Free Solar with Your Modular Home

Get a Free Solar System with Your Modular Home

The Home Store has partnered with SolarCity to include solar power with its modular homes – at no extra cost to you. Our homes, which already are very energy efficient, will now generate electricity to help you save money and protect the environment.

To make this happen, SolarCity and The Home Store will help you design your home so it’s “solar ready” and then install the solar system so it’s functioning optimally.  This is your chance to save for years to come.

Electrical Rates Locked In for 20 Years

Your solar system from The Home Store will generate its own clean, affordable energy at a lower rate than you’d pay the utility company. In addition to being energy efficient and energy secure, your home will be protected from unpredictable rate hikes. A SolarCity system lets you lock in low, predictable rates no matter how much utility rates rise. Imagine paying $1.11 for a gallon of gas. That’s the price you’d pay if you locked it in 20 years ago! You can’t go back in time, but you can lock in low energy rates until 2035. You can literally watch your savings grow over time.

Green Solar Energy

In addition to the financial advantages you’ll enjoy with your solar system, you’ll also feel pride in knowing you’re helping to protect the environment. Solar power is one of the cleanest sources of energy because it doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases or other pollutants when it’s produced or consumed. Unlike generating electricity from fossil fuels, creating electricity from sunlight slows global warming.

Solar energy is inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels, so it will never run out.  It also provides a measure of energy independence since no one can buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly.

The Home Store's two-story model home with solar panels installed by SolarCity.
The Home Store’s two-story model home with solar panels installed by SolarCity.

Sleek Mounted Solar Panels

One of the reasons The Home Store decided to partner with SolarCity is the attractive look of its solar panels. As you can see in the photo of our sales center’s two-story model home, the solar panels sit low to the roof in a sleek, modern appearance that enhances the curb appeal for savvy, energy conscious buyers.

SolarCity Takes Care of Everything

If you order early enough, your solar system can be installed by the time you move into your new modular home. SolarCity will provide the equipment, permitting, installation, and interconnection, again at no cost to you. They will even cover your system’s insurance. They will also continuously monitor your solar system to ensure everything’s running smoothly and provide limited warranty coverage. In the rare event that problems arise, they will complete the repairs at no added cost.

What You Need to Do

You simply lease the solar system for a low monthly fee that’s less than you would pay the utility company. SolarCity guarantees your solar system will produce as much electricity as they promise or they will pay you the difference. The savings can add up to thousands!

SolarCity Service Area

SolarCity serves almost the entire area where we build modular homes, and they are continually expanding their coverage.

Who Is SolarCity

SolarCity is the largest installer of solar panels in the United States with a 35% national market share.  It has disrupted the century-old energy industry by providing renewable electricity directly to homeowners, businesses and government organizations for less than they spend on utility bills.

Benefits of a SolarCity Installation on Your Home Store Modular Home

  • You start saving on Day 1.
  • No additional cost to lease and no increase in your mortgage amount.
  • Frees up money for other option purchases.
  • Guaranteed low, predictable rate for the next 20 years.
  • Insurance and warranty provided for the 20 years.
  • Lease is transferable to next homebuyer for no additional cost.
  • Reduces dependence on fossil fuels and slows global warming.

 

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One-Story vs Two-Story Homes

The Advantages of One-Story vs Two-Story Homes

There are a variety of ways to compare the advantages of a one-story vs two-story modular home.  In part your choice will depend on your personal taste as well as your local real estate market.  But you will likely also consider the distinct advantages of each.  Here’s a list of the advantages most often mentioned by my customers.

One-Story Benefits

  • More living space
    • You don’t need to use square footage for a staircase to the second floor, although you will need one to the basement
    • You might need fewer bathrooms
  • More attic space for storage
  • More basement space for storage
  • More convenience
    • You don’t need to run up and down stairs to cook, clean, keep an eye on your children, do the laundry, or get a snack
  • Safer for younger children and easier for older/mobility challenged individuals
    • You can “age in place” more easily and affordably
The Home Store's Sugarloaf 5 one-story T-Ranch at it's model home center.
The Home Store’s Sugarloaf 5 one-story T-Ranch at it’s model home center.
  • Easier to evacuate in case of a fire
  • Less noise transmission, since sound does not travel through the walls of multiple rooms on the same floor as well as it travels between floors
    • TV or stereo on either floor
    • Foot traffic on the second floor
    • Stair traffic
  • Easier – and cheaper – to heat and cool.
    • More consistent temperature zones, since all rooms flow into each other
    • Trees can provide more shade
    • Second story rooms easier to heat, since heat rises

 Two-Story Benefits

  • Greater separation of public and private spaces
    • More privacy for second story bedrooms, which is especially valued by parents and older children
  • Bigger yard
  • Can build a bigger home on a smaller lot
  • Easier to deliver modules down narrow streets and onto a small, tight lot, since each module can be half the length to create the same square footage as needed for a one-story
  • Safer to open second story windows at night
  • Smaller roof to maintain
  • More expansive views from second-story
  • Good exercise using the stairs everyday
  • Better for the environment, since less land is disturbed during construction
The Home Store's Whately 1 two-story at it's model home center.
The Home Store’s Whately 1 two-story at it’s model home center.

For more information about the benefits of building a one-story vs two-story home, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Checklists

There are many things to learn the first time you build a modular home.  But if you’re like most homebuyers, you won’t get the full benefit of what you learn, since you’ll likely only build one home.

But you can benefit from what I’ve learned over twenty-eight years building more than 1,200 homes.  To start with you can read my book, The Modular Home, which gathers all this information in one place.

Use these modular home checklists to guide you through the process of building a modular home.
Use these modular home checklists to guide you through the process of building a modular home.

Take Advantage of My Experience by Using My Modular Home Checklists

Of course, it’s hard to use a book efficiently the first time you use the information.  That’s why I’ve created several checklists that cover the most important steps.  Below is a link to each of the checklists.  There’s also a link to this list on the home page of The Home Store’s website.  I hope you find these modular home checklists helpful.

  1. Ensure You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home
  2. Selecting a Modular Home Dealer
  3. Your Modular Home Dealer Customer References
  4. Selecting a Modular Home General Contractor
  5. Your Modular Home General Contractor References
  6. What to Include in Your Modular Home Legalese
  7. Selecting the Right Modular Home Plan
  8. What You Should Ask Modular Home General Contractors
  9. Reviewing Your Modular Home Floor Plans
  10. Reviewing Your Modular Home Elevation Plans
  11. Modular Additions
  12. Building a Universal Design Modular Home
  13. What Your Modular Manufacturer Needs from Your Contractor
  14. How to Air Seal a Modular Home
  15. Making an Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot
  16. Your Municipal Water and Sewer Connections
  17. Reviewing Your Modular Construction Drawings
  18. Potential Permits and Supporting Documents
  19. Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks
  20. Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks
  21. Omitting Materials from the Modular Manufacturer

For more information about all the topics covered in the checklists, see my book The Modular Home.

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Building A New Home Is Best For Accessibility

Why Building a New Home Is Better Than Remodeling When You Need Accessibility

What should you do if you need an accessible home?  Should you remodel your current home, buy a more accessible used home, or build a fully accessible new one?

Since there are very few truly accessible used homes, let’s compare remodeling your existing home with building a new one.  Since I believe building new is almost always better than remodeling, I will outline the advantages of building over remodeling.  Of course, if you don’t have the resources and flexibility to build a new home, remodeling will be your only viable alternative.

No Demolition and Shoring Up Expenses

You will not waste money demolishing or shoring up your new home.

Remodeling your existing home to make it accessible can often be surprisingly expensive. You will undoubtedly anticipate some of the costs for adding new features, but you may not plan sufficiently for the cost of the other work required to remodel. Most importantly, you must add the cost of the destruction (taking apart and removing what you no longer want) to the cost of construction (building in the new features). In addition, you must add the cost of shoring up the existing structure of your home so that the new construction can be completed. For example, in addition to tearing down old walls and ripping out old plumbing and electrical, you might need to add structural supports in the ceiling and basement before you can begin. Otherwise, your home will not be structurally sound.

The task of removing walls and shoring up the structure is usually a Pandora’s Box for the remodeler. Often the remodeler can’t know what problems and expenses he is going to run into until he actually starts the demolition. If you ask him to give you a fixed price for the entire project in advance, he will usually build a significant cushion into his price.  If you agree to pay him for “time and materials”, and he uncovers a number of problems that require additional work, he will hit you with a change order that will create cost-overruns for you.  That’s why remodeling often goes significantly over budget.

Remodeling requires the de-struction of your existing home as well as the con-struction of it's new features, which makes remodeling expensive and subject to more cost overruns than building a new home.
Remodeling requires the de-struction of your existing home as well as the con-struction of it’s new features, which makes remodeling expensive and subject to more cost overruns than building a new home.

Greater Equity and Resale Value

Your new home is likely to provide you with greater market value and equity than a remodeled home.

Since the demolition and shoring up your home will not increase its value as much as it costs (only the new construction will), the total cost of the remodeling will often be considerably greater than the value added to your home.  Since much of the money you will spend on remodeling will be lost, your bank’s appraiser will be unlikely to justify a loan for the full cost of remodeling unless you already have a lot of equity in your home or a large down payment.  And should you decide to sell your home, you will likely lose some of the money you spent remodeling it.

Full Accessibility

Since every room in your new home can be designed to be accessible and located where you want it, you will need to make fewer compromises to get the features and functions you want.

Because the remodeler will have to work with your existing structure, he might not be able change the home sufficiently to give you enough of what you need. For example, the remodeler might not be able to locate the accessible bathroom where it would most benefit you.

Efficient Use of Space

Your new home will provide you with the rooms you need without wasting space.

When remodeling your home, you will often have to give up some existing rooms so that the needed features and functional space can be added. For example, one of your existing bedrooms might have to be donated to the remodeling cause so that your hallways, doors, and bathrooms can be widened. When the work is done, you may feel that you have lost valuable space.

Attractive and Functional Landscaping

The site of your new home will be graded and landscaped in ways that are esthetically pleasing as well as usable.

When remodeling your home, you will sometimes have to settle for site work and landscaping that is less attractive. With your foundation, driveway, and walkways already in place, the remodeler is limited in how he can make your site more accessible without detracting from its appearance (often with long ramps) and adding considerably to the cost.

Lower Architect Fees, Custom Design

Whether you wish to customize a builder’s standard plan or design a completely new custom plan, a modular home builder’s fees will be substantially less than those required for a sizable remodeling project.

When remodeling your home for accessibility, you will often are best served by hiring an experienced architect to design a remodeling plan.

Home and Lot Matched in Size

You will be able to match a building lot of appropriate size with a new home that is as big as you need and your budget allows.

When remodeling, your design choices will be limited by the size of your home and your lot. If your home is too small, and your lot does not allow for easy expansion, which can happen in city lots, your design options will be limited.

Right Sized Home

When building a new home of your choice, you will end up with a home that is neither too big nor too small.

If your existing home is already bigger than you need, your remodeled home will almost certainly be too big.  If your existing home is not too big before remodeling, but the remodeler is forced to add rooms in order to meet your needs, your remodeled home may become too big. For example, if you have all of the bedrooms that you need, but they are all on the second floor and you need a first floor master bedroom suite, you will be forced to build an extra bedroom.

Lower Energy Costs

Your new home will be considerably more energy efficient than your remodeled home.

Your remodeled home will usually have higher energy costs. Older homes were not built as energy efficient as new homes are today. Often the budget for remodeling won’t allow for improving the energy efficiency, since to insulate all of the walls and replace all of the windows can be expensive. In addition, older homes have very high amounts of air infiltration (leaks around the windows, doors, and electrical receptacles), and air infiltration is the number one cause of heat loss, even after insulation has been added and windows replaced.

Brand New Fixtures, Fully Featured

With your new home, everything will be brand new with the features you desire.

With older homes, your remodeling budget will require you to keep certain things you would prefer to replace. For example, although you might like to replace your fifteen year old appliances, the cost of the remodeling will probably prevent you from replacing them. In addition, your budget will often prevent you from affordably adding features that you would desire. For example, if you want to add central air conditioning, but you have hot water baseboard heat, you will need to add the duct work in addition to the air conditioning compressor, which will add substantially to the total cost.

Lower Maintenance Costs, Extended Warranty

Because your new home will come with new materials, it will require minimal maintenance. Furthermore, all the parts will be protected by a warranty. In fact, your entire modular home will come with a ten year structural warranty.

Even after your older home is remodeled, it will have higher maintenance costs. All areas and components of your home that are not completely replaced will continue to bear the effects of wear and tear. In addition, the only items that will have a warranty will be the ones installed by the remodeler.

For more information about building a fully accessible Universally Designed modular home, see Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.  For more information about building an accessible modular in-law addition, also known as an Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO), see Building a Modular Addition also in my book.

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Mapping Your Home’s Exterior Elevation to Your Topography

Three Types of Exterior Elevation Detail

I mentioned in my last post that before you authorize the modular dealer to build your home you need to see a complete exterior elevation plan that shows what your home will look like, taking into account your property’s slopes and contours after your GC completes his button-up work and site-built structures. To provide this plan, someone must integrate three types of detail. The first shows how the home will look after the GC completes his button-up work.  The purpose of this detail is to show what the modular manufacturer is building. It assumes the GC is not building any other structures on site and that your property is perfectly flat. The second type of detail adds all of the GC’s site-built structures, such as a garage, porch or deck, along with any extra finishes he’s applying to the home. The third level of detail depicts how the property’s grades and landscaping will integrate with the first two levels to more accurately depict what will be built.

The Topography Detail for a Complete Exterior Elevation

Few builders, modular or stick, provide the third set of details, those that capture the property’s topography. This is not important if the land is perfectly flat. It is important, however, when the exterior elevation plans depict the home on a flat lot but the property actually slopes front to back or side to side. For instance, if the finished grade varies more than a couple of feet around your home, more of the foundation will be exposed at the low points. Once you see an accurate plan showing a large section of the foundation above the finished grade on one side, you may want to consider replacing that section with wood-framed kneewalls or walk-out walls. This may in turn lead you to relocate the furnace and water heater to maximize the benefits that the added windows will provide. To accomplish this, you may have to modify the house plan to move the chimney closer to the new furnace location. If you do not discover this situation until after the excavation work has begun, it may be too late to change the house plan and relocate the chimney, which could mean that the furnace is stuck in the middle of what could have been a very useful and affordable basement family room or office.

The topography of your land may influence the design and cost of your home.  For example, a sloped property lends itself to a walk-out basement.  You will need an exterior elevation that shows the topography to see how best to do this.
The topography of your land may influence the design and cost of your home. For example, a sloped property lends itself to a walk-out basement. You will need an exterior elevation that shows the topography to see how best to do this.

An accurate exterior elevation plan may also make you aware that the slope in your backyard is so steep it will require a few additional steps to the rear porch. You may prefer to avoid a long set of stairs. Learning of this potential situation in advance will allow you to eliminate the problem by purchasing additional fill for the low spot. Since the fill will cost a bit of money, however, you may not be able to afford it unless you omit something from your modular contract, which you will only be able to do if you make the decision when you review the exterior elevation plans. Waiting until the GC begins the excavation will be too late, since you will have already signed-off on the plans and specifications. Another situation that is often revealed by an exterior elevation plan with topographical detail is when there needs to be a step down or up between parts of your home. For example, you might need three steps to enter the home from the garage because of a gentle slope across the front of the property. One way to avoid the steps is to build a retaining wall on the side of the garage so that additional fill can raise the garage floor without the threat of erosion. You will want to know about this condition while you are still in the planning stages so that you can budget the additional funds required.

Planning Issues Revealed by a Complete Exterior Elevation

As these examples illustrate, the natural contours of your land can significantly affect how you build your home. The more you know before construction begins, the more options you can consider and factor into your design and budget. Consequently, ask the dealer to show the property’s topography when he draws your home and site-built structures. Your GC or a surveyor, however, will need to provide the dealer with this information. The most accurate topographical detail comes from using a transit or its equivalent. The GC may suggest that he can come close enough by walking the property, but line-of-site judgments made with the naked eye are often inaccurate, especially when a property is heavily wooded or covered with thick vegetation. The only way to accurately determine the topography is for someone to take detailed site measurements with the appropriate equipment. You will have to pay for this service, but unless your property is perfectly flat, it will be worth the expense. Keep in mind that even if you receive exterior elevation plans that conform to your property’s grades, they may not represent exactly how your home will sit on the lot after it is built. That’s because the actual finished grade will depend on how deep the foundation is installed, which will partly depend on the soil and groundwater conditions discovered after the basement hole is dug. Groundwater and ledge can require the house to be raised substantially higher than what was drawn on the proposed exterior elevation plan. The finished grade will also depend on how much fill, if any, is brought to or removed from the site to compensate for these conditions. Unless you dig some test holes on the property before finalizing the decisions on your home, you will not be able to anticipate and plan for these exterior elevation changes. Only after your property is finish-graded and landscaped will you truly see what it is going to look like. For more information about how to get an accurate exterior elevation of how your home will look when finished, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Delivery Challenges

Modular Home Delivery Challenges         

A road sign indicating a winding road ahead for the next 5 miles
The dealer should confirm the modular home delivery route.

Although most building sites can take delivery of a modular home, there are some locations that require enough extra site work or a redesign of the house plan into smaller modules that building a modular home is not practical. Narrow approaching roads with hairpin turns, lots on the side of steep hills, and very narrow properties can pose challenges. The only way to know if a building lot can comfortably receive a modular home delivery is to have a modular dealer visit it.

But sometimes that’s not enough.  A few years ago we delivered a two-story home to an “easy” lot.  It was flat, wide, and deep with no trees to obstruct either the delivery or set.  The roads to the property were also straight and wide enough. Or at least they were when we completed our inspection of the route.

A week before delivery we were informed by the customer that our planned route had been closed by the town for six weeks to complete some emergency work to the sewer and water pipes. We immediately revisited the site and searched for an alternative route.  Fortunately there was one option, but unfortunately it required us to cross a very old, narrow wooden bridge that wasn’t rated to carry the weight of the modules.

Modular Home Delivery Backup Routes

We ultimately decided to use a very large crane to lift each module plus its carrier from one side of the bridge to the other. Ever since then we’ve always made sure to look for a back-up route to the property. However, we’ve not always been able to find a viable alternative.  Usually there is more than one route for a car, but the alternatives aren’t always wide or straight enough to handle the size of the modules.  Whenever we have any concern about the primary or backup routes, we talk to the town public works department to make sure they aren’t planning to close the road around the time of the scheduled delivery.

For more information about the modular home delivery, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Preparing for a Modular Delivery and Set

The GC’s Responsibilities for Preparing for Delivery and Set

The GC is responsible for preparing your site for the delivery and set of the modules. More specifically, he is responsible for preparing both the access leading to the lot and foundation, and the area where the crane and modules must be located during the set. If the area is flat, with good soil conditions and relatively wide, straight roads, this responsibility may be without challenges. On the other hand, problems can arise on what appears to be an easy site. Bad weather, poor soil, loose fill, a utility pole in an inconvenient place, a septic system located where the crane needs to go, a customer’s refusal to cut a favored tree or remove an old stone wall; these are the kinds of things that can turn a site into a logistical challenge, or even a logistical nightmare.

When the manufacturer’s delivery time from its factory to the site is more than a couple of hours, it will deliver the modules at least one day before the scheduled set. In such a situation, the GC should try to create sufficient space on the site to store all of the carriers overnight. Since the most efficient way to set a home on the foundation is to place the crane in front of the house with one carrier on each side of the crane, the preferred storage plan is to create a space wide enough for the carriers to be delivered directly to these positions. Unfortunately, the combination of lot size and configuration, topography, soil conditions, foundation size, and the number and size of the modules can sometimes make it impossible to place all of the modules in the right place while preserving room for the crane to set up.

Need for Staging Areas

When the modules cannot be properly placed, one or more of the carriers have to be delivered to a temporary storage location, which may be at another location on your site or at a nearby parking lot or open field. The carriers will then be moved to their proper positions next to the foundation on set day. Although the GC is responsible for preparing the site to facilitate these efforts, he is not responsible for things beyond his control, such as a heavy rainstorm that washes out the driveway. Nor should you expect him to pay for the required repair.

Risk of Delivery and Set Delays

If the GC does not prepare the site in a satisfactory manner, and this causes the delivery and set operations to be delayed, you and the GC will be liable for the additional costs incurred. The drivers and escorts that deliver the carriers will budget enough time to drive directly to the site or wherever you designate. They will expect to maneuver the carriers into place with reasonable effort, and then leave. They will not expect to spend hours waiting for trees to be cut, fill to be delivered, or a bulldozer to arrive. If any of these are required, the delivery company will charge the modular dealer, who will in turn bill you, for the additional time. The crane company will charge the dealer by the hour, with a minimum fee. The longer the set takes, the more the meter runs. The crew that completes the various set activities will also charge the dealer for any lost time caused by the delays, and the dealer will pass this additional expense on to you. If the delays were caused by the GC’s poor site preparation, it fair for you to submit the invoices from the delivery, crane, and set companies to the GC for reimbursement.

Many sets take a full day, and some take two or more days. One of the most important responsibilities of the set crew is to protect the home from weather damage as quickly as possible. If the site is not prepared, and the set is subsequently delayed by several hours, the set crew may not be able to complete enough of the set to give your home the protection it will need should it rain over night. If the delay happens before the first module is set, the set crew and modular dealer can cancel the set and reschedule it for the next available day. But if some of the modules are already set on the foundation, with the protective coverings removed, the set cannot easily be stopped and the crew may not be able to take the required steps to protect the home until the cause of the delay is removed. If this delay takes a few hours, the home will be exposed to the elements longer than it needed to be.

In this example about the logistics of a delivery and set, the delivery crew needs to move a long module onto the property. To do so requires the transporter to cross into the ditch and the neighbor's property on the opposite side of the street. It also requires the group of trees next to the end of the driveway to be taken down.
In this example about the logistics of a delivery and set, the delivery crew needs to move a long module onto the property. To do so requires the transporter to cross into the ditch and the neighbor’s property on the opposite side of the street. It also requires the group of trees next to the end of the driveway to be taken down.

Create a Written Delivery and Set Plan

General contractors, excavators, and customers consistently underestimate the difficulties involved in preparing a site. Their misjudgments come at great expense and aggravation to the dealer and, ultimately, the customer. The best way to avoid a disagreement between your dealer and the GC, if they are not the same company, is to have them meet on your site before any work begins to jointly develop a plan. The dealer should put the plan in writing so that both parties have written documentation. The plan should indicate what the excavator needs to do to properly prepare the site as well as where the dealer intends to place the carriers and crane. If a problem develops on the delivery or set because the plan was poorly conceived, although executed correctly by the GC, the dealer will be responsible for any additional costs. When the excavator is about halfway done with his preset work, the dealer should again meet with the GC to review and, if necessary, update the plan; the best thought-out excavation plans do not always work as well on land as they do on paper. If the dealer has any lingering concerns, he should return for a third visit just before the excavator is ready to leave the site. Either way, the dealer should visit the site for a final pre-set inspection after the GC reports it is prepared.

For more information about the delivery and set of a modular home, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home, Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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When a Building Permit Is Not a Building Permit

Recently I took some continuing education courses to renew my Construction Supervisor license for Massachusetts. One of the courses discussed the requirements for contracts between builders and customers. The instructor, who was an attorney, told a story about a builder who had – and then lost – a building permit. I’m very glad this has never happened to any of my customers, and I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

The Building Permit that Wasn’t

The builder sought the attorney’s help after he was denied a building permit for a property he had purchased.  In fact, the building inspector had already issued the builder a permit, but the zoning board required the building inspector to revoke it.  To make matters much worse for the builder, he had already installed a foundation and framed much of the structure – it was a stick built home.

An example of the first two pages of a building permits application
Click Here to See an Example of a Building Permit Application.

The attorney learned that the builder seemingly had done nothing wrong.  He had submitted a complete permit application along with the other required paperwork.  The building inspector reviewed the application and issued the permit.  The builder began work immediately.  But after installing the foundation and framing the exterior of the home, an abutter contacted the town and said the builder’s property was not a legal building lot.  The abutter reminded the town that 20 or 30 years earlier another builder tried to get a permit and was turned down.

The problem was that the lot didn’t have the minimum square footage required by the town’s zoning regulations.  It was about 10 square feet short.  Apparently, the building inspector didn’t notice this when he “reviewed” the application.  (The builder foolishly didn’t verify the claim by the seller of the property that it was a legal building lot.)  After confirming that the abutter was correct, the building inspector was forced, by law, to revoke the permit.

No Solution for the Disappearing Building Permit

The builder attempted to buy the 10 square feet from the abutter, who had plenty to spare.  But the abutter didn’t want a house on the property, not even when the builder offered a very generous payment.  The builder then applied for a variance with the town.  But the zoning board shot down the variance.  Some disagreements between the building inspector and zoning board likely contributed to the ruling.  In the end the builder had to take down the framing and remove the foundation at his own expense.

No Recourse for the Revoked Building Permit

It might surprise you – it certainly surprised me – that the builder did not have grounds to sue the building inspector or anyone else in the town for mistakenly issuing the building permit.  The builder also couldn’t go back to the seller of the property because he had purchased the land for cash without the aid of an attorney and without a written agreement that represented the property as a legal building lot.

The attorney concluded that if you are buying a property, always use an attorney and have them confirm in writing that the property is a legal building lot.  Also, make sure you discuss with the attorney what you need to do to secure a legal building permit.  If a problem emerges later, you will at least have recourse with your attorney.

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Exploratory Surgery for Your Building Lot

Building Lot Surprises

The cost to complete the site work on your building lot can escalate substantially if your land hides surprises below the surface. For example, high ground water, ledge, and clay will require additional labor and materials when your general contractor installs your foundation. Ideally you and your GC will know whether any of these conditions exist on your property before he completes his contracting estimate. Otherwise he will exclude these conditions from his contract, since he needs to protect himself from these surprises as much as you do. Unfortunately your GC’s exclusions will leave you vulnerable to significant cost overruns.

A completed perc test will provide your GC with some information about these underground conditions.  But this information is only available if your property requires a septic system.  The experience of those who’ve built on neighboring lots can also give your GC a better idea of what he’ll find when he begins his excavation.  However, subsoil conditions can be quite different on abutting building lots.

Have your general contractor to dig several holes on your building lot to learn whether the subsoil conditions will threaten your budget.
Have your general contractor dig several holes on your building lot to learn whether the subsoil conditions will threaten your budget.

Building Lot Test Holes

What can you do if you don’t have any information about the underground conditions on your building lot and you want to know more before you move forward with your new home?  You can instruct your GC to dig some test holes where he is likely to work when building your home, such as where he will install the foundation, sewer line, or underground utilities.  Although the GC cannot determine from a couple of test holes what he will find in other areas of your building lot, he can reduce the chances that you will run into expensive surprises. When the test is completed, the GC can fill the holes to eliminate a safety problem.

Building Lot Insurance Policy

Exploratory digging can also be a valuable insurance policy if you have not yet purchased a building lot.  If the exploration reveals unexpected expenses that compromise your budget, you can renegotiate the price or buy another building lot.  If you still want the land, and cannot negotiate a better price, at least you can plan a more realistic budget for the entire project and avoid cost overruns.

Since you will need the seller’s permission to complete the test holes, include an inspection clause in your offer to purchase allowing you to have the building lot inspected by someone of your choosing and granting you permission to complete some exploratory digging.  Although you will likely be responsible for the cost of digging, which requires the use of a backhoe and will cost a few hundred dollars, the peace of mind will be worth the expense.

For more information about subsoil conditions on your building lot, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Municipal Water and Sewer Connections

Customers often underestimate what is involved in municipal water and sewer connections. When the hookups are in a new subdivision, the task is usually easy and uninvolved. But if you are connecting to services that have been in place for many years, you could run into any of the following situations:

Factors that Affect the Cost of Municipal Water and Sewer Connections

An excavator digging below the sidewalk to access the municipal water and sewer connections
Do not underestimate the cost of municipal water and sewer connections
  • The location of the main municipal water and sewer connections provided by the town is incorrect, and the excavator digs in the wrong place
  • The main lines are adjacent to a more shallow utility, such as underground electric or gas, or to a surface improvement that prohibits the use of an open trench, requiring the trench to be shored up
  • The main municipal water and sewer connections are in poor working condition and additional work is required to use them
  • The length of the trench and the connecting pipe is substantial
  • The depth of the main municipal water and sewer connections is greater than 7 feet, which could require the trench walls to be reinforced with steel plates to protect against the danger that they will collapse while the crew is installing the pipes
  • Ledge and high groundwater are discovered during the digging
  • The municipal water and sewer connections cannot be made on the property, and instead require cutting into the road, which will have to be patched, and which could require hiring a police officer to direct traffic
  • The sewer line is higher than the height of the waste line from your home, which will force you to pay for a pump
  • The water line has low pressure at your property, compelling you to get a storage tank and pump

Each of these municipal water and sewer connections complications can add substantially to your costs and bust your budget. To keep them from being “surprises” you would be wise to research these possibilities before you begin construction.

For more information about municipal water and sewer connections, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot

A written offer to purchase for a building lot should include language that allows you to build the home you want, where you want it, and for a price acceptable to you. You should have your attorney include all contingencies that will provide the protection you need. If you are unable to meet one of these contingencies, the agreement should allow you to withdraw your offer to purchase for a building lot and receive a full deposit refund.

A sign indicating that an offer to purchase for a building is welcome
Your offer to purchase for a building lot should be done by an attorney and include contingencies that ensure you can build the home you want, where you want it, and at an acceptable price.

If the seller rejects a proposed contingency, he might accept a less demanding one. For example, the seller might not agree to a contingency that allows you to first obtain a building permit, since this might take too much time. But he might agree to make the offer contingent on the property passing a percolation test or being approved by a wetlands board. If your research indicates that these are the only potential obstacles to obtaining a permit, your attorney might advise you to submit the offer to purchase for a building lot with these contingencies in place.

These contingencies will only help you, however, if you take the appropriate actions they allow you to do. For example, when shopping for a dealer and GC, you will need to make sure their estimates are for the home you want and built to the correct specifications. This means that the dealer and GC must do their homework, as well. For example, if the property has access to town water and sewer at, the GC must determine if the hookups can be made inexpensively or require expensive excavation into the street.

Contingencies to Include in an Offer to Purchase for a Building Lot

  • The buyers can secure sufficient financing for the home they want to build
  • The buyers receive an appraisal at full purchase price by a licensed appraiser selected by either the buyers or their lender
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of the deed
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of any easements, deed restrictions, covenants, flood plain designations, or wetland restrictions
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of the applicable zoning regulations
  • The property has a registered survey, the boundary stakes are in place, and the boundaries are as represented by the seller
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of the perc test and septic design
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of any required flood insurance
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of any water test, whether required for a permit or completed at the buyers’ discretion
  • The buyers are satisfied with their review of the radon test and any required remediation
  • The buyers can obtain a building permit for the home they want to build
  • The buyers can dig some exploratory holes on the property to assess and approve subsoil conditions and are satisfied with their findings
  • The buyers obtain an acceptable written cost estimate from a builder of their choice to build the home they want to build

For more information about making an offer to purchase for a building lot, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home and Financing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Plan Selection

Before looking through a book for the right modular home plan, first determine which features are most important to you.

Questions to Help You Make the Best Modular Home Plan Selection

  • What do like about the floor plan of your current home? What would you change?
  • What types of floor plans have you liked in other homes, including model homes and homes of family and friends?
  • What type of home will fit best in your new neighborhood?
  • What type of home will work best with the topography of your lot?
  • What design will allow you to take advantage of the sun?
  • What is your ideal budget? What is the most you can spend, leaving 2 or 3 percent aside as a contingency fund?
  • Do you need all of the space finished right away, or will an expandable plan work best, such as an unfinished cape?
  • Do you prefer one-story or two-story living?
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  • Do you prefer an informal family room separate from a more formal living room?
  • Do you prefer an informal eating area (“nook”) separate from a more formal dining room?
  • Do you need a study or home office?
  • Do you want the laundry on the first floor, second floor, or in the basement?
  • Would you like an exercise room?
  • What other rooms would you like to have?
  • Are you counting on a walk-in closet or pantry?
  • How big of a kitchen would you like?
  • How big would you like the rooms in your house to be?
  • The best way to determine if each room is big enough is to measure the rooms in your own home as well as in model homes and record this for future reference.

Visualize Walking Through Your Home

The Home Store's two-story Whately 4 modular home plan with optional master bedroom on the first floor
Click here to see this Home Store two-story modular home plan with an optional master bedroom on the first floor

When you find a plan that appeals to you, imagine living in the house. Visualize walking through it, entering first through the front door, and then through the other exterior doors. Think about traffic flow and the location of various rooms. Imagine greeting guests and hanging up their coats. See yourself coming in from the car with a bag of groceries, or your children returning from their play in the backyard. Visualize placing your groceries on a countertop or table before putting them away. Make sure you have ample cabinets and closets in the convenient places; as best you can, count the cabinets and closets, noting their size. Imagine serving a meal at the table, and what you will see when eating. Consider whether the children’s or guest’s bedrooms are too close to or too far from the master bedroom. Would you have to walk through one main room to reach another room? Are the halls too long? Think about the views through all windows.

For more information about selecting the right modular home plan, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Determine Your Modular Home Budget

If you are considering building a new home and want to determine your modular home budget, I recommend that you start by shopping for financing and a building lot. I’m of course assuming you’ll be getting a mortgage and need to find a lot.

Shop for Financing First to Determine Your Modular Home Budget

By talking to a mortgage lender to determine how much you can borrow, you avoid two common mistakes: setting your sites on a more expensive home than a lender will approve or purchasing less home than you actually can afford. You should ask the lender to tell you in writing how much it will lend, how much the fees and other expenses will cost, and how much you will need to invest as a down payment. However, you should not select a lender until you know your modular home dealer’s and general contractor’s policies.

Shop for a Building Lot Second to Determine Your Modular Home Budget

Two modular home mortgage lenders
If you are financing your new home, talk to a mortgage lender to determine how much you can borrow

Next, look at the local real estate advertisements and call a few realtors to find out what a typical building lot costs in the communities you are considering. To see what you will get for your money, you should visit a few of these lots.

Once you know how much money you will have and how much the land will likely cost, you can determine your budget. Subtract the price for the land from the total amount of money you can spend – loan amount plus your deposit less lender costs – and use this price as the maximum you can afford for all costs associated with building a new home. You should create a contingency fund by allocating at least 3% of your total budget (it would be 5 to 10% if you were stick building). What is left is your maximum budget for your shopping.

Shop for a Building Lot to Determine Your Modular Home Budget

Of course, you could start with a price from a modular home dealer, since this will tell you how much money you have left to spend on land and how much money you need to borrow. Clearly, what you learn on each of these fronts will impact your evaluation of the others. Consequently, regardless of which tasks you take on first, you definitely will need to make some progress on all fronts soon after you begin.

For more information about determining your modular home budget, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Contingency Fund

Although this story may not seem terribly dramatic, it was quite costly and surprising and taught me a lesson I will never forget the importance of a modular home contingency fund.

She Wished She’d Put Aside a Modular Home Contingency Fund

A man bug-eyed with surprise because he didn't have a modular home contingency fund
Plan for the unexpected by setting aside a modular home contingency fund

My customer, a single woman with a young boy, was given a small piece of land by her mother. She didn’t have a lot of money, so we designed her a small ranch. The total price worked within her budget, but barely. The lot certainly didn’t appear to pose any problems. My customer and her mother had spoken to all of the neighbors, who they both had known for years, and learned that the ground water was low and there were no large rocks or ledge. In addition, the lot was completely flat, with only a couple of trees. There was no concern about the cost of a septic system and well, since public water and sewer were on her side of the street. I remember thinking that this would be an “easy” job, something I don’t see a lot with New England’s terrain.

What a surprise it was when we found solid ledge 18 inches below the surface. The best solution was to blast enough ledge to put in a crawl space and connect to the water and sewer. The real problem was that the cost was several thousand dollars, which my customer didn’t have. Fortunately, her bank, which her mother and late father had been using for 30 years, stretched her qualifications and lent her the additional money. Ever since this experience, I never assume that a job will be easy and without surprises. I suggest that you adopt the same cautious attitude and “plan for the unexpected” by setting aside a modular home contingency fund.

For more information about why you need a modular home contingency fund, see Financing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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When a Modular Home Building Lot Isn’t Buildable

I discovered just how difficult it can be to judge whether a modular home building lot has “wetlands” when customers of mine, a young married couple, bought a piece of open farmland that was covered by what appeared to be grasses.

A Real Life Lesson about a Modular Home Building Lot That Wasn’t

A for sale sign on a modular home building lot
Find out if you really can build on a property before purchasing it

My customers bought the lot in midsummer with plans to build the following year. The property was on a main road and came with municipal water and sewer, so it did not require septic approval and no one thought it necessary to do any exploratory digging. Because my customers had cash, they closed on the property as soon as their attorney completed the title search.

When they applied for a building permit the following spring, the building inspector told them that they needed to get the approval of the town conservation committee. The committee scheduled a meeting at the property in early April. To my customers’ surprise, there was standing water several places on the property. Even more surprising was the committee’s determination that the property was a protected wetlands and could not be built on. The committee emphasized that even if there was no water on the property, the vegetation made it a protected wetlands. In the end, the only use my customers had for the property was to graze animals. Given that they paid $45,000 for it, this was a devastating mistake.

Before Purchasing a Modular Home Building Lot, Make Absolutely Sure You Can Build on It

Unless you will be happy using a piece of land to raise cows rather than build a home, find out if you really can build on a property before purchasing it. Most importantly, do not take it upon yourself to make this determination. Consult with the proper local authorities.

To learn more about when a modular home building lot isn’t buildable, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Complete a Title Search Before Building Your Modular Home

Whenever you purchase land, make sure you complete a title search before building your modular home. If you finance the purchase, your lender will automatically require this. Although it will cost you several hundred dollars to have the title checked, don’t skip this task when you inherit or are gifted land. Having it done early on will protect you from moving forward with other steps that can’t be completed until the title is cleared.

Failing to Complete a Title Search Before Building Your Modular Home

A For Sale sign on an empty lot still requires that you complete a title search before purchasing a building lot
Complete a title search before purchasing a building lot

In our first year of selling modular homes, one of my salespeople sold a ranch to a woman who was going to build a home on a lot she was being given by her mother. When her attorney did a title search the day before the closing, he found a title flaw with the property. It turned out that when her mother had inherited the land from her own mother (my customer’s grandmother), the grandmother had actually given the land to both of her children, not just her daughter. So the land was really owned by my customer’s mother and her brother. No one had paid attention to this because the brother had died many years ago, and he didn’t have any children or a will stating what should happen to his share of the land. My customer’s mother falsely assumed she automatically inherited her brother’s share of the property. My customer had to cancel purchasing her modular home when she was told it could take over two years to resolve this matter in court. A couple of years later I noticed in the local paper that she had cleared up the problem. Since she had already bought an existing home, however, she sold the lot.For more information about why you should complete a title search before building your modular home, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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