Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The move: Why we didn't just build

I include this only by way of information for others that may have similar interests as us, and who may toy with the idea of building a "dream home" that is more contemporary, or modern.

After several years of trying to hunt down the perfect house, and being involved in a few deals on houses that didn't work out, we thought "why not build? It's the perfect time. Land is cheap! You can use your own builder! Your own plans!" And nearly every builder/lot/neighborhood used exactly that to try to entice you to buy their land. And they were all right, to a point.

New living room, another view. Change lighting, knock out part of wall on the right to open it up partially into the kitchen.
After a few frustrating failures in buying other homes, we got a babysitter one Saturday and scouted out every SINGLE piece of available land in our county and the one south of us. We saw it all. Most of it was easy to weed out. But we narrowed it down to a few and got really excited, because, like I said, builders now are pretty much willing to do anything to have work in this market.

We wanted to build something in a Mid-Century Modern/Contemporary style. And we thought that when you bought and owned land, that you got to build what you wanted. I will only share our first experience in trying to buy land/build what we want, but it was a scenario that was repeated a number of times.

 This is the basement bathroom, slated to be totally gutted. Should be a real beauty of a before and after.
So we're ready to buy a lot, and I decide to talk to the city to make sure our plans were within code. The city planner told me that they weren't - that their city didn't allow flat roof structures. After lengthy discussions with him as to why, it was an ordinance put into place specifically to prevent homes like what we wanted to build from being built in their city. Ok, I say, so a butterfly roof then, is that ok. Well, says city planner of the city I am starting to dislike, not exactly - people in this city have been known to sue (sue?!) if they feel a house is being built that will "lower their property value". I felt like my head was going to explode. NO, I am by no means rich, but I was not going to build a "trashy" house. In fact on the street we were wanting to build on, it would have easily been one of the nicer houses. So city planner of city I am now starting dislike its people says I need to petition the neighbors on the street, show them the plans and get them to agree to it. So I do it. I print out plans, write a letter, and hit the pavement.

In defense of the neighbors, most of them could care less. However, half of them were very concerned. In conversations with them, they called my modern house plans "trashy". They were concerned about their property value. They said the house didn't match the rest of the houses on the street. (Keep in mind, this was a street with a log cabin looking home, a mcmansion (or 3) and and arts and crafts style home). There was no cohesion in look anyway.

Master Bedroom in new house. Chandelier is being changed and moved, curtains will be changed. Carpet and paint. But the wood paneling will stay.
So we bailed on that particular street. But the scenario was repeated in one form or another in many other lots. They tout that you can use your own plans...but only if you want something with stucco and brown brick, typically with a minimum of 1700 sq feet on one level, and not to be smaller in total than 3300 square feet. You had to have a vinyl fence, and your plans had to pass an architectural review commitee. And there is nothing wrong with that kind of house - its just not at all what we wanted to do.

We were beyond frustrated with our experience in trying to build. Were there lots that we could of gotten away with doing what we want? Absolutely. In not super great parts of Salt Lake. And I love Salt Lake. But I'm not single/without children. I couldn't see having my kids make the biggest sacrifice in our move just so I could have a house I really wanted. What is best for them was way at the top of the list of what was important in the move. We were only committed to make this happen if we could keep them in a safe, child friendly neighborhood.

What we learned:
1.If you want to do something different, modern, contemporary, or otherwise, check with the city first.
2. The only county you could get away with it in Northern Utah is Salt Lake. Maybe Utah County, but we didn't check there. Or if you buy land in a rural/mountain area where your modern home will not be seen by anyone. And I'm not being sarcastic - that's the truth.


mummalu said...

What madness! It's a good thing you found out how cuckoo all the neighbours are before you made the move!

Las Entradas said...

I thought you might like to meet Bungalow '56



jodi said...

Okay, I'll say it: this place is so much more "you" than the other place. Even though we miss you.

lisa said...

I love, love, love your new place. Serious. It's perfect. Even without all the to do's. I totally volunteer to come paint, rip up carpet, etc. anytime. (especially on Mondays when Brad can watch the kids!)

Maggie said...

that's so sad. bureaucrats and ridiculous by-laws!

Abbigail said...

FRUSTRATING! I have heard most of the story as you went along, but it still ruffles my feathers. My brother is a builder in sais town/county and I asked him a few years ago if I could build a home like I adored. I showed him a few pictures and he said that there would be no way. The city would never approve it. He said I would need to build it in the middle of no where or go traditional. I was shocked. I too thought if you owned the land you were in charge.
The master bedroom is really beautiful. The wood paneling is amazing and those top windows are really charming. Please don't do too much before your baby comes, get some rest when you can. I am going to have to pass on that chandelier. It is pretty great and crazy. My brother has one in his house that he offered to me because it is so wild. I cannot believe that you have one just like it. I am sure that they would look great somewhere. I am also looking for a new fixture for my dining room. It is a chandelier mess. Can't wait to see what you guys choose.

Even my street that is filled with contemporary houses has all of these rules about the property, no fences, can't cut down trees, etc. I don't mind, but it is a bit strange.

suzy said...

I can't wait to see what your creative mind will come up with for this house. I also can not wait to see it done. Have fun!

MTDA said...


I hear you. the misses and I have had similar experiences explaining our taste to pretty much everyone around us that isn't an "artsy" type. We looked at a killer MCM, butterfly roof home that, we were told, the neighbors hated the fact it was in the neighborhood, but it was built in '51, so anyway, we appreciate you enduring the grief for us, and we figure we will find a home like the one you got, someday and fix it up. Congrats, btw, it looks cool.