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How to Build Spec Homes

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A spec home is a home built on the speculation that a buyer will purchase the house prior to the issuance of a building permit. Most of the time a spec home will be in the final stages of construction. The following are brief descriptions of some of the necessary steps to build a spec house once you have secured financing. Always ask your local building inspectors for assistance in beginning a Spec House venture. It's best to consult with a general contractor as well.

Find land on which to build your spec home. It's best to contact a trusted real estate agent, as she will know where the available lots are and may be able to steer you toward some good deals that the public doesn't know about yet. Make sure you do your research on whatever lot you choose, as there may be zoning issues, wetlands, set-backs, subdivision approvals and other items that you want to know about in advance.

Buy your plans or blue prints. You will need several sets, as you must submit them to your local building authority and for permits such as well/water. You will need copies of your plans to give subcontractors such as framers, plumbers, and electricians. It's ideal to have a few copies in the office for potential buyers.

Apply for a building permit and any zoning permits necessary to start construction. Along with several copies of your house plans, you will need to provide a copy of a plot plan which will show the building inspector where your house is going to sit on a lot. It can take weeks for your permit to be approved. Once you receive your building permit, you may have to adhere to certain conditions such as having an engineer sign off on certain parts of the framing or roofing.

Make sure you hire trustworthy, reputable subcontractors. Make sure they can provide references from other builders for whom they worked. Always get a quotation in writing and check it carefully to see what the subcontractor will supply in the way of materials. For example, does the subcontractor's framing quote include nails? This can be a big expense and, if you don't anticipate these in advance, your construction costs could skyrocket.

Have a survey performed, as the survey will mark the corners of the house for when the excavating begins. Any service hookups can be dug during this process. You may need to have an inspection before having the foundation dug. Check with city hall or your local building inspector's office before proceeding.

Order any necessary materials you need for the foundation as well as for the other early stages of construction. Give instructions to the lumber companies or other vendors as to where to drop the materials for the first phase of construction (i.e. lumber, Tyvek, etc.,) or they could drop it in a spot that impedes production and you will have to move it.

Frame in the house with the materials indicated on the blueprints. Frame in all windows, doors, closets, etc., during this phase. Build everything to the plan's specification keeping building codes in mind.

Have insulation blown in and the drywall can be hung.

Have the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC rough-ins performed. This is where the subcontractors will come in and place their initial wires, pipes, and so on, before the insulation and drywall go in, to make it easier to install these items. An inspection will need to be called in once the rough-ins are in place. Windows and doors can be hung simultaneously. Check to see if your building permit requires flashing around your windows and doors and, if so, see if that material is included in the contractor's price or if you have to provide your own.

Choose options such as paint colors, cabinets, appliances, and countertops that are neutral in color. Choose upgrades where you can -- this will enhance the sale price of the house. Upgraded types of stone countertops and upgraded Oak or Cherry cabinets will be more appealing than standard laminate tops and pine cabinets. Find a trusted friend with a good eye or some design experience to help you make your choices. Ask the sales personnel at specialty kitchen and bath shops to assist you as well.

Lay the floors, add the trim and start installing countertops and cabinets. After these items are in, you can start your trim-out process where the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC subcontractors will come back to the house and install the items to finish their respective areas such as ceiling fans and appliances. The rooms can be painted, and carpet can be installed. You will probably need to call an inspector in at this time.

Have someone clean up the site and put down topsoil and grass seed. This is a great time to plant some bushes outside to make the house aesthetically pleasing to customers. You may want to have an agent hold an open house. Have the house professionally cleaned by a company familiar with construction site cleanup. Add some odds and ends like flowers throughout the house to enhance its appeal when customers are viewing it.


Always check with your building inspector's office or a general contractor for specific advice on building a spec house.

  • Always check with your building inspector's office or a general contractor for specific advice on building a spec house.

Based in Richmond, Va., Susan Ayers is a senior learning associate for a financial organization. She previously developed web-based training for Circuit City and spent a number of years creating eLearning courses for a not-for-profit law enforcement organization. Ayers graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Virginia Commonwealth University and holds a master's in education from St. Joseph's College.

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