Building Your Dream Home Can Turn Into a Nightmare

Lots of research and proper planning will help you avoid painful pitfalls on the path to creating the house you have always desired.

Before you decide to actualize your fantasies and build your dream home, it is worth considering the following: Quite a few couples who embark on such projects have ultimately - or sometimes even sooner - ended up dismantling both that home and their family. Although there are no statistics on couples who have suffered this traumatic experience, building industry sources say it is "a known phenomenon."

"There are couples whose dream evaporates before their eyes," explains Israel Pasternak, president of the Building College (Israel Building Center Group), which is currently providing individual consulting to 14 couples who are building their own homes independently.

"Many couples become overwhelmed financially," continues Pasternak, "and as a result, they sometimes decide to separate. Most of the projects run into difficulties due to a lack of coordination between the dream and the budget - this creates clashes between the husband's and wife's desires and causes crises.

"According to data we collected, 17-20 percent of projects begun on an independent basis are not completed: the family does not take up residence in the home or significantly delays construction. In other cases, they start living in the house before the grounds and garden are developed, or when they do move in, they don't have money to buy even a light bulb for the first two years. Such situations create severe tension in the family, sometimes to the point of separation," stresses Pasternak.

A Hod Hasharon resident who built his own home together with his wife concurs.

"There are many sources of stress in building your own home," he says. "When there are differences of opinion, it can lead to arguments. If one spouse wants a country-style house, and the other wants a more modern look, they either compromise or head for the rabbinic court."

Building one's own home takes 10 to 14 months and entails a lot of pressure. "The greatest friction is between the homeowners and the contracted professionals," says the Hod Hasharon man. "There is no single address for complaints - each tradesman blames the other for defective work. Lots of tradesmen are dependent on the work of other tradesmen, resulting in one saying he can't start to work until the other has finished.

"The main problem with them is that they don't stick to timetables. These tradesmen are not employed by the homeowner, but rather contracted service providers, and sometimes their service is not good."

It turns out, however, that despite all the difficulties, many couples still choose this route. According to data provided by the Housing Ministry, in 2005 (January-November), 11,439 homes were built independently (including group construction by building associations). An estimated 6,000 houses are built independently each year, with most of this construction in expansion neighborhoods of agricultural communities, and in new neighborhoods of big cities and small towns.

Pasternak says that a large number of the couples are in their thirties. "The recovery of the high-tech industry is strengthening this trend. Couples who already own an apartment can now take on a greater commitment. In many cases they start to pursue their dream without understanding what they are doing."

Small scale contracting

So why do they do it? Couples who have built their own homes speak of realizing a dream, of controlling the entire process of building the home that fulfills their desires. Some mention a savings in costs.

"Building independently saves on the middleman's costs via a contractor, which can be 15 percent of the cost of a house," says a resident of Hod Hasharon.

Arik Abitbul, an architect and interior designer who specializes in private construction, believes it is possible to build one's dream home and reduce the risks as much as possible. To this end, he advises couples to build wisely by planning properly, and offers a saying he borrowed from a book: "If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six of those hours sharpening the ax."

"Sometimes people buy land and it lies untouched for a year and a half without the buyers checking out what is involved in building a house," explains Abitbul. "When they get the building permit, they start the process right away, and this creates a lot of problems."

Abitbul, who lectures at the Building College on building a house privately, offers several tips: A couple considering building their own home should first check out where they want to live, find out about the surrounding community, who is selling land and what the local master plan states about future construction plans; in other words, they should check out everything that could affect their home over the next 10 years. He also advises consulting with a climatic architect concerning the sun and wind conditions, to choose a plot where the house can take best advantage of these natural resources.

Abitbul says it is also very important to prepare a financing plan for the project.

"That is basically the difference between a developer and a private builder," he says. "A developer has to prepare a precise financing plan in order to obtain a bank loan. The bank checks out the developer and obligates him to use the funding only for that project. The private builder, on the other hand, does not prepare even 10 percent of the financing of the project. The project is still the same, even if it is in miniature."

"A person wants to build a house on a 300-square-meter lot," continues Abitbul. "He comes to my office and is prepared to pay $1,000 per square meter. What he doesn't understand is that 300 square meters of construction means a home that has less space than that, because one has to take the walls and the inside stairs into account. A lot of people do not understand the gross-net pricing of home construction."

No turning back

After buying land and deciding on a budget, one can start looking for a suitable architect.

"Since anyone in Israel can plan a private house, it is important to ascertain that the architect is qualified," says Abitbul. "He should be a professional that has studied architecture for five years and interned for three years. His specialty should also be private homes, rather than public buildings or apartments."

It is also worth checking the architect's style, professionalism and experience. If you want the architect to do the interior designing, too, make sure he understands this field also. It is likewise important for the couple to understand the extent of the responsibility of each of the main professionals involved in the building process.

"There are overlaps in the responsibility of the architect, and the plumbing engineer, who may have studied for only two years," warns Abitbul. "An expert must be hired for each type of work. When a contractor builds a project, for example, a plumbing engineer is involved in planning the plumbing. There is no reason for this not to be the case in the construction of a private house. People try to save $500-$600, and this is a mistake."

After, or even during the search for an architect, a land surveyor must be brought in to prepare a map of the lot on a scale of 1:250. Without this, it is impossible to begin the process of getting a building permit from the local authorities. This process begins with ascertaining the property's building rights and what is allowed, not allowed or compulsory, such as a tiled roof. This is the building lot's information file. It can take three or four weeks to obtain this file from the local authority.

"During this time, it is worth taking a walking tour of the neighborhood, doing a market survey and understanding what others have built on the same space," says Abitbul.

Once the information file has been obtained, the architect can start to work. Abitbul notes that it is important the architect does not limit the number of meetings to discuss the building plans, as this creates stress.

"The main problem is that the moment plans are approved, there is no turning back. The plan must therefore meet all your expectations."

After you approve the architect's plans, he applies for the building permit. All the building plans are drafted on a scale of 1:100. The permit application file includes three copies of the application form, a Land Registry extract, approval forms signed by the neighbors and anything required by the local Planning and Building Council. The permit application is reviewed within a month and is either accepted or returned for corrections.

You will also need to obtain approval documents from the Israel Electric Corp., Bezeq, the Israel Lands Administration (if the land belongs to it) and the Civil Defense Forces (for the planning of the protective room). A report from an engineer regarding the expected load on the house is also required, and an engineer's principle plan. It is advisable for the architect to recommend an engineer, because they must work well together.

At this point the builder is not really in the picture. "We gather all the permits and go back to the local council, and if we have everything - which is rare - we receive the building permit. Right before this is issued, the building levies are calculated and must be paid. This whole process takes three or four months," says Abitbul, "unless the applicant asks for easements."

While you are waiting for the building permit, you can start working on the construction plans: the skeleton, aluminum work, electricity, plumbing, with detailed plans totaling 20-30 draft sheets.

Getting to work

The more detailed the plans and the better the builder understands them, the less likelihood for complications later. A contractor's misinterpretation can be costly, warns Abitbul. It is also worth learning about the various floor and wall coverings and fine-tuning the plans for the kitchen. Assistance on these matters can be found via the Internet or consultants.

At this point the engineer also sets to work, matching the construction to the architect's plans. Then as soon as the building permit is obtained you can choose contractors and start to build.

"Ideally," concludes Abitbul, "All the construction plans should be ready for tender 30 days before the building permit is granted. This enables the builder to choose contractors and start building in an organized fashion, without any pressure."