Rebuilding Checklist

You probably know many of these items already, but it never hurts to be reminded. Here are the things that are necessary or desirable before construction begins on your house in the approximate order they need to be completed (although some of them can be worked on at the same time):

Insurance Settlement

Have you settled yet with your insurance company? Without a settlement, it makes no sense for most people to proceed with reconstruction, not only because you need the money, but because the insurance adjustor needs to see the current condition of your house in order to proceed with your settlement. This can be a big problem in a major disaster, when insurance companies can take a long time to process all the claims.

FEMA Zone

Which FEMA zone are you in? Depending on the severity of your storm, new advisory maps may be released, as they were after Katrina, where it took close to two years to get the new maps. Each city or town has to decide how to proceed in the interim. This is a lot of uncertainty, and that’s bad, because most people can’t wait 12-18 months to even think about how to rebuild. So what can you count on? Check with your mortgage company to see what they’re going to require, but you generally should be able to build based on whatever flood maps are currently adopted by the city. Just make sure that your mortgage company will agree to honor their commitment if more onerous FEMA maps are adopted while your house is under construction. Proceeding without this commitment could lead to the nightmare scenario of a half-completed house that cannot be financed and for which the bank will not loan more construction funds to complete it. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of getting a written agreement from your financial institution concerning this possibility before proceeding with construction.

Utilities

Have all your utilities been restored? It is possible, but inconvenient, to build using a portable generator for electricity. But building without water is much more difficult, so make sure that water service has been restored to your area.

Design

Building a stick-framed or panelized home begins by buying the house plan. These plan books are dedicated partially or entirely to Katrina Cottage designs. Once you’ve selected a builder, talk with them about whether to construct your house stick-built or panelized. If there’s a good panel fabricator in your region, panelized construction can save weeks. Scroll down for more on builders.

If you elect to buy a manufactured or modular house, then you select a design built by one of the manufacturers in your region. Generally, few homes are shipped from further than 500 miles because the transportation gets so expensive, so look for manufacturers with factories within that radius. You’ll still need a builder to do your sitework, even if the manufacturer does all instillation of the house itself.

Builder

Who is going to build your house? Manufactured or modular homes require very little on-site construction, but any other form of design is built mostly on-site (panelized construction) or entirely on-site (conventional stick-built construction.) We recommend interviewing at least three local builders, and pay as much attention to chemistry with them as anything else, because you’ll be working very closely with them during the process of construction, and a good working relationship is important.  Unfortunately, the construction industry in a disaster zone is likely to be stretched to the limit for months or years depending on how many homes have been lost. So you might want to consider building parts of your house yourself. Many people find this a daunting task, and there’s no doubt that there’s a lot to learn, but most of the Most-Loved Places in America and around the world were built by people building their own houses, so it certainly isn’t impossible.

Cost Estimate

Who is pricing your house? If you hire a builder, they should give you an estimate of construction costs upon which you can base your financing. But if you build the house yourself, you’ll need to hire someone to provide the estimate. Don’t try to estimate it yourself because if you don’t build houses for a living, there will certainly be things that you inadvertently leave out. An estimate that is too low causes numerous problems during construction. If you buy a modular or manufactured house, the manufacturer will give you a price for the house, but be sure to clarify exactly what is included and what is not. The following items may or may not be included in the manufacturer’s price:

• site utilities from the meter to your house (electrical, water, sewer, gas, and communications (internet, telephone, and TV)

• utility hookup once house is installed

• house foundation (and basement, if there is one)

• house installation

• paving (driveway & sidewalks)

• fencing

• landscaping

• utility fees (often called Aid To Construction)

• building permit fees

Building Permit

If you’re the one responsible for getting your building permit, be sure to allow a few weeks for processing the permit because building departments in disaster zones are usually swamped with a high volume of permits. Be sure to ask if there’s a reduced rate for disaster-affected construction projects. In many municipalities, both the builder and the homeowner can pull the permit, but if your builder will do it, they know their way around the process and can probably get it faster.

Construction Insurance

Do you or your builder have construction insurance (also known as builder’s risk insurance)? This is different from your regular homeowner’s policy, but is absolutely necessary. A house is much more likely to be damaged destroyed during construction than at any other similar length of time in its life because of all the power tools, torches, chemicals, etc., that are used during the construction process. Sometimes the builder carries the insurance, but check to make sure, because you can’t afford to be without it.

Financing

Have you secured your financing? You typically need to have your new design and a price from your builder before getting a loan commitment and construction financing.

~Steve Mouzon

© New Urban Guild 2017