Building a barndominium: Finding a general contractorBuilding a barndominium: Finding a general contractorClaudia OrumOrum


Editor's note: This is part three of a series.​​

​​​Once we knew what we wanted and where we wanted to build, we began searching for the "right" builder.

The internet was helpful with designs and configurations, but finding the right contractor was not so easy. I found that most of the established metal building contractors in our area specialize in commercial metal buildings, and many of the contractors who specialize in barndominiums (who I found listed on the internet) have specific regions where they build. None of the online barndominium contractors built in our county.

Our experience showed an important difference between a primarily commercial metal building contractor and a primarily​ barndominum contractor. The commercial builder has the experience to erect the most efficient foundation, metal frame, and structure. However, they may be unable to retain individual subcontractors for much of the interior, residential-type work—the “meat and potatoes” portion of a barndominium. Subcontractors like framers, flooring contractors, carpenters, cabinet builders, and other artisans who finish out a home are not used to the same extent for commercial building interiors. As barndominiums become more popular and commercial builders incorporate them into their scope of operation, I think this issue will resolve itself.​


In my quest for a general contractor, I contacted local metal companies and asked for a list of general contractors. Then I contacted some of the contractors to ask about their experience with building barndominiums. This method of researching was not successful for me.

My first choice of a contractor was a local commercial metal building company. I met with them, and we entered into a contract to build the barn portion of our barndominium, which is a separate structure from our home. The barn is a 24’ x 40’ insulated metal structure with a concrete floor. Unfortunately, by the time they completed the barn, they had a backlog of other jobs. They estimated that the soonest they could begin construction on the home portion would be eight months but most likely ten months. This was not acceptable for us, so I continued the search for a general contractor to build the home portion.

Word of mouth can mean a lot in a rural community. That's how we found the general contractor for the home part of our project. In the course of conversation, a friend gave us the name and phone number of a barndominium contractor he knew. We called the contractor, then met with him to discuss our plans. He gave us references, and we checked them out. I spoke with his banker. We looked at a completed barndominium and even one in progress before we made our final decision. By January 2016, four months after we made the decision to build a barndominium, we found the right contractor for us, and work began on our new home.

Area bankers are excellent sources for finding local contractors. You can also contact your local Capital Farm Credit representative or even your homeowners' insurance company.

TIP: If you leave a message or several messages and the contractor does not return your calls, or perhaps waits a week or two to call you back, keep looking. Chances are, if you try to contact him in a crisis, you won't get a call back at that time either. Look for honesty and professionalism.​

Next week: Ideas, designs, and the layout of your barndominium

Building a barndominium: How to finance it and where to buildBuilding a barndominium: How to finance it and where to buildClaudia OrumOrum


Editor's Note: This is part two of a series.

Financing a barndominium is different than financing a traditional home. Many banks do not consider barndominiums a dwelling so you will not get the same type of loans (length of loans or interest rates). Shop around for financing that is best for you. Ask lenders about their contractor payment process, or “draws.” Encourage draw inspections by your lender. In other words, the contractor should provide the lender an itemized list of expenses for each draw of funds he makes. The lender may send an inspector to the building location to confirm that the money draw was used appropriately.

If you plan to “pay as you go” and finance​ yourself, use caution and common sense. Verify material deliveries and work progress before you pay a draw. Ask for copies of invoices for materials and sub-contractors.

There are many other factors to consider before you start building. This may add costs to your project, but not considering them could cost you more in the long run or even delay your project once it starts.

  • Do you already own your property? If so, where on your property is the best location for your new home? Consider:
    • Property access from a public road. The type of public road may add value to your property, which will help your appraisal value for financing.
    • Land elevation and drainage.
    • Utilities. Does your property already have access to a power line? If not, where will you need the power company to set poles?
    • City sewer hookups or septic system? Since most barndominiums are in rural areas or outside of city limits, they have septic systems. Know your county’s regulations and guidelines for putting in a septic system. 
  • Site preparation
    • Do you need to clear trees or brush?
    • Do any existing buildings or structures need to be removed?
    • What type of soil stabilization will your foundation need?
    • Do you want to put in a driveway base on your property? Keep in mind that construction of a barndominium will mean heavy concrete​ and delivery trucks getting to the building site.
  • Water. Do you have access to city water, or do you need to drill a well?​
​Next week: Finding a general contractor
Building a barndominium: Our storyBuilding a barndominium: Our storyClaudia OrumOrum
Editor's Note: This is part one of a series.

In 1994, my husband and I purchased a new mobile home for our 27 acres in Burleson County, Texas, and enjoyed 20-plus years in it. By 2015, we began plans to renovate the mobile home and possibly add a room. Once I calculated the costs of the improvements I wanted to make, I knew that would not be a wise investment. With my husband already retired and my retirement approaching, I began looking at other options.

Owning two tracts of land, we decided to sell the smaller 27-acre tract and relocate to our 74-acre tract. Now, the next major decision: What do we want to live in?

We have owned conventional homes and mobile homes, but at our ages, we wanted something that did not require so much maintenance. Energy and insurance costs were also a major consideration. After a lot of research, which included talking to other homeowners, we decided to build a barndominium.

Barndominium Pro’s & Con’s:
  • PRO: With the metal frame and exterior, the walls are thicker, and so is the insulation, which means energy savings.
  • PRO: The metal frame structure also means savings on homeowners insurance.
  • PRO: The design can be simple or elaborate. You can make it what you want.
  • PRO: Building costs are more reasonable, and construction time is quicker.
  • PRO: Taxes are usually lower (that is still to be determined in our case).
  • PRO: Exterior is simple to clean.
  • CON: Builders who specialize in barndominium construction in your area may not be easy to find.
  • CON: Conventional financing is not as easy to obtain as with a conventional home.
  • CON: If you plan to “pay cash as you go” using contractor “draws,” make sure you have your attorney go over your contract to avoid any unforeseen issues that might arise.
There are several ways to go about building a barndominium. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you can have the concrete foundation and metal building constructed quickly, then build the interior structure yourself, or sub-contract it out.

We talked to several people who were completing the inside of their barndominium themselves, and we talked to a few who were dealing with individual sub-contractors on their own, but most of these people were younger, and completion of their barndominium was on a “no rush” basis.  That choice was not for us. We wanted a contractor who would work with us and handle the sub-contractors, and we wanted to move in in a reasonable amount of time.​

Next week: How to finance and where to build
(Virtual) Reality bites: VR in real estate(Virtual) Reality bites: VR in real estateBryan PopePope
​​​​​​Virtual reality is becoming more and more commonplace these days, and it's not just for 16-year-old gamers anymore (nor is it for 44-year-old editors freaking out while playing "Alien Isolation"). No, in recent years real estate developers have been toying with new ways of using the technology to attract business.

One such developer is The Dinerstein Companies. They're behind Sterling Northgate​, a large student housing project currently in the works in College Station's Northgate district. They use virtual reality (VR for short) headsets to give people a fully immersive tour of the development, so potential tenants know exactly what they're getting before they sign a lease. Without ever stepping foot on the property, people can visit the courtyard, pick up footballs and throw them through a goal, play a game of horseshoes, and even grill outdoors.

I asked Merideth Savoie, Dinerstein's vice president of marketing and management services, about the use of VR in marketing their project.

​"In our company’s 60-year history, Sterling Northgate is the first property that we have created the VR experience for prospective renters," she said. "Many developers do virtual tour videos, and initially we did too once the project broke ground. After the video was finalized, we knew we had to up our game, and our thinking was that the VR experience would make Sterling a standout in the market during peak leasing season."

Merideth said they haven't used VR as a tool when seeking investors, but they're currently exploring all of the ways that they can use the technology.

And, as you might expect, the technology isn't cheap.

"Implementing the VR experience was a significant investment for the business but one that we felt was important for our future," Merideth said. "The company we worked with was working on enhancing and broadening their capabilities, so we were able to try the VR experience at a better rate."

Dinerstein was first introduced to VR two years ago at an apartment marketing conference.

"The organizers invited attendees to come on stage and try the oculus rift headset, which subsequently inspired us to adopt the technology ourselves," Merideth said.

To take their brand to the next level, Merideth said they knew they had to move the VR experience beyond the leasing office. In other words, hit the streets and the Texas A&M campus.

"We knew we would have a line of students waiting to try out the VR experience at the Spring Housing Fair, which led us to the portable VR headsets," she said. "We have been on campus and in the Northgate District with the headsets, and they’ve been received really well by the students."

For more on this, read Realtor Mag's article from last March, "VR Headsets: Real Estate Game Changer."
Economic issues facing the new presidentEconomic issues facing the new presidentLuis TorresTorres


The major issues facing the new president are structural. By that, I mean problems related to education, demographics, fiscal issues, and inequality.

​We need change. Decisions made in coming weeks and months will have effects that go beyond four or even eight years.

Educational attainment has not kept up with technological change. High-paying manufacturing and services jobs require higher levels of education and training. These jobs are no longer repetitive ones. They require upfront technological background and continued training and education.

The demographics of our country are changing. The number of prime-age males in the labor force is declining. The retirement of baby boomers is causing the labor-force participation rate to fall. In other words, our labor force is getting older and smaller.

The lack of education and skills have combined with the declining labor force to slow U.S. productivity. This has resulted in stagnant U.S. economic growth. Stagnant economic growth feeds the problem of rising inequality. At the same time, inequality feeds back to the lower growth prospects for the U.S. economy.

When our nation's economy grew at higher rates, inequality was not an issue.  

Now, however, education is the best way to solve inequality issues by providing the labor force with skills and training needed to fill the higher-paying jobs.

Fiscal changes are needed to modify the corporate tax structure, incentivize private investment, and finance the federal entitlement programs. Such fiscal issues have a negative effect on the nation's prospects for long-run growth.

A close examination of these issues shows they are related. A solution to one helps solve another and vice versa.

The question is whether the new president will try to find short-term, temporary "quick fixes," such as closing borders to international trade, a policy that has proven unworkable in the past and leads to inefficiency and higher costs for the country implementing such policies.

Note. Approximately 80 percent of manufacturing job losses come from technological change, not from free trade. Legal immigration can help solve the shrinking labor force participation rate, as it has done in the past. Legal immigration can provide the country with skilled workers who enhance innovation and grow productivity.

Our country's history of economic success is characterized by our ability to adapt and change. Hard choices, even if they are costly in the short run, will benefit the country's citizens in the end.

The readers always writeThe readers always writeDavid JonesJones, D.
2017-01-12T06:00:00ZCenter News


Questions. We get our share. It's not unusual to get several a day. It seems many people want help making better real estate decisions. A couple of letters recently, however, were a bit out of the norm.

A land planner-developer from Buda wrote to us about a book we published 30 years ago that's no longer in print.

"I came across (Private Rights to Property) while . . . trying to find material to support my contention that many laws or regulations used by local governments to restrict the use of a person's property are a violation of the property owner's rights.

"Where and when I acquired it (the book) I do not know, but the gentleman that wrote it was a genius. I have not finished reading it, but it appears to be a fantastic discussion of the subject."

In response to the letter, the staff agreed with the writer that the book was as current today as it was when first published in 1986. A rare print version of the book in the archives was scanned, and within 48 hours of receiving the letter, the 60-page book had been republished on the Center website.

Private Rights to Property: The Foundation of Freedom, Prosperity and Harmony by John W. Allen is available here. The staff is reviewing hundreds of other titles no longer in print to see if other "golden oldies" need a second chance.

Some letters are from the public.

Recently, an inmate in the Maine State Prison wrote," I am interested in the multifamily sector . . . from A-Z." He was looking for information on "local" rents, operating expenses, and finding investment properties.

We advised the inmate where he could find some "local" Texas data but that we don't do research on Maine real estate.

About the same time, a homebuyer wrote. "I am trying to find out if an unsolicited real estate offer is proper in that the real estate agent presented us with a sales contract offer on property, which provides we would pay him a 6 percent real estate commission based on the sale. The agent specifically told us over the phone that he would be representing the buyer. That sounds unfair to us because, as the buyer's agent, he would not represent our best interest. Is this legal, is it wise? Any advice for us?

Legal questions go to our new research attorney Rusty Adams.

Many questions relate to our data warehouse. With the unveiling of our new cooperative efforts with the Texas Association of Realtors, and local Realtor associations there have been numerous data-related questions. Many writers want to drill down further into the data than the agreements with our partners allow. Data questions go to our Data Research Scientist Gerald Klassen.

We even handle questions you might not expect. Last month a writer inquired, "How many cows per acre is the standard for Benjamin, Texas, in Knox County? Our rural land expert Dr. Charles Gilliland used his agricultural economics background to handle that one.

Would-be real estate licensees have many questions. Among the most common are: How do I get started in real estate? What classes do I need or where can I take them?

Those folks are referred to the Texas Real Estate Commission website and to our free online publication Obtaining a Texas Real Estate License.

The takeaway for this post is that the Real Estate Center tries to help Texans make better real estate decisions. Send your questions to info@recenter.tamu.edu. If we don't know the answer, we will try to find you someone who does.​

Our website: So easy even a caveman can use itOur website: So easy even a caveman can use itBryan PopePope
2017-01-05T06:00:00ZCenter News

​​​​Before we shut down for the holidays last month, we invited RECON subscribers and our social media followers to tell us which of our website's features they find most useful. In exchange for their feedback, we sent them a free copy of our 2017 wall calendar (which doubles as our annual report).

The response was immediate and, overall, extremely positive. To all of you who took the time to participate, we say thanks.

Our NewsTalk Texas news database, research library, data, monthly economic reports, and RECON newsletter turned up repeatedly on the list. Even our quizzes got a shout-out.

One person by the name of Fred didn't single out a particular feature, but rather made a general comment about usage.

"I like it because I am not tech savvy and I can find my way through it and get the info and help I need!"

Phrasing it even more succinctly, another respondent said "So easy to navigate even a caveman can do it!"

Here's what others had to say (some have been edited for clarity):

  • "​NewsTalk Texas is a great way to find out what is going on around the state, especially in smaller markets often overlooked by other mainstream media." (Editor's note: We had no idea we even were mainstream.)
  • "The data tab is full of useful information for projecting future growth in our city. It's helpful for corporations planning to move into the area."
  • "Market Research shows the real figures, and I can see other market changes."
  • "The data section—specifically the population and employment statistics—are helpful when pulling together info for investment memos."
  • "I find the information on development projects around the state to be very informative and useful in identifying areas of growth and development interest."
  • "The data—especially the information on building permits, population, etc.—is easy to find since it's all in one place."
  • "Keeping up with the latest real estate developments is helpful to learn about the many different industries and retailers coming to our state!"​
  • "I enjoy the presentations. They contain a wealth of information for our appraisal district's use."

Now, to the one respondent who said "the 'exit' button," your lump of coal should arrive shortly.

Five things you didn’t know about the Real Estate CenterFive things you didn’t know about the Real Estate CenterDavid S. JonesJones, D.
2016-12-21T06:00:00ZCenter News

​​​​​​​​​​Before being accepted by Texas A&M University, the Real Estate Center was spurned by four other Texas institutions of higher learning.

The University of Texas at Austin, UT-Arlington, Texas Tech University, and Southern Methodist University all said "no" to housing the Texas Real Estate Research Center on their campuses.  Julio Laguarta, who is considered our founding father (and is a Texas Longhorn)​, once called the Center's acceptance by Texas A&M in 1971 a "marriage made in heaven."

If confirmed by the Senate, a member of President-Elect Donald Trump's cabinet will be someone who once chaired the Real Estate Center Advisory Committee.

Not only is Department of Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry a former Texas governor, his six-year appointment to the Center's Advisory Committee included a stint as chairman in 1983-84. Other former Advisory Committee chairs to serve in Washington, D.C. have included the 80th Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Fred McClure, President George H.W. Bush's special assistant for legislative affairs.

Tierra Grande magazine costs real estate agents less than $2 per year.

More than 163,000 copies of the January issue of the Real Estate Center's flagship periodical, Tierra Grande magazine, will be mailed next month. The cost to print one copy will be 28.6 cents. Mailing adds 20 cents. That means one magazine costs 48.6 cents. The four issues annually, therefore, cost only $1.94 cents.

The Real Estate Center was the first unit on the campus of Texas A&M University to have a desktop publishing system.

In 1987, the Center entered the digital age in a big way. Built by a company called Xyvision, the system had a scanner the size of an office desk. The "desktop" workstation was the size of a breakfront. The whole system cost more than $200,000.

The Center funded a $100,000 professorship at the University of Texas.

The William Jennings Professorship was funded by the Real Estate Center at UT-Austin in 1977. At the same time, the $100,000 Julio Laguarta Professorship was funded in Mays Business School at Texas A&M. The money was for help in the education of future real estate leaders.​


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