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Five good ways to save money when building a laneway house — and one bad one.

Dropping by the build today to see the latest developments (some of the windows are set permanently with sealant) I met two of the neighbours.  They saw me poking about and came by for a chat. They are interested in building a laneway on a rental property they have in the area, and asked me if it was true that it costs $240,000 to build a laneway home, and said that they had seen one that had cost about $150,000.

I guess it’s possible to build for as little as $150,000 if you are extremely careful; I think most people would be lucky to build a laneway house for as low as $240,000.  But there are ways to save money when you want to build.

1.  Go with an “off the shelf” design.

As laneway living becomes more popular there are more laneway builders with “set” designs you can choose from.  If you have an oddly shaped lot (or like us, a steep slope) you may have to have a home designed around the physical restrictions.  But you’ll find lots of great designs out there and there are more and more all the time. This is something that should be discussed when you are choosing a builder.

2.  Don’t put in a living roof.

Or a built-in vacuum cleaner system.  Or a special AV system with speakers in the ceiling.  Or any of the (let’s call a spade a spade) luxuries that really add up.  This laneway is our dream home and it’s got to have everything we’ve ever wanted (or dreamt of).  But if you are building for a rental situation or as a temporary home, there’s no reason to include all these custom touches because they really add up.

3.  Buy box store cabinetry

Putting in a kitchen takes money.  Buying from the thousands of choices of cabinets you can find in big box stores like Home Depot, Rona, and Ikea is going to save you thousands over the cost of a custom-built kitchen.  Since the kitchen will be such a major investment, there are other places to save there, like the next way,

4. Buy regular sized appliances

This fits in well with buying box store cabinetry.  We are putting special small appliances that will save us inches — and come at a premium.  But if you visit your building centre or department store or if you order online, you can often get signifcant deals.  You could even install dented or returned appliances for more savings (installing them to hide the scratches, etc.). Along with that, you can always follow our last bit of advice:

5. Go with standard finishes

I’ve spent long hours online looking for just the right bathroom lighted mirror, the exact exterior sconces, and the perfect pendant for the hallway.  But there’s no reason not to visit the aforementioned big box stores for these finishes, and shopping the sales.  Door knobs, switches, lights, these can all be “builders’ grade” and would still look very nice.  You could even visit your local Habitat for Humanity Restore for bigger savings. Once again, ask your builder where you can save the most.

This is not a comprehensive list on how to save money, of course.  Your builder can probably help you out, and there are probably hundreds of places where you can save hundreds of dollars.  And let me tell you, a thousand dollars here and a thousand dollars there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

There is one method for saving money that you may be tempted to use, but I encourage you not to.  The worst way to save money on any build:

1. Go with an unknown builder

This may seem harsh, particularly to those who are starting out in the construction business and are trying to get their first big project.  But I’ve watched enough television shows and heard enough sob stories from friends to know that when you are choosing a builder it always pays to have someone who has work you can go and see; who is listed with the Better Business Bureau; who is a member of the Home Builders Association; who can give you solid references.

If you have no affiliation with the building trade (for instance, you are not a builder or don’t belong to a trade) I don’t recommend being your own contractor unless you have lots of time and patience.  All it takes is one sub-trade to not show up or not do a proper job and your project will be delayed (at best) or ruined (at worst).

I hope these hints will be of use to you when you are planning your project.  Do you have any ways to save money when building a home?


About ladywholivesdownthelane

Starting the adventure of building a laneway house in the real-estate jungle of Vancouver, BC

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