the kits his company sells are custom designed; it’s not a one-size-fits-all business.

“We do a lot of the larger buildings but are working on several 16-foot-by-24-foot cabins at this time,” Kimball says. “The size seems to vary year by year.”

Buck says her motivation — other than a “creative outlet,” as she calls it — was having an affordable home. Average wage earners couldn’t afford a median-priced home in 68% of 446 U.S. counties analyzed in an ATTOM Data Solutions report released in late March. The counties included in the study represent nearly 70% of the U.S. population.

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Labor costs are one reason why. Though Buck wanted a simple design, contractors were submitting quotes of $400,000, she says. Buck’s DIY "home in a box," built on three acres she’s owned for years, is nearly completed and will cost about half that when all is said and done. And that includes a new septic system that alone cost $25,000.

Kimball says Shelter-Kit homes qualify for financing by a typical mortgage lender. However, home kit plans and providers vary widely, with prices ranging from $20 per square foot to more than $400. Lender enthusiasm for financing may vary as well.

The ‘OMG’ moment

Flatbeds deliver the ingredients for Buck's two-story house. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Buck.)

Flatbeds deliver the ingredients for Buck's two-story house. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Buck.)

When two 18-wheeler flatbed trailers delivered 30 pallets of building materials — and a 35-page step-by-step instruction manual — Buck had an “OMG” moment.

"There's a house on my lawn!” she thought. “I just have to put it together.” So Buck took a hiatus from her full-time marketing job and jumped in.

Each piece of the kit was numbered and cut to the proper length, and the kit included everything she needed, even nails. She has spent nearly all of six months building the house, almost completely on her own. Her brother Kyle — a carpenter, thankfully — helps on Sundays.

Buck contracted out the construction of the foundation but built the first-floor decking and walls herself. She estimates there’s about a month's worth of work remaining.

"I'd do it over again, five times," she says. "More women should do it. They shouldn't be intimidated."

She concedes there were setbacks.

"The one time when something was off, it turned out that I had measured it wrong."

Top photo courtesy of Jennifer Buck.

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