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Aylstock Residence

Texas Land Barons - posted December 23, 2014

We are now Texas land barons! We have closed escrow on a 3.7 acre plot of land in a little town called Spring Branch, Texas. Spring Branch is north of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country that runs from north of San Antonio to Austin. We are currently living in a rental house in a suburb called Schertz. The land we purchased is about 26 miles away. It is close to Canyon Lake which is about 2/3 the size of Lake Folsom in California. The big difference is Canyon Lake has water!

The lot we purchased is a pie shaped lot with 310' frontage on Cornwall Road. The long edge of he lot is 1000' long. The lot is mostly covered by nice oak and cedar trees. The top end of the lot line runs along a dry (seasonal) creek and we verified it was not in any flood plain and the lot drops off as it goes down to the creek. The subdivision we are in is mostly older homes on 1+ acre lots.  There are some newer homes as people are buying up the few remaining lots.

Our first step will be to have the front of the lot cleared of the cedar trees so we can plan out the house placement. We have picked a house plan an Melissa and I are tweaking it slightly... but we will save that for another blog post.

Home Plans

Here are three common ways to get home plans. You could hire an architect (expect to pay some serious money) to design you a home that will meet your specific wants and needs. You could get ideas from plan books or by touring model homes and then have someone draft you a full set. You could go to the internet and find house plans that you like and order them online.

We used a combination of touring custom model homes and looking on the internet. In Texas every major highway will have a custom home builder who has built a model home or two facing the highway. People stop in to see both the models and the quality of the builder’s work. We stopped in at dozens of these homes. The concept we liked best came from a company called Texas Casual Cottages. They primarily build homes with expansive covered porches ideal for entertaining and outdoor living. After defining the style we wanted (called farmhouse), we turned to the internet and found a set of house plans that met 95% of our specific criteria.

We purchased our plans from Architectural Designs (#24138 Whitfield). We paid around $1,000. Since we knew we’d need to make a few changes, we opted to purchase the downloadable CAD files so we could make the changes ourselves. (Yes, it’s handy to have someone in the family who knows CAD well enough to make the needed changes.)

We have played around with the plans for about a month now. They are almost in their final form. We’ll be sending them to a blueprint shop to have multiple sets reproduced at $1.50 a 2’ x 3’ sheet. Once reproduced, we will use these sets to give to various trades so they can give us realistic bids. Once we have the bids in, we’ll submit all the projected costs to the bank in order to get a construction loan. This is where our builder-of-record comes in. He will sign something at the bank that will allow the bank to fully fund our construction loan.

In the meantime, we are clearing our land, roughly plotting out where the house will sit on the lot and starting the process of having utilities run to our property.

Building a House in Rural Texas

Building in Texas is not like building anywhere in California. The three most notable differences are: there are very few residential building permits that need to be pulled in the unincorporated parts of Texas; Texas doesn’t appear to license its building contractors; and banks won’t fund construction loans unless you have a non-related “builder-of-record” who takes responsibility that you will, in fact, complete the home you want to build.

We bought our 3.7 acres in the Whispering Hills subdivision of Spring Branch. Spring Branch is not really a town, more an unincorporated area within Comal County. There are two permits that directly affect us: a septic permit ($160.00) and an apron permit for attaching your driveway to a public street ($25.00). That’s it folks!!!

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation lists the following professions that require state licensing: AC Contractors, A/C Techs, Associate Auctioneers, Auctioneers, Barbers, Barber Booth Rentals, Barber Shops (dual, mini, mini-dual and mobile), Barber Schools, Boiler Inspectors, Booting Company Operators, Combative Sports (Contestants, Judges, Managers, Matchmakers, Referees, Ringside Physicians, Promoters, Second? and Timekeepers), Continuing Education Providers, Cosmetologists, Cosmetology Booth Rentals, Cosmetology Salons (dual, mini, mini-dual and mobile), Cosmetology Schools, Electricians, Electrician Apprenticeship Programs, Elevator Contractors, Elevator Inspectors, Elevator Responsible Party, Identity Recovery Service Contract, Legal Service Contract Company, Legal Service Contract Sales Rep, Licensed Breeders, Polygraph Examiners, Professional Employer Organization, Property Tax Consultants, Property Tax Professionals, Property Tax Professional Core Education Provider, Registered Accessibility Specialists, Service Contract Providers, Temporary Common Workers, Tow Companies, Tow Truck Operators, Transportation Service Providers, Used Auto Parts Recycler, Vehicle Storage Facilities (and employees) and rounding out the list, Water Well Drillers, Pump Installers. After reading this list, my first thought was: What is a combative sport? My second thought was: Why do they not license General Contractors? Given their prevalence in CA, I have not discovered why this is so…

The concept of “builder-of-record” is the hardest to explain, mostly because I’m not sure I understand it myself. Yet this concept drives many of the contractors who will help you to build your own home in the state of Texas. In Texas, banks require that all residential construction loans need a builder-of-record. Basically, you cannot build your house under your own name so builder of record companies have sprung up to meet the demand of people who want to be owner-builders. These companies charge a fee because they are liable to the bank. Some charge flat fees. The lowest I’ve found is around $10,000. Some charge by square footage of the proposed home. We were quoted $5.00 per covered square foot by one company; this came out to almost $30,000 because we are building a farmhouse with a lot of covered decking. If you want to be your own contractor in Texas the only way you can do this is to self-fund your home.

One more thing about a builder-of-record; they do try to help you with your build. Not physically or financially, but they usually provide you with a binder of reference materials and tradesmen phone numbers. They will also advise you on lot choices and home placement if you ask. Since we are just at the beginning of our build, I’ll let you know what else we may or may not get for our builder-of-record fees.

Hanging the Texas Star - posted October 22, 2015

Last week we hung the Texas star. ‘Does this mean that you are done with the house, Roger?” Uh, big fat bag of Nope! Before we talk about house progress, let’s talk about the Star.

The Lone Star has been a symbol for Texas since its origins as an independent state.   “The Lone Star appears on car dealerships, restaurants, monuments, engraved invitations. The Texas state quarter, issued in 2004, shows a prominent Lone Star superimposed over the shape of the state. At its unveiling, Governor Rick Perry explained the message underlying the coin’s design: “The Lone Star is one of the most identifiable symbols of Texas. . . . Its continued presence today reminds people that Texans are a different breed, set apart by their fierce individualism and their unyielding desire for freedom.” Many homes display the star on their house, garage, fence or gate. Now I have one also!

I have about 90 little, to no so little, projects going on simultaneously. They are about 90% complete. I don't think we have any one room completely finished. We are working on interior trim. We have the entryway painted and even have some of my landscape pictures hung, but we don't have baseboards down yet and the window sill needs trimmed out. Oh say 90% done. The kitchen still has the back-splash, range vent and the toe kicks to do (about 90% completed). We have cooked several meals in the new kitchen and we are very pleased with the overall layout and how it looks. The two upstairs guest rooms need window trim and baseboards (90%). My two out of state sons and their families are coming in 2 weeks and I have been telling them this is a working ranch and they might need to build their own cabins. Don't tell them their guest rooms will be done - maybe.

We had our first official viewing of a movie in our movie room this week (The Three Amigos). That room still needs baseboards and a few more wall decorations. We snagged a great reclining coach and love seat for this room on Craigslist, but they have been in the garage until the back deck was 90% done so we wouldn't have to twist it up the inside staircase.  I have only four interior doors that have not been painted and installed (maybe that's less than 90% done). I have a page and a half of things still to do and most of the remaining items are things Melissa and I are planning on doing rather than contracting out as we did with all the big stuff. We will start showing interior pictures when we finally finish a room.

I do have to say a big thank you to my son-in-law Dan who always comes when we call and need some help lifting, hammering, or climbing on the roof. He and Brittany have contributed many suggestions over the past many months to make the house as pretty as it is turning out to be.