Friday, December 01, 2006

What'll it look like?

So we've met with the Res 4 guys a few times and exchanged lots of emails and phone calls and we're getting closer to a design.

This is what we're looking at right now:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More Catch Up

The other big thing we've done this fall is decide on an architect. We love the Dwell House (who doesn't) but assumed something like that would be out of our price range (we're also committed to keeping this a small project size-wise - we're envisioning renters who are interested in see what a prefab project looks like from the inside, not groups that need a four bedroom house for a weeklong vacation). I was able to talk a bit with Joe Tanney from Res4 during the Building Museum symposium on prefab, and after explaining the intent of the project by email we set up an appt to meet in NYC to go over some options.

Res4's prefab designs are all premised on combining factory produced 16' wide (and as much as 64' long) boxes into whatever size/shape house you're looking for. They work with a conventional modular home manufacturer in Pennsylvania (Simplex Industries) that produces about 600 modular units a year (that's about 250 finished houses); after working with a few different manufacturers, it sounds like Res4 has settled on these guys as pretty good partners. We thought just a single 16'x 64' box would be perfect for us: 2BR,1BA, an open living space and lots of glass to take in the woods and view. Ideally, the box would be delivered as close to finished as possible for all the reasons that prefab makes sense: most efficient building process, defined build time and cost.

Joe and his partner Rob Luntz were both enthusiastic about the idea and had been curious to see just how much their module manufacturers could get done in the factory. They had already done some rough sketches for us, and we talked rough numbers for budget and $/sf targets (they ballparked a 90% completed manufactured unit at between $125 and $150/sf, which would translate to about $150K for the house, all inclusive - decks, appliances, floors, the whole house). They explained the timeline, which was a bit longer than we'd thought we might be able to get all this done in (we were being much too optimistic about that, something I'll take up later) - about a year, they thought, from engagement, maybe a bit shorter for our project (fewer permits - surprisingly, the manufacture time isn't really affected by the size/number of boxes involved). They also indicated that they were very excited about the possibility of seeing just how inexpensively they could get a simple project out the door, as well as in having a project to which they could direct potential clients ("go rent this house for the weekend; see what you think" kinda deal). We had a great meeting (nice to be back in NYC, even if just for the day); John and Rob said they'd get a formal proposal (scope of project, fees, schedule) out to us that week. We signed on and began the process of working with the Res4 team on a preliminary design (basically by phone and email).

(For those wondering about other options: I'd had some back and forth with the weeHouse folks, who were awfully nice (that Minnesota charm). We decided that their homes would be less appealing to potential buyers down the road should we choose to sell. We love all of Michelle Kaufmann's projects, but unfortunately she's not working out here on the east coast yet. I'm also a big fan of the LV and the Luminhaus, but it's a bit stark and there's already one of those available for renters just around the corner from us.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lots to catch up on

Well, it's been awhile since I've posted. I'll try to run through everything (I've been keeping good notes...).

We closed on our land in Lost River, WV in August (the top picture is a view from one of the potential building sites). There's a great state park (Lost River State Park) just a mile down the road and a fresh water lake with a white sand beach about ten minutes away (that's the picture on the bottom). About 2.5 hours door to door from DC. There's a pretty vibrant second home community in the Lost River Valley these days, with a lot of visitors drawn to the Lost River Guest House.

As I noted earlier, the parcel is 30 acres, with some steep grades and tricky access issues. It appears this was priced into the $/acre, though we'll see what access finally costs at the end of the day. We've met with three different excavators, all of whom say we'll be able to get a suitable road up to the good building sites. Access remains a question mark, but we're moving ahead with fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Living Green at the NBM

On my birthday we celebrated by going to the National Building Museum to hear the symposia on pre-fab. The editor of fabprefab spoke on the history of prefab housing and why the sudden revival of interest in architecture and design circles, and Michelle Kaufmann and Joe Tanney both spoke about their firms and their designs. We've been talking with Res4 a bit by email about their projects and hope to meet with Joe in NYC next week to talk some nuts and bolts. Their "single bar" design - the foundational component of their custom prefab homes - seems about perfect for us at this point. Modest size and price, relatively quick turnaround time, and a great looking house. We'll post more after our meeting.

Moving along...

We made an offer on a piece of land in Lost River, WV last week and we think we've got a deal. Thirty acres, already subdivided into three 10 acre lots, $142K. Also an option on ten adjoining acres for about the same $/acre. Unrestricted land, no homeowners association, no infrastructure in place. We're going to have to put some money into getting a suitable road to the desirable home sites, but we now have the option to build more than one home sometime in the future.

After meeting with two contractors and an excavator before making our offer (all of whom said getting a road to the homesites would be no problem), I met with another excavator today who was skeptical. So a little a bit of anxiety about that. We put a very small deposit down so I suppose we'll get some more opinions before we close, but I'm optimistic.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The last four weeks

Since we sold our place at the end of April (and made up our mind we were going to give this a shot) we've been looking for a site on which to build. Our only real requirements were: not too much more than a two hour drive and a natural setting with privacy. We brainstormed about the relative benefits and disadvantages of the many mountains, lakes, beaches and forests close to DC, but in the end - after staying at Jennifer Watson's spectacular Luminhaus - we came to believe that people interested in modern prefab are going to come for the house. So that's our focus. I've been to Harpers Ferry, the Shenandoah Valley, Berkeley Springs, Cumberland, Falling Waters, you name it. We've pretty much settled on being in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia for a couple of reasons: beautiful, unspoiled and sparsely populated mountains, relatively close to DC, a new highway (Corridor H) being built that will soon make it even easier to get there, and no building codes! Just pay your permit fee and build away.

We've looked at sites with spectacular views and some set in the midst of dense woods, land with water access and streams on the property, land close to "attractions," etc. We've decided that unrestricted land is the way to go (no restrictive covenants, no HOAs, no one to worry about offending or giving us a hard time) and have put a premium on size (as a buffer for privacy and to accommodate the possibility of building another rental/vacation home on the property down the road). We've found some good prospects in Hardy County, WV, and we'll update as we firm up a site.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A bit about money

In surfing as much as I have over the sites of folks who've begun similar projects, one thing I know I want out of such a resource is some context regarding a project's budget. So we're going to be frank about what things cost and how things are shaking out. We've got a rough budget of about $350K. That might change depending on lots of different variables (interest rates, what sort of rental income we might get on the house, etc.), but either way we'll let you know what things cost.

The Project

Sarah and I are smitten with modern prefab architecture. We (Sarah, really) first discovered such a thing even existed when a few years ago we began exploring affordable construction options for a maybe vacation home in the Adirondacks, where Sarah's parents have a place (and are running out of room for the extended family). We recently sold an apartment I owned before we were married and had been renting, and now have a bit of money to put toward a weekend place that we can also rent out some. We're in DC and West Virginia seems to be our best bet. This blog will be our diary.