Do-it-yourself holds down cost of satisfaction 2 Forest Hill families got details they sought

Dream Home

October 18, 1998|By Rachel Brown | Rachel Brown,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dave Peterson, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, likes to do things by the book literally.

When he and his wife, Susan, drew up plans and a wish list for a new house for them and their two children, Adam, 7, and Lindsay, 6, they approached several contractors for estimates. When the contractors told them they couldn't get the house they wanted, even for $300,000, Dave bought the book -- "How To Be Your Own General Contractor" -- and set to work to build their dream home himself.

The end result is a beautiful Tudor house with four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and all the special touches the couple wanted, including a walk-in closet in every bedroom, recessed lighting, a brick fireplace and large wooden doors.

"Most modern houses have narrow, chipboard doors," Dave said. Even the contractor who submitted the highest estimate wouldn't accommodate them on natural wood doors and moldings, said Susan.

Ultimately, the house cost $190,000 to build, which is still much less than even the lowest bare-bones estimate they were given.

"It took nine months of working every weekend," said Dave, who is stationed in Virginia Beach and would make the five-hour trip to their lot in Forest Hill in Harford County. During the week, Roy and Richard Beverage of Royal Renovation helped frame the house.

"They'd build the walls and then on the weekend, we'd put them up," said Dave. He also hired skilled workmen for specific jobs, such as electrical, plumbing and brick work; and he hired an architect to draw up a formal floor plan.

Dave had no construction or carpentry experience at the start of the project, but he said working on the house became an education. "We spent so much time in the bookstore, studying how to do different projects," he said. "It's amazing what you can do yourself."

Doing it themselves allowed the couple to make changes on the fly.

"The floor plan called for a wall between the kitchen and the family room," Susan said. "Once we could see the house coming together, we realized we didn't want that wall there."

Confidence grew

As each aspect of the project was completed, Dave's confidence grew. "When I rented the Bobcat bulldozer for the walkway, the rental guys kept asking me if I'd ever driven one," he said. "I told them, 'No, but I can fly a plane, so how hard can it be?' "

While Dave was working on his house, Susan's father, Bob Brandt, was next door on the adjacent lot, working on his new house -- a two-bedroom, two-bathroom contemporary ranch. The two families had lived near one another in Rosedale, so when Dave and Susan announced that they were planning to move out of the neighborhood and build a house, Bob and Mary Brandt decided it was time for them to move as well.

"We realized we'd have more buying power if we all went in together," Bob said, adding that his house cost roughly $150,000 to build.

Mary said they were ready for a single-level house, but it was hard to leave the two-story home where they'd been for 31 years. "I kept saying 'All my memories are here,' " she said. "My daughters kept telling me, 'Mom, pack your memories in a suitcase.' " Mary took their advice: Family photos fill the walls and rooms of their new home.

Finding two lots that all could agree on proved difficult. Dave said it took weeks of driving around looking at lots, and invariably his mother-in-law vetoed his decisions.

"I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew I'd know it when I saw it," Mary said. "Most lots were heavily treed, so it was hard to envision them without the trees."

They found two lots -- each 2 1/4 acres and $75,000 apiece -- in Forest Hill. They didn't have many trees, and both families liked the rural setting. "I didn't want to live in a development," Susan said. "And a lot of the land here is still farmland or preserved."

There were a few scraggly trees between the two lots, and Dave and Bob ruefully laugh at their efforts to get rid of them. "We spent a whole day in the cold and rain chain-sawing them down, and then I burned out the clutch in the truck trying to get the stumps out," Dave said. "The next day the bulldozer guy showed up to dig the foundation, and he bulldozed the remaining trees like it was nothing. It just took a few minutes."

Dave also said he learned some lessons while working on his in-laws' house.

"Bob and I spread the tar on the foundation ourselves," he said, describing another torturous experience. "When it came time to do that on my house, I knew I didn't want to go through that again."

Trouble overhead

"Most people use a crane when they put a roof on a house," said Susan. "Dave was up there using ropes to pull the trusses erect." Dave said the roof of his house was the most difficult part of the construction -- made harder when it was discovered that one of the trusses was not made correctly and when two of the trusses were erected facing the wrong way. So when it came time to put the roof on the Brandts' home, they brought in the crane.

Bob Brandt -- like his son-in-law -- had no formal construction experience, but he owns a carpet store. "So, at least, I understand floor plans and blueprints," he said, adding that for him, the hardest part of the project came after his house was built.

"Mary selected neutral carpeting, but then she wanted accent pieces. It just killed me to write checks to other rug stores for three Oriental rugs."

As a nurse at Mercy Medical Center, Susan said she still shudders at the thought of the blisters and bruises her husband and father suffered during construction. The worst injury required a trip to an ophthalmologist, who determined that Dave's eyes had been scratched by sawdust.

Even so, Dave said he'd do it again. "We like to tell people we have a lot of sweat equity in our house."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.