our owner builder journey header image antelope on plains of south dakota with badlands in distance

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Preparing to move states and build a home is a totally different experience as a married adult than it ever has been before for both Husbando and me, and I had definitely never heard of being an owner-builder before this. The first time my family moved we stayed in the same state. Husbando’s family moved multiple times within the same city and even the same neighborhood! Later, as adults, my family relocated to the PNW and Husbando immigrated from the United Kingdom to the USA so we could get married. Once we moved out to Illinois so we could be close to my sister and her family while looking for work, but it was a very temporary and short-lived adventure.

Nothing like what we’re embarking on with this journey.

south dakota deadlands our owner-builder journey pinterest image

Growing up, South Dakota was a place on a map; easy to remember because hey, North Dakota is right above it, right? In all of Pop’s talks of moving away from the west coast, the Dakota’s never came up. Coastal people tend to like to stay right near the coast. We love to be near the water. I even said for years I couldn’t handle moving further inland away from water because I had to be able to get back to the ocean within a day.

That’s the thing about growing up though… you suddenly find that you can do a lot of things you never thought you could when it provides a better life for your family and loved ones.

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Checking Out the Property as an Owner-Builder Team

Part of our decision to start this blog was as a way to keep track of our experience and share it with others so they could learn with us. In keeping with that, once the decision was made to move out, and the property purchased (by Grammie and Pop; Husbando and I had no direct influence in it), the time came to put our research to work.

This past fall Husbando and I took our first trip out to the property, bringing along our very close friend and construction worker (I’ll refer to him as Dear Friend in this post and probably others). Having someone who is experienced in homebuilding that we trust and can bounce ideas off of is probably the single greatest resource we have been blessed with in this experience. His help and guidance have been and I know will continue to be priceless on this journey. So, of course, he came with us! How on earth could we expect to figure all this out on our own!?

I know we are so lucky to have a good friend with such fantastic experience in home construction and restoration and that not everyone has such a resource. We highly recommend that you look for people that can fill this niche for you on your journey. Failing that, ask ask ask ask ask. Don’t ever be afraid of stupid questions – because the only stupid question is the question never asked. Assume everyone around you wants you to be successful – your county’s building department certainly does. Get advice from professionals every step of the way. Bring up concerns and double-check anything that sounds suspicious!

Home on the Range

Our land is very flat but surrounded by hills with the beautiful Black Hills, not at all far from where we plan to have our home. There’s a small rise where a neighbor has placed their home in order to get a view of the… flatness… all around.

Honestly, we never thought we could fall in love with a piece of property like this.

But standing there as the wind blew past, looking at the smattering of trees, the Black Hills off to the side… it wasn’t the twanging holiness of ‘Home on the Range’ that I found myself humming. No, it was the gently stirring melody of America, the Beautiful; the same song we based Our Pilgrim Feet from. Walking that patch of acreage, pulling up agates and quartz, we felt like we were home.

And we haven’t even started building yet.

Why We Decided to Explore Being an Owner-Builder

Happy family puppy Penelope enjoying her first look at the new land with Mom and Dad!

Building a home is no easy task, and really if we didn’t have the resources available that we have we definitely would not be doing it ourselves. Thankfully, our Dear Friend is what I like to call an “Architectural Restorationist” and has told us since we first started talking about building that he would handle the construction. His talents have allowed us to create a home with all the little details that we love – even if all I tend to do is walk into an old building, point at something and say,

“I want that in our house.”

However, Dear Friend no longer has a construction company. He has found owning a business stifled the creativity necessary to do the quality of work and restoration he is known for. Often times he is given challenging historical restoration projects that need that creativity, so he freelances. This left us with a challenge when it came to the building. Dear Friend is not from South Dakota and knows no one in the state. He has no connections there with companies that would be willing to bring him on while he worked for us.

Thankfully, Dear Friend knew about owner-building and was able to give us a quick, brief breakdown of how it worked.

Thankfully, South Dakota is very owner-builder-friendly.

The House Plan

Alert! The neighbor dog has invaded our land!

The greatest decision Husbando and I have had to make is which house plan would be right for our family. I strongly advocate for families to spend time writing down what they want in a house. There are millions of house plans out there. All of them are different styles, orientations, combinations of rooms, and sizes. It can easily become overwhelming! By having a list of must-haves, followed by a list of ‘likes’, you can weed out homes that may be beautiful but are otherwise unsuitable for your situation.

For example, I have known that I absolutely wanted a large Butler’s Pantry connected directly to a formal dining room. Husbando has known that he absolutely needed his own office or study space so that he can work from home without distractions. I know that it is crucially important to me that there be a bathroom for each bedroom, plus one extra for guests. These were non-negotiable. Every time we looked at house plans, just those few things would quickly and easily eliminate hundreds of homes right out of the box.

Then there are the things that we would like but weren’t as picky about. Things such as the Master Bedroom on the ground floor or an attached garage.

Our Choice as an Owner-Builder Family

Our Owner-Builder Journey... So Far FB image

We struggled for a while to find exactly what we wanted. We played around with the idea of designing our own home, taking elements from other plans that we loved. But as with life, things crept up and caused us to change direction. We have now settled, with Grammie and Pop, on a plan. The home plan we’ve picked will allow us all to live together with room for a few kids to have their own bedrooms upstairs.

Sure, the home is definitely a bit larger than Husbando and I had initially considered. It is, however, the best decision for our family. And it provides us the space to ‘plan for the future’ – another idea I heavily advocate for other owner-builders.

Owner-Builder Next Steps

Our journey now turns to finding an architect that is qualified to make the adjustments to our house plan. After that, Husbando gets to reach out to some new friends to see if they can recommend a structural engineer. The single most important part of being an owner-builder is understanding the process as your county describes it. As an owner-builder, even if you hire a project manager, you are responsible for the outcome of each step. Husbando and I are taking the time to slowly, but surely, walk through each piece of it with Dear Friend. He will be acting as both General Contractor and Project Manager for us.

We are super looking forward to the later steps when we get to actually work on building the house! The ownership that comes with even a little sweat-equity is well worth it to me. I’m excited that we’ll get the opportunity to hammer a few nails and cut a few boards. We are going to build something that we love and spend the rest of our lives living in.

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