Sunday, May 23, 2010


Yes, it's been a long time since I posted, but that doesn't mean things haven't been moving along. We have selected a General Contractor, we have found a lender, and we have solidified the budget. All of these things have good and bad issues related to them.

General Contractor:

Jeff bid out the project to seven General Contractors. Four responded. The bids varied widely, but had one thing in common --- they were WAY over what we had budgeted for. I believe I discussed this before, but there was a lack of knowledge as to what their role would be after the modules come to the site (meaning that the excavation/foundation work should be priced similar to a stick-built home, so the pricing is known). One GC had an idea about putting "known" items under a GC contract and then having them do "Construction Management" for the other elements, potentially paying an hourly wage so that we would pay only for work completed. This was an interesting proposal, but without a firm price was risky to say the least. Also the lenders that we spoke to would not necessarily allow this structure --- they wanted a General Contract for the entire construction project. So this was a no go. So Jeff scrutinized the budget line items and came up with a list, as specific as he could make it, with each line item defined. Two GCs were now in the running, somewhat pissed that they had to work so hard for for this project. Jeff and Michael and I conferred and basically agreed that at this point, it really came down to price. For me, though, it was also an idealogical issue in that I wanted our GC to come on board understanding the significance of this project, realizing that we were breaking new ground (literally) and be willing to work with us on price, or at least as much as they could. Well, when it came down to it, one GC was significantly less than the other, so the option was clear. This did not go down well with the other guy, and words were said and feelings were hurt, and, well, it was a bit uncomfortable. But we feel good about who we have chosen. He seems to have the right attitude about sustainability and has been relatively "drama-free," both good things.


So I have mentioned in the past the fear of prefab by most conventional lenders. We have been working with Gold Coast Bank, a small, local bank, that seemed to be all on board. I know folks have mentioned Land/Home Financial, and Jason Pachl at L/H has been great, but their fees are really high compared to other financial institutions. Specifically, they had a 2% origination fee, compared to others which ranged from .5% and 1%. This small difference was going to make a huge difference for the size loan we were seeking. Also, we did want a Chicago bank to get their feet wet on prefab so that there was a precedent set and knowledge that we were not building a double-wide. Everything was going along swimmingly until I received an email from the lender saying "give me a call when you get a chance." Apparently the bank's board was now uncomfortable with this idea, and although they were not going to leave us in a lurch, decided that they could not fund our construction loan at the level we needed, requiring us to put in cash assets towards the construction that we were uncomfortable putting up.

Now, it's not impossible to do this, but it is frustrating nonetheless, so were undecided on whether to go forward with them, or to go with Land/Home and pay extra fees. Some of you have potentially heard of a new bank opening up in Chicago called Green Choice Bank ( We knew about them, and really wanted to use them, but as they are not "open for business" until mid-2010, we didn't think the timing would work. Well, now that it is almost June, it's a possibility that we could work with them. So this is something we are now exploring. In any case, our desire is to break ground in late June --- that's our story and we're sticking to it.


Well, I can firmly say that this house is no longer "affordable," but Jeff and Kate have learned some lessons that could potentially make the NEXT person that wants to build this home more affordable than ours is. One of the issues is that the foundation, which has interesting notches to take advantage of natural light, costs way more than a solid rectangle/square foundation. Also, our choice of appliances and cabinetry have increased the price somewhat substantially. Truth is, there are no more changes that we are willing to make to the house --- we want what we want. I still think that, once built, the house will cost less to build because it is prefabricated than it could be built on site. This gives us some comfort, but our bank account is not so happy. Certainly one way to lower the price is to buy cheaper land. Also, the more that can be done in the factory, the better.

Last, but not least, the house, Square Root Architecture + Design, and Michael and I were profiled in the Chicago Tribune on May 21st: (,0,5254251.story) which is totally cool. It's all about trying to build prefab in Chicago and the obstacles being faced.

So the title "Momentum" is to show that, albeit with some low points, things are coming together. This may just happen yet!

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear you're hanging in there and things are moving along. I'm sure it's maddening at times, but what your doing could really change construction in Chicago and help a lot of people. I can't wait to see some photos as things start coming together.