Learn & Build


Learn and follow along while we build our affordable modern dream home.

Why Are We Doing This?


Reduction and Interiors

Small changes to the exterior to reduce the amount of materials used throughout the house. The grey areas were replaced with the white stucco or dark grey hardy board throughout. A bit more minimal this way but we liked how it ended up.

Then next up we got our first renders of the interiors. Like always, we were extremely happy with the first pass and had very minimal changes overall. The only thing we added was a washer/dryer setup downstairs and that's about it. Everything else pretty much nailed what we wanted from the get go.


Like everything else in life, things don't always go according to plan. So even after all the careful budgeting and planning, we got a little surprise today. We just found out we're expecting a new addition to the family! While initially terrifying, it was something we were planning for in the future anyways, and there will never be a perfect time.

What does this mean for the house? Well, mainly it pushes the timeline back a little bit but not much surprisingly. We're still planning to start sometime in spring/summer and it'll give us even more motivation to get things moving.

First Exterior Sketches

Finally we got to the fun part of the design stage, seeing the initial renders. CDG provided us with 3 different variations of the pass-through design with varying roofing options. There was a flat roof, sloped roof and a barn style wrap around.

While we loved the flat roof, it looked like it'd be a maintenance nightmare with all the rain we get in Florida. The barn style roof was different, but didn't really match our tastes. So in the end, we decided to go with the sloped roof because it seemed the most practical and gave the house an interesting silhouette.

We've said it over and over on this blog, but we were really impressed by the work. It really does pay to have a trusted design company working with you every step of the way. I don't think we would've ended up with anything close to this otherwise.

Deciding on General House Setup

Based on some of those initial discussions, we were able to refine the pass-through idea a bit more.

In the main portion of the house, we decided to make 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and 1 powder room downstairs. The proposed 4th room would be a room with a connected bathroom. While the main use of that room would be for a studio/office for me, we wanted to consider having a room for aging parents if needed in the future.

Dennis Fails At Sketchup

Small confession. I've always been terrible at illustration. In all my years of being a designer, I don't think I've ever felt good about one single illustration I've done. But, I do have a fairly useful skill.

I have a knack for learning software weirdly fast. Doesn't matter if I've never used it before. For some reason, I can watch a few tutorials and wing it from there. So while I was thinking through some of the discussions we had about the general layout of the house, I had some issues explaining my ideas. So I decided to give Sketchup a try. While I don't think i came up with anything on a professional level, it did help communicate different ways to think about the pass-through design.

We were debating on whether or not the studio in back would be detached or connected, making it more of an L shape for the first floor. Rather than staring at 2-D drawings, it was nice to quickly mock things up in Sketchup and see representations of ideas in real-time, hopefully saving a lot of back/forth with CDG.

Refining Ideas

At the end of our first meeting with CDG, Greg mentioned an interesting house he found online in Switzerland. It used a cross setup similar to the house above, creating this interesting pass-through design. After finding that example, we ended up coming across this AR house in Japan that had a very similar setup but a more minimal design and layout.

We loved the unique look and silhouette of the building. The H pattern from our previous meeting was similar in nature, but we loved this idea so much we asked CDG to explore more directions in this vein.

View AR House

First Round of Layout Designs

It's been a bit since there has been any activity on the project. We're in saving mode for the construction portion and I think we already scoured the entire internet for inspiration and ideas for the project. So, getting to the first bit of the design process was really exciting for us.

So for the first round of layouts, Content Design Group took our initial thoughts, likes/dislikes and needs and started to draft up possible roughs of what the layout could be. Three ideas were presented but we ended up favoring the "H" shaped design with some modifications.

We'll be putting together a more comprehensive article on the first round of things soon.

Liability Insurance...Because America

Insurance is one of those of those things that you never think about until it's too late. The land we just purchased will probably stay vacant for at least a year, and while that's well and good, it's not completely blocked off from the public. That means all it takes is for some idiot to go back there one day and hurt themselves and then magically we could get sued for their mistake. Thankfully if you have a current insurance plan for your current home, it automatically carries over to other land that you purchase. With no additional costs or paper-work needed. Thank you State Farm.

Now, that doesn't shield us from the legal costs of a frivolous lawsuit, but it does at least cover us from some kind of catastrophe before the house is done.

Kickoff Meeting with Content Design Group

Finally after dealing with a lot of the headache while closing, we were able to start kicking off things with Content Design Group. The main purpose of meeting was to get an initial idea of the process and to answer any pressing questions we had before we started on the next stage.

The first main question we needed to answer is if our construction budget of $280,000 would be feasible for the basic specs of the house. With the house being around 2,200 - 2,400 square feet, it seems like we're relatively close to that initial idea of a budget. Especially if you consider an average cost of $125/sq. ft. Which is slightly over average for Jacksonville but not by much.

The rest of the questions centered on random things like:

  • Are appliances included in financing? It depends on the bank but usually the major ones are part of it. But, it might be better to finance them through those 0% interest deals at stores instead of paying for them for 30 years.
  • Are utilities and clearing part of financing? Utilities is but clearing depends on the bank. Good to know so that we can manage cashflow a bit better instead of coming out of pocket too much.
  • How does wood siding do in the Florida Sun? Apparently, not very well without maintaining it fairly often. Not a deal breaker for us but at least we know what we're getting into.

After a bit of random conversation, we finally agreed upon the first set of tasks moving forward. CDG would set the schedule for the project with the tentative start date of March 2016. We’re going to start researching financing options for this construction phase, narrowing down our inspiration boards to must haves, and then look at key appliances to help establish our budget.


Closed On 0 Loretto Road

Official Soil Test Report

Not the most exciting report to get, but it's super important to the beginning stages of the build. The report's function is to let us know if the soil is good to build on. Not only that, but specs and recommendations on how to go about designing the house's foundation.

Read the Report

Soil Test Clear

Just got word back from Legacy Engineering that our soil tests were good to go. They had to manually get in there and drill the old-fashioned way but luckily they didn't charge us for the extra labor. The company took four samples about 20' deep near the area we're tentatively planning on placing the house. Thankfully Content Design Group could help suggest the best location for the samples because it's relatively expensive to do the test.

Sights From 0 Loretto Road


We finally took some pictures and video of the plot of land we're about to close on. To our surprise the "lake" that was in the survey is actually beautiful in it's own way.

Read More

It's Kind Of Like A Moat

Today we met with Byron Peacock of Peacock Consulting Group, LLC who completed the environmental survey of the property. He told us what we suspected, that the lot was high and dry. It’s also free and clear of any protected species such as gopher tortoises. He charged us a small fee and it was worth every penny to have him survey the land.

We also had a consultation with Bob Davidson of Concrete Works to get an estimate on installing a culvert crossing. There’s a significant gap between the property and the public sidewalk. This gap acts as a drainage system for rainwater. A culvert will “bridge the gap” (so punny!) and connect the two, helping to create our driveway. We're still awaiting a final estimate from Bob. From what we can gather by our research, a culvert can cost between $500-$5000. At least money spent on this wouldn't be going down the drain.

Putting The Lake Into Perspective

CDG sent us a rough sketch of what a 2000 square foot home (seen in red) would look like on nearly a half acre of land. The yellow area defines our required setbacks. I was particularly worried about how much buildable space the lake would eat into. This visual put our minds at ease and are confident with moving onto the next phase of our due diligence.


Signed with Content Design Group for Project

Survey Done!

Got our survey back from Associated Surveyors today and then sent it to our architects. Nothing seems weird about the land from what we can tell, although the lake next door to us cuts into the land a bit. Not a deal breaker though.

View The Survey

Site Updates

More subtle updates to the site. It’s been good to break up the chunks of enhancements into sprints for the week. This ensures we don’t get burnt out and the site constantly gets improved.

Circling The Wagons

Checked with the closing company, financial company, Justin and others today just to make sure everyone was on the same page. Really think someone needs to come up with an app that can help manage these types of projects. Maybe something like the knot but for houses.

Final Loan Application Process

Even though we were pre-qualified for the loan a month ago, we had to fill out an extensive full loan application to Coastline Financial. Compared to a mortgage it really wasn’t that bad ,but we did have to pay $300 for an appraiser. Another unexpected cost, but at least it wasn’t too bad this time.

Trouble On The Contract Front

Ever since we dropped off our initial binder check, we were wondering why we never heard anything back from the closing company. It was going on a week, and every time we called we would get some weird excuse as to someone being out of the office or whatever. Again, not exactly pleased with the level of competence here.

Turns out they lost the check and were waiting on documents to process things. Trouble is, the contract was sent the same day we dropped off the check so who knows what happened there.

Having your closing company just fumble around like this is a concern moving forward.

More Brand Work

Met with a good friend Ryan Perera on some ideas around the logo mark. While meeting with Russel and Varick a little while back, we came up with an idea of animating the logo mark. It could be a bit more dynamic and reflect the current build stage of the project. Ryan is one of the best motion graphics guys in town, so it was a give I'd reach out to him for this project.

The meeting went well and we should be able to show the animation in the next few weeks. I'm almost having as much fun working on this site as working on the house. Go figure.

Til' it’s ready, you can check out a crude Dribbble preview I made of the mark.

Due Diligence Calls To Surveyors and JEA

I called lots of different surveyors in town to select who we want to work with on this project. Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time getting people to give me the light of day. Maybe this project is too small? Who knows, but it continues to be frustrating.

Associated Surveyors did get back to me today and gave me an initial price quote of $750. We don’t know if that's a normal price yet, but we’re thinking of going with them just because they’ve been the most professional of the bunch.

Our agent Justin called JEA (our local power company) to get some pricing on connecting to utilities like water, sewer and electric. The prices have ranged from $5000-$9000 depending on location of said pipes and their specs. It’s kind of scary because we budgeted a lot less in our initial plan.

Yay, surprise pricing.

Future Ideas

Had an interesting discussion with our good friend Amber who’s also building a modern house in Jacksonville. We’ve talked about in the past about building/rennovating more modern homes in the future depending on if these projects go well. I think there’s an opportunity in the market to build well designed communities and homes that don’t look like every other neighborhood.

Later on that night, I found this pretty cool company called Restore 818 down in South Florida that seems to be doing the same type of thing. Pretty cool projects on the site, and it gives me hope that a company like that could be viable.

Checking on Phone & Internet Access on Lorreto

Had some rather frustrating calls with AT&T about whether or not we can have Internet or Phone access on the site. Unfortunately, they can’t determine access without an address. Even if I tell them the address next door, they can’t confirm so we have to wait on that. Feels like a risk on our end to not know but we have to keep moving.

Synora called Comcast to figure out the same, and it seems like they were able to do it without the exact address. Still a bit of a risk as well but we’re moving forward with the idea that it’s possible.

Customer Service?

A lot of companies we’ve dealt with so far have been borderline awful with customer service. Avoiding deadlines, being rude on the phone and just overall incompetence have been frustrating to say the least. I guess in the end, it makes you appreciate the people who are doing a good job like our agent Justin, CDG and our surveyor. They have all been wonderful and some of them haven’t even gotten paid yet.

Project Progress

I met with Varick and Russel about some initial ideas about the branding for this project. It’s nice to have such talented friends to bounce ideas off of. As always, I came out with a much clearer and better idea of what I wanted to do then when I came in. So thanks to those guys.

Also, we started to enter our tasks into Trello to help manage and organize all the chaos surrounding this project. If you haven’t heard of Trello, it’s a free project management tool that software companies often use to manage their builds. I’ve found over the last few years that it’s been helpful in other areas of my life, so if you haven’t tried it out yet, I highly recommend it.

And in other randomness, Synora found the city’s record for the 0 Lorreto Rd. property. Helpful stuff.


Our plot of land was part of a group of plots that formed one property a long time ago. The contract had to be adjusted to designate the right lot in the group.


Signed contract for 0 Lorreto Rd. Property

Guess That’s a No

The seller’s counter for the Old St. Augustine Rd. plot wasn’t even a counter. He stated that he would only sell at $80,000 if we paid all closing costs and associated fees with the transaction (basically totaling to his original price of $90k). Plus, it was contingent on not depending on an appraisal of the land.

Super shady and weird, so we’re decided to back out of this deal. Guess we weren’t meant to have that property.

Final Offers

The Lorreto Rd. property offered a counter at $67k which we think is fair considering how much land it is. Although, Dennis is giving the Old St. Augustine Rd. lot one more chance at $80k to see what they say. The seller agrees to get back to us before the weekend is done, so we have to wait a few more days to know what's going to happen.

We end up telling the Lorreto Rd. seller that we want the weekend to think about it and proceed to play the waiting game.

Counter, Counter, Counter

We had a little bit of back/forth with the 0 Lorreto Rd. property. The seller came back with $70k so we’re coming back with $65k. I guess that's how it goes. Also, we’re still talking with the Old St. Augustine Rd. property but are not confident it’s going to go through.


Put in official offer for 0 Lorreto Rd. property at $60k

Increasing Financing with Coastline

Like we mentioned before in a previous post. When you’re negotiating pricing on land, you want to get your financier to send you an updated pre-qualification letter with that exact amount. That way the seller knows you have the money lined up and ready.

As a backup, we started to get a draft pre-qualification letter for the 0 Lorreto Rd. property as well. Let’s see how this pans out.

Chat with Content Design Group

I can't state how important it is to have trusted people on your side during this process. We’re fortunate in being good friends with Jason and Greg over at Content Design Group, a local design & architecture firm. We decided to have an impromptu chat with them about the different lots we were considering to get their professional opinion and to see how it would affect the design process.

Greg had an interesting point about how to think about pricing for these projects. While $10-20k is a lot of money, spread over 30 years it might not be a big deal so choose what you want in the end and keep pricing in perspective. Makes sense and based on that we decided to go ahead and offer $80k to the Old St. Augustine Rd. property (near church). We came up significantly from our original $50k but we had that plot as number one on our list of options.

If that deal doesn't work out, we'll just go with the 0 Loretto Rd. property which was a close second and a much better price.

Almost Caving In...

Dennis was ready to go in at $80k just to lock down that Old St. Augustine Rd. lot. But, we decided to wait to talk to our architects about our options before being hasty. Good move.

Old St. Augustine Rd. (Near Church) Counter Offer

The seller countered our $50k offer with $90k. Not much of a budge if you think about it. Justin is advising that we just go in with our highest bid and that be it. The seller doesn't seem motivated to move on the property.

Updates On Other Properties

While we’re in negotiation with the other lot, we did a bit more research on the other lots we’re considering:

0 Old St Augustine Road

  • Small lot with building restrictions
  • 25’ in front, 20’ in back are the setback measurements we have to follow, will definitely make it difficult to have privacy when it’s that small
  • Neighbor basically in our backyard

San Jose Blvd (across from Epping Forest Yacht Club)

  • Huge ditch in back (flooding concerns, but not in flood zone)
  • Sloping land is a concern
  • Back neighbors sit on a large hill
  • Schools are pretty bad in the area unless you go to private school (not an option with our budget)

0 Loretto Road

  • $74,900
  • Still within our price range
  • Great schools and great house values in the area that could help our cause with appraisals
  • It’s a bit more difficult to get to the highway at this location but it’s not terrible since we can avoid traffic


While we wait to hear from the seller, we decided to check out some more vacant land in the Mandarin and St. John's area.

The first was Harmony Drive.

The neighborhood home values are lower than we feel comfortable with. It is, however, located in St. John's County which is known for its great school system.

We also look at another property nearby on State Road 13.

There were a lot of trees on this shallow lot. We're also unsure of the lot size and home values in the area. The asking price is pretty reasonable though. This one was also located within St. John's County.

The more we look at properties, the more we get a feel for what's important for us. Are we ok with living on a busy road? How old is the neighborhood? Could the neighborhood see further development? These are all questions we find ourselves asking each other. We're definitely developing a sense of what are dealbreakers versus what we're ok with compromising.

Counter Offer

We received a counter offer today of $90,000, 45-day closing, and a $5,000 binder. This counter is highly unrealistic. We decided to counter the counter with $60,000, 60-day closing, and a $3,000 binder. We don't want to tie up too much cash with the binder as we know we'll need money for surveys, soil studies, etc. Our max offer is $65,000, but we would consider going as high as $70,000 if we need to. Let the bidding war begin!


Made Offer On Second Old St. Augustine Rd. Property

Church Property (Old St. Augustine Rd.) Property Update

We’re just going to call the .6 acre property on Old St. Augustine Rd. "Church" to differentiate it from the other property down the street. Anyways, our agent Justin let us know that the owner is going to talk over the $50k with his wife. At least they didn't just outright say no considering we came in so low.

Budget Time!

So we should've done this before we did anything else, but we finally sat down and figured out numbers for this project. Not so much if we can afford it, but how long is it going to take to save up the 20% deposit and other fees. Given our current savings and our goal of $70k, we figured it would take a little over a year to save up all the money needed to start construction. Unfortunately that means we'll have to sacrifice a lot of things like vacations for that period and put in a lot of overtime/freelance to make our goal. I'm sure it'll all be worth it when it’s all said and done.

Researching Neighborhoods In The Area

So to be clear, we aren‘t against master plan neighborhoods. In fact, we live in one now and it’s actually pretty nice. It’s just if we had a preference we would like a little more variety and opinionated design in our house. We sometimes go and check out new developments just to see what they’re doing and how they lay out their houses.

In this case, we visited a local neighborhood called Whitemore Oaks by KB Homes. It’s still being built as we speak but we went to do some informal comps to help us understand where our house needs to appraise at. Remember, banks base how much they lend to you on homes in the area and how they compare to your design.

There were two homes that were in direct comparison:

Model Home One

  • 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
  • loft
  • and small multi purpose room modeled as a workout room
  • 3200 square feet,
  • 2 car garage
  • around $320,000

Model Home Two

  • 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms
  • one story
  • formal living and dining
  • large home office (that could be converted to a bathroom)
  • two car garage
  • laundry room off garage

Based on the fact that these homes are built on small 60' lots, I think our initial budget of $350,000 should be in line with comps in the area. The houses were actually pretty nice, just not our style.

How We Came Up With Our Offer Number For Old St. Augustine Rd. Lot

So instead of just blindly going with the asking price, what real estate agents do to figure out the price of a piece of property is to evaluate a few factors. One of them is, how long has this been on the market. In this case, the land has been on/off the market for years now and was just passed on through an inheritance in 2010. So they’ve tried to sell this land multiple times for years on end. Second, what is other similar land out there going for on the market? Considering other plots in the area are only $50k, we decided to go in with an initial offer of $50k.

Update on Old St. Augustine Rd. Property Near Church

The city has confirmed that the land is zoned RLD-60 (which means residential or you could have a commercial development like a church, daycare, etc). Meanwhile, the bank pre-approved our loan amount offer of $60k and sent over a letter so that we can put in an offer.

I know you might be asking, don't you have offers out on multiple places? The answer is yes, you usually have a time period where you can put in an offer and until they agree, you’re free to explore your options.

Getting Pre-Qualification Letters From Coastline

So part of the process of putting your offers is getting pre-qualified by your lender so that the buyer knows you mean business. It’s similar to other credit applications where you report your income and present tax records, letters of employment, etc.

Once you get approved, you usually get them to write up a letter that's exact to your offer, not the maximum amount you’re approved for. Then if negotiations continue, you just request another letter for that amount. That way you aren't showing all your cards to the seller but still give them confidence you’re able to buy this property.

Shaw's Tree Service Estimate

So part of building a custom home is finding either a cleared lot or one that can be cleared. In the case of Jacksonville, most plots of land are not cleared so you usually have to engage a tree clearing service like Shaw's to prep the land for your house.

So just to give you an idea of the general costs for these types of things:

  • For .25 acre lot, we’re looking at around $3600-4200 to grind and leave mulch (not preferred), then $4600 - 6500 to clear and haul it all
  • For the .6 acre lot near the church, it’s $3800-4200 for just the house pad and access road and the $5500 - 8500 to clear and haul. Mainly because you get a $800-1000 credit for the pines.

They were super helpful and even came out to the properties and gave us a free estimate. I wish all vendors we worked with were this professional and nice.


Put In Our Offer On Old St. Augustine Lot

Update On Old St. Augustine Lot

We officially put in an offer in with our new agent Justin. Our first offer was at $30k to get started but we were willing to go up to $37k if needed.

Also, we decided to stop by the property to get a closer look at things in the day time. While everything checked out and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, we realized that there's a property that's directly behind our lot. In fact, it kind of forms an "L" shape around us that causes us a little concern with privacy. There might not be enough land to create enough of a barrier between our house and their house.

Architecture Walk-Throughs With Unreal Engine 4

Usually with architectural renderings, you’re dealing with some pretty awful fidelity. Besides the look, they often aren’t as interactive as they could be to help you fully understand the vision the designers are putting together. But, there’s been a surge of 3D artists on Youtube who have taken the Unreal Game Engine (a super popular game engine that is used to make tons of games) and developed interactive walk-throughs. You can even download mini programs to interact with the prototypes on your own computer or even better, through an Oculus Rift (a VR headset that allows you to look around in a full 360 degrees).

One artist in particular create the Paris Apartment walk-through above that was super impressive in detail.


Prioritizing Needs And Thoughts On Sticking Out

Being a designer myself, I hate it when clients don’t have their shit together and haven’t made some very core decisions. Along with decisions, understanding your priorities and needs and wants is important when working on any project. So in hopes of being a good client to our good friends at Content Design Group, we started to put together a document that starts to list out our wants, needs and nice to haves. That way they know what we feel like we need and what can be cut if the budget doesn’t allow for it.

On another note, we’ve noticed some threads on Reddit on how banks prefer to build the cookie cutter homes. Understandably, they mainly care about risk vs. reward on projects and anything that is out of the ordinary (our project) will run into some issues.

Rockin' Real Estate

Amanda is leaving us with a trusted friend to help put the initial land offer in. She doesn't have much experience in vacant land sales and would feel more comfortable if someone else took over. Her friend and real estate agent, Justin Geary of RockinHomes Realty, is our new agent. He phoned us this evening to introduce himself. We had a general conversation about vacant land, offers and our next move.

Initial Chat with Content Design Group

Today we reached out to local architecture firm Content Design Group to talk about our idea for a modern home within a $300,000-$350,000 budget. They confirmed that a modern home can be built with a budget like ours. C.G.D informed us they're helping to construct a new subdivision on the northside with costs averaging from $124-150 per square feet. These homes will also have the option of being net-zero. These homes will give us an idea of what we can afford. We plan to visit the model home once construction is complete.

Tesla House Batteries?

Looks like Tesla is developing batteries for houses and it’ll be ready in about 6 months. Could be helpful for us when/if we try to make this house a net zero home.

Read The Verge Article

Updates On Financing Options Part 2

First Atlantic Bank (Southpoint Branch)

  • They do land and construction loans
  • Land loan details
    • 25% down
    • interest-only up to 2 years
    • interest rate 5-6% (slightly better than Coastline’s 7%)

Florida Credit Union

  • FCA does land loans 25% down, 6% for 60 months or 7% for 84 months with credit score 720 or better
  • Can use equity of lot after owning it for one year
  • No known land loan minimum that the rep knows of
  • Will approve our builder
    • will need to fill out paperwork and run credit check
  • Appraisal process for construction loan
    • use a sales approach
    • base value of home on recent sales
    • be careful of luxury items as they can decrease the value of the home
    • example of “green home” when there are no others in the area
    • recent family of members

First Atlantic Bank (San Marco Branch)

  • Decided to not use this bank because of bad customer service

Updates On Financing Options


  • They have a $10,000 minimum for land purchase (thank God)
  • They have their own appraiser that will check out the land and asses things. Seems to be the standard.

First Atlantic Bank (San Marco Branch):

  • Not incredibly helpful. No no one got back to us.

Florida Credit Union:

  • There were some concerns about them servicing our project considering they’re based out of Gainesville but it turns out that it isn’t much of an issue.
  • Their land minimum is $50,000 because they usually deal with mobile homes.

Florida Credit Union

It’s incredibly exhausting to research financing for these types of projects. Since most banks don’t specialize in construction projects, all of the information is usually buried on their sites. We lucked out a bit and realized our good friend from college Ryan actually works at a credit union that has the ability finance construction projects.

We asked them for a bit of information about some of their policies:

  • They require approved contractors to work on the project.
  • What is the minimum for getting a land loan?
  • How does the appraisal process work for this bank?

Random Thoughts On Roofs And Such

Seems like most designs we’ve seen online have flat roofs. While we think that looks great, we were wondering how that would hold up to Florida rain. Our good friend Amber dealt with some of the same issues on her project.

In analyzing our finances (yet again) and what would need to be done in order to afford this house, we had a further, more in-depth chat about taking on a roommate now to help offset the costs of paying both mortgages during construction. It’s a bit sobering to do that at our age but it could be an option. Anything’s better than moving back home. If it was a few months I'd be cool with it, but for a half a year or more, I think it'd be trouble.

Old St. Augustine Rd Update

Amanda our agent sent us more information about similar land plots around the Old St. Augustine Road property. Apparently, many of the properties are listed for around 20k rather than the 40k the agent has been asking for. The only issue (if you could even call it that) is that banks usually have minimums for loaning out money and at that price, it might be an option for us.

Collection of Modern Home Build Blogs

We actually got started on this project because we were inspired by this particular site made a few years back by Mike Davidson. The site is called A House By The Park. Granted we don't have the same type of budget that he does, but it was still an amazing resource for us and why we feel it’s helpful sharing the things we’re sharing.

Here's a list of some others that might be helpful for you:

Now For The Fun Part - Financing Discussions!

Dennis and I some discussions on things we need to know about the properties we’re getting into. We’re a bit worried about how appraisers value homes and if it’s only based on houses around it? Seems like that’s the case.

Also, we’ve done some research on banks to see if anyone would offer deals for 90 - 100% financing. We added some banks to our list but it’s not looking great because at that level of financing, most require a high interest rate of 7 - 9%.

Lastly, we did some errant research on solar panels after hearing about a project here in town that’s producing net zero houses. Apparently the costs for them have gone down by 50% since 2010 which makes using them a lot more economically feasible. It would be amazing to build our house in that manner.

Woodfern Property

Synora found a property on Woodfern Ln. that seemed to be promising. But after driving by, we didn't like the way it was laid out and the orientation to the neighbors.

Old St. Augustine Rd. Property

We discovered another property on Old St. Augustine Rd. It’s only $40k according to the listing and has a bit less stuff to clear than another property we found on San Jose. We contacted the listing agent Joe Perez for more info and he was pretty helpful with things.

The lot turned out to be about .27 acres with mostly brush and small trees. Great schools, low crime, no HOA/CDD fees and had access to most public utilities. Although it couldn't easily connect with Sewer so you'd have to have a septic tank. After some research that didn't become a deal breaker considering it's more normal than you think.

A bit worried about the house prices in the area though. Our initial budget would be outspending for the neighborhood and that could lead to appraisal issues in the future.

Wrightson Dr. Update

We found the deed to Wrightson Dr. on the city records and there’s a few issues. Unfortunately, the restrictions are:

  • Must be at least 2,500 sq. ft of livable area
  • Designs must be reviewed by a random board of 3 people in the neighborhood (really? who makes this rule?)
  • The house must be at least 20 ft. from the curb (this is known as the setback).

The sq. ft. minimum might break our budget and more importantly that design restriction could really hamper our plans for the house. Also, the plot of land tapers into more of a triangle shape instead of being a straight rectangle like most properties.

San Jose Property Update

We took a drive to check this plot of land near San Jose. While it looks okay in the listing, once you get to the property you notice that it dips a bit in the back and there is water collecting back there. Not to mention incredibly tall trees to clear and brush.

We also looked at a vacant lot on Wrightson Drive. It's the last lot available within its subdivision. The exterior of the homes vary so we might be able to get away with a modern home in the neighborhood.

Initial Land Research

We've called other banks to see how competitive their rates and terms were in comparison to Coastline's. Most banks don't care about these types of loans since they default at a higher rate, and they tend to not make as much money per effort put in.

Dennis and I have also been brainstorming about how to save money for this project. Thoughts of taking on a roommate while we save to offset some of these upcoming costs is one. It's not a bad idea considering the alternative is to move back home with the parents.

We found a couple resources to help figure out if any of the lots we're viewing are in flood zones and require insurance. Flood Buddy seems pretty legit and while it's difficult to use, the FEMA flood maps are the official records. Although, it's interesting to note that these can change from year to year.

Also, we started to do some research on how to determine cost per sq. ft. This is important when determining your house budget and if you can build a house that is priced within the neighborhood you're considering. For instance, you don't want to build a 2,200 sq. ft house that costs $350,000 in a neighborhood where similar houses can be had for $200,000. Your bank would never approve it and you'd have to foot the bill between the difference of appraisal and amount financed.


Moving Forward With Modern Home Project

Alright, Final Decision, But For Reals This Time

After more conversation between the two of us, we made final, final, final decision not to move forward with the Springfield home. Lots of back/forth but sometimes things don't happen in an instant.

We then received more information from Coastline about their financing and the programs they offer. They've been the most responsive of all the banks we've reached out to so that's a positive.

We also had some initial conversations around total house budget including land and it ended up being around $300-$350k. Synora wanted to stick closer to $300 which is understandable. Normally this type of house price would be out of our range but with saving over 20% down to get the house, we'd have a monthly mortgage similar to our current payment.

Lastly, we had some initial discussions with our friend Mike about flood plains and how to determine if the land you're thinking of is in one. It's something to keeping mind for as Jacksonville does have some flood-prone neighborhoods.

Checked Out Felch Lot

Drove by the lot on Felch St. near Sean's house and checked it out on Google Street View (amazing resource for research).

We also called Coastline Home Mortgage to startup conversations around financing and how that process would work. So far it seems pretty legit.

Someone did give us advice on the Springfield house and how financing would work with the lien. Apparently a bank will not finance a property if they are not listed first on the mortgage. Meaning, if debts are getting paid off, they want to be paid first before anyone else (before the city in this case). Granted we already rescinded our offer at this point, but it gave us more clarity on our decision to build a modern house like we always wanted.

Rescinded Offer For Springfield

Officially rescinded offer for Springfield after all of the lein mess. Started to really think about building the modern house we always dreamed of building. That lead to a night of Googling information about construction and land loans.

We eventually had a meeting with friends on another project when our friend Sean mentioned that a lot near him on Felch Street could potentially be for sale. So we took down the information and tried to reach out to the owner that night.

Too Good To Be True

Admittedly the house needed a lot of work, but we still loved the idea of customizing an affordable house to our specs. But, we then received an email from our agent Amanda about issues with the title. The house had been in disarray for years and that led to fines from the city for being out of code. Now, you might think that might be a few thousand dollars but the total amount of fines equaled around $127,000. That was because they have been fined $100 day for those violations for years now.

This was pretty discouraging to hear and it's initially what started us going down the route of building a house on our own. That night Synora found a plot of land on Wrightson Drive from listings Amanda sent us. It was located in Mandarin near a pretty nice neighborhood by the river. Pretty affordable lot at $75k with great schools and low crime.

Signed Offer On Springfield House

We put an offer in on the Springfield house. Our friend and Springfield resident Amy helped us find a renovation loan specialist.

Toured Springfield Home

The place was a wreck for sure but it was only $60k. It had an awesome amount of space at 2,600 sq. ft in addition to a 2-car garage with a 2 Bed / 1 Bathroom garage apartment in the back. It was an interesting prospect but would probably take over $100k worth of repairs alone just to get it back to normal.

The idea for this house would be to renovate and then possibly sell in a few years after the neighborhood picked up a little.

For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Springfield is a distressed historic neighborhood in Jacksonville that has been slowly gentrifying over the years but is currently stalled out at the moment.