The Crab Shack

September
25
2013

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A kind reader asked me to show you around the inside of the “Crab Shack.”  You’ve seen the outside, and I’ve mentioned that we actually were going to build a different building, one we called the “Boat House,” modeled after the lighthouses on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  But, after all the soil testing and the modifications and the collapse of the economy, we scaled it down.  John found plans online, Katrina cottage plans, and much to our builder’s delight, we still decided to build something.  We love our little “Crab Shack,” and yet, if we had it to do over again, there would be a change or two we would make.  We don’t have room for a table and chairs, so we would probably push the front of the building out maybe four more feet, giving us room for not only the table, but a dishwasher.  It would also make the “living” room a bit bigger, and with the amount of company we sometimes have, that would be a good thing.  But for the two of us, it’s wonderful.  Have a look:

This is what you see when you walk in the front door

This is what you see when you walk in the front door

 

When Thom, our builder, first painted the place, he called us and said we should come down and take a look at it.  He thought the color might be too dark.  So we took a trip down, looked at each other and said, “It’s perfect!”

As you first walk in, the kitchen is to your right.

As you first walk in, the kitchen is to your right.

While we were looking at tiles for the backsplash (and bathroom and fireplace) John saw these heron tiles for behind the stove and just fell in love with them.  We (as you will see) love using herons in our decorating, so these were perfect!  We had to “fit” a refrigerator into the space, we only had so much room, and we were lucky to find something that fit exactly right.  I have learned, however, that I don’t really like the freezer on the bottom!  I know it’s very popular now, and many people really like it, but I find that things get buried down at the bottom, and with “Reynauds” in my hands, rummaging around in the freezer is not my favorite thing to do.  You understand, right?  I’m going to stick with the side by side for the main house.

The "living" room is to your left when you come in the front door.

The “living” room is to your left when you come in the front door.

 

We had this couch, chair and coffee table from our place in Pennsylvania, but we think it goes pretty well here.  We had Thom make the TV stand to fit right in between the windows and we bought the leather chair and ottoman because it was a smaller profile and fit in that space so well.

When we first started building, we decided John would do most of the “decorating” of the Crab Shack, and I would do the house.  We both wound up making the decisions, but the Crab Shack does have more of a “fishing” cabin feel because of his choices.  It’s cute though, it fits the area.  The chair on this side is from my mother in law’s apartment, we also think it fits in well.

 

Looking back at front door

Looking back at front door

The stairs at the far end of the living room lead up to the loft.  Originally we thought John would use the loft as an office, plus it would also be a bedroom for guests.  We found out, however, that the reception for his phone (and therefore his internet connection through his phone) was not the best up there, and he moved his office to the room above the garage.  So now, it’s a guest room.

Heading up the stairs to the loft is the fishing wall of fame.

Heading up the stairs to the loft is the fishing wall of fame.

 

The loft area

The loft area

 

From up in the loft

From up in the loft

 

Looking down into living room.

Looking down into living room.

 

 

See our fun fan?  We first saw it at the Blue Point Restaurant at the Hyatt Resort in Cambridge, MD.  (If you’re ever around there, give it a try, the food is great!) It reminded us of boat propellers!  So we tracked it down, went to Dan’s Fan City in Laurel, MD and we think it fits in perfectly!

Okay, moving on, as you walk down the hallway, the first room after the kitchen on the right hand side is the bathroom.  When we first saw the room before it was actually built, when it was just studs, I couldn’t picture how everything would fit it!  I thought we’d be squished in the shower so that your arms would be touching all the walls!  But, small as it is, it’s got plenty of room!

Here's what the kitchen and bathroom looked like

Here’s what the kitchen and bathroom looked like

Little Choptank 2013  H August 2 to Sept 4 500

 

Little Choptank 2013  H August 2 to Sept 4 503

 

After the bathroom, again on the right hand side, is the mudroom/laundry room.  Thom did advise us to add to the original plans in the back part of the house, so we expanded it about 4 feet.  It gave us a bigger mudroom, and also a bigger bedroom.

Looking from the door in the hallway out to the back

Looking from the door in the hallway out to the back

 

This angle is from the back door to the door in the hallway

This angle is from the back door to the door in the hallway

And then, if you’re back in the hallway, the room on the left hand side is our bedroom.  We’re so glad Thom advised us to make it bigger.  We love waking up and being able to look out at the water. We pinch ourselves and can’t believe we were lucky enough to find and buy this property.

Looking in from the door in the hall

Looking in from the door in the hall

 

We recently purchased the artwork that is over the bed.  Again, herons.

We recently purchased the artwork that is over the bed. Again, herons.

 

Here's a closer look at the artwork.  Looks like it was just made for us!

Here’s a closer look at the artwork. Looks like it was just made for us!

Heron lamps too!

Heron lamps too!

 

Looking back to the hallway

Looking back to the hallway

 

Back deck and patio area.

Back deck and patio area.

Thank you for joining our tour of the inside of the Crab Shack.  It was the first time we built anything, and we never realized how many decisions and choices we’d have to make.  It gave us a good preview of what we’ll be doing when we start building the house next year.  I’ve read if a couple can survive building a house together, they can survive anything.  We say, bring it on!

 

Crab Shack and garage from the water.

Crab Shack and garage from the water.

Enjoy the sunset!

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Builder’s Contracts

July
15
2013

When we first decided to build our retirement house, we were sort of naive.  Sure, like most people, we’ve had some construction done on the different houses we’ve lived in, some renovating here and there.  But a whole house?

In our case, we started with the garage, then went onto the “crab shack”- which of course is a house, although a small one.  It was a good thing actually  that we did do our plan that way, because when we start on the house – probably next year -  we will be so much wiser!

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We didn’t realize, for instance, that there are different kinds of contracts you can negotiate with a builder.  According to Amy Johnston in her book, “What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You,” (a book I will be reviewing soon), there are about 5 or 6 different types, but to me, many are the same as each other, and some aren’t really “contracts”- but ways of building your house, such as Design/Build – which is you go to one company and they do it all, from designing the house to building it.  Or Modular Construction, where you buy from a manufacturer that builds the house in a factory, again, an option for building, but to me, not a contract with a builder to stick-build your house.  Another option Ms. Johnston mentions is Build-to-Suit.  This is where you buy a developer’s lot, usually in a community, and have a choice from houses that the developer builds.  You can customize it a bit, but basically the plan is already set.  Two that come to mind that are this type are Toll Brothers, and K Hovnanian Homes.  But again, this doesn’t seem like a “builder’s contract” to us.

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For the way we want to build, there are two kinds of contracts; Time and Materials, and Fixed Bid. (Meaning we come up with the plans for the house, either from online or have a draftsperson or architect do them, then interview a few different builders, then have each one come up with a price for building the house.)

The Time and Materials type of bid, in our opinion, mostly favors the builder.  It basically is based on the number of hours it will take the builder to finish the project, plus the cost of the materials you specify. The small advantage for the owner is that he will pay for only the actual time worked.  Some of these contracts come with a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) which is a little help for the homeowner.  It specifies the contractor agrees not to go beyond a certain price. The builder may then have allowances for any unknown issues.  Also, a time limit may be written in to the contract, and the builder actually has to pay you if the job takes much, much longer than written into the contract.  Not one builder of the many we spoke with agreed with that portion of the contract.  There are too many variables to predict a building timeline, but I guess if you had to be out of your present place and into your new place, this might be an option you would want to think about adding in.

We actually used the Time and Materials contract when we had the garage built.  And believe it or not, the project came in under budget.  However, it is only a garage… and there aren’t appliances in there that I would want to upgrade, a situation that is all too common when building a house.

We also used it with the Crab Shack, since it had gone so well with the garage.  Well, this was a completely different story, and also the reason why we would not use a Time and Materials contract again.  Yes, we upgraded things as we went along, something we realized always happens.  Really, always.  Then, parts of the metal roofing were missing, and the first go-round they sent the wrong thing.  But our builder had his guys working on it, installing it before realizing it wasn’t the right pieces, and of course, we paid for that time.  Other situations like that happened.  Time adds up very quickly and adds a lot to the total cost.

The Fixed Price Bid includes the cost of performing the work, purchase of materials, plus the mark-up for overhead and profit. With this contract, we feel the advantage is more with the homeowner, since you know the cost up front, and no matter how long it takes the builder to fix issues, the price stays the same.  The disadvantage for the builder is if the job runs long, or if he has underestimated the cost.  If you have a good relationship with your builder and trust him or her, this won’t be an issue, but some contractor’s have been known to use lesser grade materials than stipulated to save costs and increase profits.  No matter what, it helps to be on site regularly to check on the work.

Stipulations can also be built-in to this type of contract, for instance, the specific schedule, or a reporting schedule, where the builder sends regular updates on work completed and even pictures.  We did this with the Crab Shack, but we plan to be living IN the Crab Shack while the house is being built, so we’ll have the advantage of seeing what’s going on every day!

With this Fixed Price Bid, the builder gives you “allowances” for your appliances and other items that must be decided upon.  I have to admit, I didn’t get what this meant at all.  I figured, it’s our money, why does the builder give me an allowance?  But I found out that you let him know up front the range you are willing to spend for your appliances, etc. and after he quotes a total price,  then he lets you know later how much you have allotted for those appliances.  I know, still kind of sketchy.  Say for instance, you specify, “medium grade granite” for the countertops, then later, when the kitchen is ready to be built, he tells you how much money you can spend on the countertops.  I guess it’s helpful, but when you go to actually chose the granite (or whatever), that’s when you (meaning I) usually decide to upgrade.

Here is the first draft of our house plans.  We’ve changed it twice already, and we already have some more changes to make.  We’ll probably do that another time or two before we’re ready to build.  You always think of things later that you should have added, or taken away, and we have the luxury of having the time to come up with the best plans we can.  And get the best contract we can.  The more decisions you have made, the better.  For you, and for the builder.

floor_plans_1st_lookI’d love to hear some of your stories, good and bad, about builders, and contracts, or your house plans and designs. Send me a comment and we’ll chat.

 

Architect or Residential Designer?

June
28
2013

When we moved our search for our retirement property to Maryland, there were a few terms we weren’t familiar with, for instance rip-rap.  These turned out to be big rocks placed along the shoreline to preserve the land from wearing away.

Rip Rap

Then, when we started to design the garage and crab shack, we came across another term, residential designer.

We’ve all heard of an architect.  We weren’t as familiar with a draftsperson or residential designer.  These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but usually a true draftsperson’s specialty is technical drawings, while a residential designer specializes in homes.  Although many times they can each do both.

An article in Coastal Home magazine a few years ago contends the similarities between the residential designer and the architect ends once the plans are drawn. There are, of course, pros and cons to both of them.

our_house_plans

An architect will see you through the entire building process, from blueprints to site management.  They can also interact with an interior designer – if you’ve hired one – to make the most out of the interior flow and beauty of the house.  However, the price for this service is somewhat expensive.  A general rule of thumb is that an architect’s fee is roughly 10% of the total project.  There are some that will charge an hourly fee to do just the blueprints.  But many do not.

An architect must be licensed and registered, and must meet three of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ requirements; education, experience and examination.  Many also register with the AIA, which has a strict code of ethics and professional conduct.  However, there are some – as the stories go – that wind up producing drawing after drawing of what they have in mind, not what you have in mind.  Here, a little research, or a recommendation goes a long way.

The residential designer does not have to be licensed, and some may never have had any formal training. However, many do register with the American Institute of Building Design, which mandates five years of educational and design experience, and while it specifies standards and ethics, it doesn’t require standardized exams.  Again, if you do your research, or have a recommendation, you will find he or she is very qualified to draw up plans for about half the cost of an architect.  If you have some idea of the design you are interested in, or if you have put together an entire binder – like I have – with floor plans you love, you will be able to give the residential designer this input and make the job go even smoother.   I would also say, if you have a good contractor or builder, this would alleviate any issues you might have with site management, or flow of the rooms, etc.

It all comes down to a couple of things, and sometimes the first is cost.  The second is your own preference. If you have at least some ideas of what you’d like, are not “afraid” of the building  process, and have a little sense of design and some common sense, you can do your due diligence and find either a residential designer or architect you will be happy and comfortable with.  You may need to interview three or four, but finding someone you have a good rapport with is key.

With either person, if you come equipped with pictures – floorplans, rooms, designs, exteriors, and interiors, and even pictures of things you absolutely do not like, you will save yourself some money because you are prepared, you will get a better finished product, and will have a house you truly love.

If you have any advice or stories regarding your experiences with an architect or residential designer, I’d love to hear them!

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