On evenings and weekends, you can find most of the Plaisted family hard at work--carrying rocks, operating heavy equipment, digging holes and other tasks toward the building of their home in Kagel Canyon near Sylmar.
Robert and Janell Plaisted--like most Angelenos--couldn't afford to hire a builder to construct the house in which they really wanted to live. A family member gave the couple a nice-size parcel six years ago, but they were not able to raise the roughly $350,000 that most contractors were asking to clear the Plaisted's land and build the three-bedroom country-style home the family had their hearts set on.
Instead of lowering their expectations, the Plaisteds decided to do most of the construction work on their new home by themselves and without any building experience. The family's sweat equity is expected to save them as much as $125,000 when the residence is completed sometime this fall.
Building a home with your own sweat isn't for everyone. Since last fall, the Plaisteds and their two children have been living in a trailer on the job site and much of the work they've been doing has been back-breaking. The work hasn't just been tough, it's been downright dangerous. A friend of Robert's was kind enough to help remove a termite-infested tree from the home site. The tree split apart while the friend was working on it and he is in a wheelchair, trying to recover some mobility. "I'm now more cautious about everything," said Plaisted, an electronics repairman. "I didn't realize what I got myself into. I would only recommend this kind of a project to someone who has a strong will."
There's no way to know how many people actually build their own homes or in some way participate in the construction. Building supply companies that sell kits to do-it-yourselfers report that they don't do a lot of business in California compared to other states. But, there are always people willing to take up a hammer and do their own construction.
Jane Hall and Darlene Mendenhall retired from their real estate-related jobs several years ago and they now are agents in Camarillo for a company that provides nearly all the necessary building materials for do-it-yourselfers. In 1991, the women decided to build a 1,600-square-foot bungalow in Big Bear as a speculative investment. They built the sub-floor, and stood all the walls, siding and sheeting for the roof. The project cost about $43 a square foot--compared to $75 a square foot that was quoted by local contractors. "If two old gals can do it, anyone can," said Hall. The two said they enjoyed the process so much that they decided to become agents for Endeavor Homes, a Bakersfield company that provides owner/builders with almost all the materials they need. The Plaisteds have hired Hall and Mendenhall as consultants.
People who decide to buy a home from Endeavor can use one of their 42 prepared plans or submit custom plans to the company and then wait for all the materials to be ordered, said Gary Glazer, a vice president in Endeavor's Riverside office. Homes generally range in size from 600 to 3,500 square feet, and the materials usually cost from $20,000 to $100,000.
Endeavor was started about 12 years ago as a subsidiary of a wholesale lumber supply company, Glazer recalled, as "a way to help people find a way to cut the cost of a home and build a home they wouldn't otherwise be able to buy." Some Endeavor customers buy all the materials and then act as their own general contractor, without ever pounding a nail. Others, Glazer said, want to do almost everything themselves.
"We question people about what they would like to do and what they are qualified to do," Glazer said. The company also does not supply any materials for rough plumbing or foundation work so that customers are basically forced to hire someone who really knows what they are doing. Endeavor provides building manuals, computer-generated lists of materials and drawings and even help in obtaining construction financing.
Materials are usually shipped in several stages so that they don't just sit around at a job site. "It's a lot of work for people building their own home," Glazer said, "but our customers think that it's worth it."
One of the largest suppliers of building materials to self-styled builders is Miles Homes in Minneapolis. This public company has been around since 1946 and even has its own mortgage company. California and Florida are the only two states where Miles says it doesn't do much business.
William Thompson, corporate vice president of marketing for Miles, said he isn't sure why his company has never done much business in the Golden State. The company reports that it has sold about 40,000 homes over the years--mostly in states where land is more plentiful and inexpensive than in California.