February 5, 2012

Weekend Retreat on a Budget!

A Contractor Spills His Secrets

120204-wsj-breaux-retreatA builder of luxury homes reveals how he created his weekend retreat on a budget

By NANCY KEATES, The Wall Street Journal, January 27th 2012

Photos: Drew Kelly for WSJ

Meadow Vista, Calif: As a top contractor in Silicon Valley, Dick Breaux is in a rare position: Amid a national housing slump, he continues to build big and elaborate houses. Projects have included a renovation of a 65,000-square-foot mansion and a 22,300-square-foot redo that required a crew of artisans from England, and he’s currently working on a 14,000-square-foot compound with an amphitheater on 12 acres in Hillsborough.

Dick Breaux, a top Silicon Valley builder of luxury homes, uses his experience to create his weekend retreat for less. Nancy Keates has details on Lunch Break.

Yet for most of his 35 years in the area, Mr. Breaux and his wife remained in their 3,000-square-foot ranch house in the less-pricey town of San Mateo. It was like the cobbler who never has time to make his own kids’ shoes, said his wife, Kate.

The couple still live in San Mateo, but they have built a new house for themselves: a 6,000-square-foot, four-bedroom weekend home, in a golf community just outside Sacramento. Finished in late 2010, the house includes many of the techniques Mr. Breaux gleaned from the Bay Area’s better-known architects and designers. It also cost him $340 a square foot to build, compared with the $600-and-up cost of the houses he usually builds for others. Though some of the savings came from lower labor costs, more came from choices Mr. Breaux made to maximize a luxurious look for less, from selecting standard window sizes and less-pricey patio materials to deciding to use off-the-shelf closets instead of a custom made alternative.

I have a feeling that Dick Breaux’s ideas on how to save money are still a mite rich for some of our readers.  Here are some Burbed Secrets to really saving money when building your own home:

120204-wsj-breaux-retreat-facadeSecret #1: Don’t build it in the RBA.  Remember, they’re not making any more land here, but there’s oodles of it in Sacramento.  Why do you think Dick Breaux saved so much? 

Secret #2: Off the shelf everything.  That slate roof with copper flashing?  Puh-leeze!  Those are colors, not materials.

Secret #3: Be an in-demand contractor that charges $600 a foot and charge yourself less than your customers.  You’ll save hundreds per foot!  Save even more by building a 6,000 square foot house instead of the more typical 8,000 foot getaway.

120204-wsj-breaux-getaway-cabinetsSecret #4: Your suppliers can charge you less too, if they ever hope to work on another one of your megaprojects.  Remember, somebody has to pay retail, as long as it isn’t you.

Secret #5: Architect, shmarchitect.  High-priced professionals like architects and interior designers simply make things cost too much.  Get yourself a copy of Turbo FLOORPLAN and save, save, save!  Save even more with MS Paint!

120204-wsj-breaux-sheetrockSecret #6: Breaux says don’t cut corners on the cabinets.  Why not cut out the cabinets entirely, including the corners? Grab some two by fours from one of the other construction sites down the road, along with a few cinderblocks.  Your shelving is done at less than one percent of what the pros would charge you!

Secret #7: Breaux saved money by using sheetrock that looks like much more expensive plaster.  You can save even more by using sheetrock that looks like marble.  Roll some up in a cylinder and you’ve got yourself some mawbul cawlums, just like rich people want.

Secret #8: Convey a sense of luxury without a Cayman Islands bank account.  Breaux says avoid having your rooms look like boxes, and he did it with slanted corners.  If you don’t care what’s plumb, you can make the whole house slant, and everyone will think you’re a postmodern genius.

Secret #9: If you make a mistake, bury it.

Secret #10: Instead of renovating your kitchen four times, build a new house with four kitchens.  That will give you more resale value for the money invested.

Question for discussion: Should someone named Dick Breaux be a football coach or a custom home contractor?

Feel free to share your money-saving tips in comments!

Comments (8) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:03 am

8 Responses to “Weekend Retreat on a Budget!”

  1. Mole Man Says:

    Cool story, Breaux!

  2. nomadic Says:

    Aha, he was a football coach for awhile!

    He started his career as a high school English teacher and football coach, building spec houses on the side in the summer.

  3. SEA Says:

    This totally violates the standard rules of the RBA. In the RBA one seeks to build the most expensive house possible on the smallest possible space. Breaux seems to suggest building a very similar home on a larger lot for half the cost. Clearly this is short-sighted, since the smart money is buying RBA property that goes up in value.

  4. Divasm Says:

    You joke, but my husband did all of the sketches for our work on our house in Google Sketch Up, which I believe can then export into Auto CAD.

    Of course it was minor, if we’d been building a castle with a moat or something I’m sure we would have needed a Real architect.

  5. madhaus Says:

    If you were building a castle with a moat, you could save big on landscaping expenses.

  6. The Gilroy Alex Says:

    An ugly monstrosity built on a budget is still an ugly monstrosity.

  7. Crissa Says:

    I’m going to need an architect and engineer just to work on the foundation on our 750 sqft house. But there’s no way our house would cost half a million to build. $600 a sqft? What is it, a high rise?

  8. Sunny(vale) Kim Says:

    But there’s no way our house would cost half a million to build. $600 a sqft? What is it, a high rise?

    Pencil Tower.

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