The DIY Dream and the Dawn

Before you decide to make that dream come true of building your own house, think about this. All too many eager beaver couples found themselves dismantling the construct and family too, while about it. There are no stats about the percentage of couples that don't make it through the tortuous process, but people in the field say it happens all the time.

"Some couples lose the dream," says Israel Pasternak, manager of the Building College, who at present is personally assisting 14 couples in building their own homes. They find themselves inundated by debts they can't handle and break up. Most projects founder on the dichotomy between the dream and the budget. The couple clashes over priorities and emotions spin out of control.

"According to the data we have, 17% to 20% of DIY construction projects never reach completion," says Pasternak. "The family never gets to live there, or construction gets significantly delayed. Sometimes it takes possession before everything is ready, missing infrastructure or garden. Or else they move in but can't buy so much as a light bulb for the next few years. Situations like that create terrific tensions in families."

A DIY couple from Hod Hasharon confirm the impression: "There are a huge amount of pressures when building a home. Sometimes the couple's desires clash and they fight. One wants a rural style house and the other a modern one. Either you compromise or you divorce."

The biggest pressures aren't over painting the  living room green or white, they're with the builders, the couple explains. As there is nobody overseeing the job, just each professional doing its bit, they all blame one another for any problems that arise, and arise they will. They also cause delays, when one says he can't start working until another finishes a certain job, and none meet their schedules. "You have to understand that these contractors are not your employees. They provide a service, sometimes badly," says the husband.

Yet according to the Housing Ministry, in January-November 2005, no less than 11,439 couples built their own homes in Israel, including through building associations. Sector sources believe that 6,000 homes are built DIY each year. Most of the projects are in non-central Israel and in new neighborhoods of towns such as Omer and Lehavim in the south.

Most of the couples going the DIY route are in their 30s, Pasternak says, and the hi-tech rally is boosting the trend. But people have no idea what they face when they try to realize this particular dream. Some think they'll be saving money: "The DIY system saves mediation fees for the contractors, which come to 15% of the cost of the house," explains the Hod Hasharon husband.

Planning is everything

How can the risks be minimized? Architect Arik Abitboul says preparation is everything: "If I have eight hours to cut down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax," he says picturesquely. Some people rush into buying a piece of land that then sits there for a year or two or more while try to figure out what to do with it. Then, once they get a building permit, they leap into the process without thinking it through. This is a recipe for disaster, Abitboul says.

Abitboul, who among other things lectures on DIY at the Building College, counsels couples to start by choosing where they want to live; checking out the selected town; who markets land there; and what the master plan for the area has to say about construction. The couple needs to check everything that would impact their house up to ten years down the line, he says.

They should consult with expects on wind direction and sun, and choose a lot that enables maximal use of natural resources over time. And very important is the financing program: get it sewn up.

And a lot of people come a cropper when calculating the price per square meter of construction. They don't realize that saying say 300 square meters ? in gross terms ? means a house much smaller in net terms. That figure includes external walls, staircases, and so forth, Abitboul warns.

No way back

You bought the land and decided on a budget, and start looking for an architect. Make sure he's licensed, Abitboul urges, somebody with five years' study and three years' internship at least, and make sure he specializes in private, not institutional, housing.

Look at his style, his skill and experience, and before agreeing that he design the interior too, make sure he knows how. Anybody can say they do and a lot of people get confused between the jobs of the architect, the plumber, and the engineer, for instance. Don't chintz - hire the experts. Trying to save a few hundred dollars now can exact an awful price in the future.

You chose an architect; now hire a measurer, who produces a 1:250 map of the plot, without which you can't start the process with the government authorities.

Now is the phase of tackling local government. The architect or builder will present the map to the city, which is tantamount to asking for information about the land: building rights, zoning, and whether special characteristics are required, such as red tiled roofing. It takes three weeks for the plot file to materialize. Use that time for market research, Abitbul suggests.

The architect can begin working when the file arrives. First he does sketches. Abitboul: "Understand that from the moment permission for planning has been granted, there is no way back. It is important to understand the plan and make sure it meets your expectations."

Once his plan has been approved, the architect starts the process of obtaining a permit, which can take about a month. Sketches are 1:100. Often the committee returns a file for amendments, which can take two to four weeks more.

The private builder will also need permits from the Israel Electric Corporation, Bezeq, the Israel Land Administration (if it owns the land) and other authorities. The engineer will need to report on the loads the building will bear. The best is for the architect to choose the engineer, because it is crucial that they understand one another.

Note that the builder is not in the picture yet, though one should have been chosen and he should be informed of progress. Once all the permits are in hand and the calculations complete and the fees paid, which takes three to four months unless relief is sought, then work can begin.

The more detailed the architect's plan the less likely things are to go wrong, Abitboul counsels. Bad interpretation by the contractor can cost a lot of money.