I once spent time with a family that bought some land and built homes for around
$40k to $80k each. The kicker is they sold them for upwards of $250k each.
In fact, later, they ended up buying a large amount of land and built around 6 rentable AirBnb homes as well as a restaurant. Not only was it beautiful but it sustained a good income and ended up selling for a huge return.
How though? Well, with the time I spent with them, I learned a lot about how it was done, and there was 5 key ways they did it. I'm here to share those with you.
5 Cheap Ways to Build a Home
1. Using Concrete vs. Wood
One of the ways they were able to build valuable resale homes at low cost, was going against the grain. In the United States, wood is the typical framing of homes. However, using cinderblocks was a huge way to save, not only did it allow them to build beautiful Spanish style homes but it was easier to do with less workers.
The Spanish style was a huge reason the resale value was so high. It's easier to build and often found in Latin America due to the lower cost to build by using cinderblocks. But also, it is more fire resistant, has more strength, is bug resistant and has a beautiful look.
In very basic terms you can think of it as legos, getting pallets of cinderblocks, a concrete mixer and rebar they were able to construct a vision as they stacked blocks.
For external walls and internal walls they constructed the home with these basic supplies and a couple low cost unskilled laborers just for help. Cinderblocks, in bulk, can lower your cost to about $1 per block or less, of course this depends on your area, also cinderblocks are quite big, so a lot can be done with fewer of them.
For that beautiful Spanish style home you also want to stucco it, covering the inside and outside of the home. This will give it a smooth beautiful exterior, seal the concrete and give the walls that style look.
For the floor, they used sealed concrete, it's such a beautiful look that goes along with the style trends, also very low cost. This saves on tile and wood floors, it's also unique, cool on the feet and modern.
Using cinderblock also saves on insulation, insulation can be quite costly, so if you can save on it using blocks then great. But be very aware, if you are in a cold climate concrete doesn't insulate, in-fact not really at all. That is something to think about before you get going on this project. This is not a suitable design in the snow.
Did they use wood? Yes! But they used it for ascetic design. Wood is beautiful, you can stain it to any color and it adds style, especially in a concrete built home. In just about every Spanish home, you can find white stucco walls with dark stained wood, it's a beautiful highly sought after look. They also did the whole inside of the roof with it, it adds a nice contrast.
One of the interesting things was that they used the wood that was on their land. They rented a mobile sawmill and were able to make planks on the spot based on their needs. The cost savings of this was huge, after all, they had to clear their land anyway and wood is expensive.
Did it take time build this home? Yes, without a huge crew and contractors, it did. But not only could they design the home along the way, it was a great family project and an artistic venture that profited huge amounts of money. After the first one, the rest were easy.
Open design is key! By this I mean leaving space for large sliding doors/windows. This was probably why the home sold for so much. In their kitchen alone, the wall was almost half just sliding doors. It almost felt like you were outside while in the kitchen cooking because of the open space it made.
While custom sliding doors and windows do cost money, it allows you to build less framing which saved time more than money. For inside rooms and bathroom doors, they saved by making sliding doors, they slide on the outside almost like a cover more than a door. This allowed them to save on custom fit doors and the look of it was remarkable. And, they used the mobile sawmill for making the wooden doors.
2. Start Cheap to Begin With (Land & Plans)
Land can be a huge cost, but it's also a big part of your home. Locations, view and climate are a big draw for resale value. However, if you are looking to build a low cost home, you may want to save on your land as well. The thing is, you're not out of luck buying cheap land.
Surprisingly, you can get some seriously good land for low cost. For example, on our site LandZero we have sold land in amazing locations, also for $10k or less. Land in Hawaii, near the ocean in Washington, lake view homes, and land that is walking distance to wineries in Arizona, to name a few. Chances are, the people that built on these will make a great return.
Cheap Building Plans, once you have your land, you need a plan. Plans can run you around $1,000 to $5,000 easily. Plus you may need on going changes and a good vision of what to ask for. Plans get you started on this because they are designed already.
Stock plans already have the idea of the design, this way you have the vision and can save on architectural hourly rates. You can always make small changes to suit your personal taste, but the vision and base plans are already there.
3. Do it Yourself
DIY and save huge! Intimidating right? Well no, we live in different times now. Think about how one would learn in the past to build homes. You would watch someone and learn, then do it yourself. You may make some mistakes but you learn from it till you become an expert.
Truth is, we have this option on YouTube now. For each part of building a home, there is a video with a teacher showing you the way. There are also books, but watching someone do it is probably the best method. No Kidding, the guys who built the homes I'm talking about learned from YouTube. You can too!
Help Wanted? Don't be afraid to get help, in fact you pretty much need to, at least manual labor. If you are confident in your ability to take on the project, basic day labor will get it done quicker. You can get someone as low as minimum wage, use friends, or even volunteers who want to learn.
If you are worried, you can have a contractor come out and give you guidance. A contractor can come out for a day here and there to guide you, you can still save a lot using this method. You can still manage your crew but have some expert guidance on what you need. For electrical and plumbing, you can also learn this on YouTube but it may be wise to get professionals.
4. Build the Interiors Yourself (Furniture & Cabinets)
While this sounds very difficult it's really not that bad, remember YOUTUBE! Look for modern yet simple designed furniture. If you can still use the trees on your property and the mobile sawmill, then it really would just be the cost of nails and other parts you may need to use.
The homemade furniture was one of the most impressive parts of the homes these guys built. They made kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, and accents to the home. However, the real impressive part were the bed frames, stools, tables, night stands and other unique pieces. Think about the cost savings in this! You can spend thousands of dollars decorating your home.
The furniture didn't look like perfectly shaped Ikea furniture, it actually looked much better. The pieces had a rustic hand crafted look, they had small imperfections that gave it uniqueness, and they were one of a kind.
Search some design ideas online using google pictures, searches like "DIY Bed Frame" can return results with instructions.
5. Building In the Right State or Country
Unless you already own the land you will be building on, be aware that where you are building will be one of the biggest impacts on cost, Kind of...
HomeAdvisor has a great article and calculator to explain this, it allows you to enter your zip code and see the cost of your build. You can see that here. Home Building Calculator.
To give a quick example about the costs, according to HomeAdvisor the low end to build a home in Georgia costs about $100,000. In contrast, the low end of a Missouri home costs around $310,000. Here is the kicker though, these cost are for building companies, not DIY, also the subjects we just covered already are not included. Either way though, where you build has an impact on costs.
Countries, well, as part of a land company I could go into this subject more than this article can handle. If you want more about that, visit our Costa Rica Real Estate article. It covers Costa Rica but honestly the rules apply to a lot of countries, especially in Central and South America.
In short, while some countries may have slightly cheaper supplies, the only major savings is labor. While this is a controversial subject on its own, a day laborer in Central or South America for example vs. the United States is big, specially if you pay per hour. We are talking $15 to $20 an hour difference sometimes. This adds up depending on how many people you need. Also, you better speak the language or don't do it at all, trust me on that. Some countries the people make very little elsewhere, so you can pay them above normal and still save a huge amount.
In conclusion, while it may seem like a big undertaking to build a home, it is a legacy. We have tools now like YouTube to learn it. Yes, it will take longer doing it yourself and there will be some hard days. But in the end, life is short and you did something awesome. Plus, now you are the one that will capitalize on the return of your hard work. Enjoy!