I will be frank. I can build you a wonderful house, a livable, elegant, provocative, timeless, state of the art, comfortable, sensitive, modern house – the house of your dreams – for less than many of the thin, tired, remodeled, not-quite-really-modern houses are selling for in Portland right now.
I have recently finished building the Casa Torre, a moody, complex, rich, thoughtful pallazetto, on a magical forest lot flooded with daylight, steps away from Portland’s Japanese and rose gardens, for just over a million dollars. That’s for everything: land, design, fees, permits, construction, landscaping… Imagine: a house designed for you, now, built today, with the stone and tile, the colors, the features you want, ready to move into in a year.
Now I’m working on a design for a vacant lot in northeast Portland that is available. I’m calling it the Casa Rossa. Maybe it’s the house you’ve been looking for.
You have been looking, you know what’s out there! It’s ridiculous. Overpriced, ugly junk, the newest ones still needing at least a hundred thousand worth of re-doing. Why? Vacant lots are out there, especially the very hillside ones that I love to build on – there’s one right next to the Casa Torre! The prices for these lots haven’t even gone up! Don’t ask me why. Maybe people are intimidated to build on them – I’m not – or maybe they can’t get a reliable estimate of cost which as everyone knows about the hills, can be wildly unpredictable.
Nevertheless, I am not having a problem designing and building houses in the hills that are nice, new, and more or less comparably priced to far less attractive options. I have tried to explain some of the reasons for my success below and elsewhere (the smartest home) but ultimately I believe that res ipse loquitur – the facts speak for themselves. I am doing it.
As a designer and builder of houses, I can say that there are numerous paths toward that goal, many of which I have trodden and found to be fraught with peril! Inevitably, though, the process involves a fundamental bifurcation between designer and builder.
After working on both sides of this gulf, I have come to the conclusion that it is simply not an effective model for achieving cost-efficient houses. Beautiful, creative houses? Certainly. Well built, nicely detailed? Absolutely! But a great value, meaning little wasted money and best use of resources? Not likely. Because the owner is not in charge. And unfortunately, neither is the designer, nor is the builder! For an explanation of why this is so, again, see my thoughts on the smartest home.
What I propose is a little different, and not suited for everybody. In my model, while I serve as the designer and the supervisor of construction, I am ultimately the director for all matters regarding the building of the house, the matters that tend to get overlooked in the conventional process but which, left uncoordinated, can have a terrible impact on the project. These include interactions with the city, insurers, tax appraisers, inspectors, and of course, the sub-contractors with whom I am always the owner’s representative. I am lucky I can do it and I do it well, wearing the various hats of an artist and designer, an engineer and code interpreter, a lawyer, a negotiator, a task-mastering, scheduling, budget-crunching, risk-assessing, workboot-wearing city gadfly, a single, responsible person who is caring completely and exclusively for your welfare.
In my system, I evaluate the site, design the house, estimate the cost, obtain the permit, assemble the contractors (subs), direct their work, supervise everything, oversee finances, and get it built, on budget and on schedule. When something comes up, as it always does, I deal with it. No one else. Permit problems, deliveries, design changes, material substitutions – decisions can be made on the spot with an understanding of their impact on every aspect of the project, including cost, design, schedule, and suitability. And that is the key to an efficient, successful project!
I know of vacant lots in the hills that would make wonderful places to live. I’m sure there are many others that I don’t know. Maybe you know of one, have seen one that intrigued you. Let’s look and see if you can’t actually have the house you have dreamed of for less than the one you might otherwise have to settle for.