Blair and I had been tossing around the idea of building a ‘spec’ home on our own for a few years now. (In)famous last words…how hard can it be?

‘Spec’ being short for speculative.

spec·u·la·tive – involving a high risk of loss.
synonyms – risky, hazardous, unpredictable, iffy, uncertain.

Thank you Google, I feel much more confident…

We can do it… I think

Having an arsenal of builds under our belt should guide us through the milestones, but we’ve always relied on the general contractor for the paperwork, permitting, subs, invoicing, etc… the nitty gritty details that never seemed as much fun as picking everything out.  Though we’ve always been fascinated with the process (Blair more the actual construction and me more the finishes), we’ve never have we personally taken the reigns from start to finish.

But we need inventory in the neighborhood and my nightly scroll through Pinterest made me feel that I was overdue for the next project.  I suppose this is a bit outside our boundaries, but we’re ready to draw new ones.

Floor plans on a desk.
New builds can be a lottery of uncertainty, even with the best laid plans and intentions.

It’s a risky venture that we started to get serious about last spring.  No risk, no reward they say.  Truth be told, we don’t actually know if there will be a reward yet. The ground is officially broken, but we literally just started.  As you will see we’ve already come a long way, but there’s months of construction and decisions to come.

So will this work?  I mean we think so… guess we’ll all find out soon!

The plan

First things first, the floor plan.  After (over)analyzing a dozen or so potential candidates and finding faults with each, we found ourselves circling back to tried and true plans already built in AP.  We both loved the look and feel of the Carolina Cottage model that we built a few years ago, aka the Whale House, aka the Vogt Residence.

Example of a completed spec home. Interior example of a completed spec house. Front porch of a completed spec house. Master bath example of a completed spec house.

Guess all you want, but you’ll never know how livable a house will be until you, well… live in it.  So we went straight to the source to ask the Vogts what they would change about their house.  And they agreed on just one change, adding built-ins beside the fireplace… done and done.

Floor plan for a completed spec house.
Whale House floor plan


Revised floor plan for a soon to be completed spec house.
Southern Comfort floor plan

We did shuffle around a few other things on the plan, bumping out the master bedroom and rearranging the kitchen.  I have been dreaming of a kitchen sink under three windows for a while now.

You might say, but Becca, this isn’t going to be your house.  To that I reply, if it’s my wish it’s for sure someone else’s wish too. Triple windows, what’s not to love?

The new layout also made room for a 4’ x 8’ pantry, something I’m pretty sure tops many a wish-list.  And we’ve been storing this cool vintage door that I’m certain is destined for this particular pantry.

Elevation Alteration

Even though these homes will be over a mile away, we still wanted to change the exterior so it wouldn’t really be recognizable as the same plan. Did you know there are three of the same plan already built in AP? I challenge you to guess which ones are the same, that being the point of course.

Trusty bottle of white out in hand, we switched up the dormers and the roof line, as this would be the most obvious change. We’ve always been a fan of low pitched dormers so we settled on a 3:1 slope for the front 2 dormers… a happy medium between a shed and gable dormer.

Another major change was separating the front porch roof from the main roof.  Not sure if that makes as much sense in writing as it does in my head. Cue the visuals:

Gable dormer roofline detail. VS   Shed dormer roofline detail.

When the architect told us that this modification was too difficult, I agreeably said we could scrap it.  Then after looking online at too many pictures of front elevations, we realized that the roof separation was indeed a big deal and we put it back on the table. I’m pretty sure ‘agreeable’ isn’t a word commonly used to describe me, so why did I nix it for the sake of simplifying things when I knew what we wanted the whole time?  Stick to your guns people, that indecisive moment cost us an extra round of revisions.  And just like that, our drafting bill jumped hundreds.

Exterior elevations for the Southern Comfort spec home.Artist rendering of the Southern Comfort spec home.

Let’s summer

We finalized these plans June-ish, but by then our long days were filled with work and kids home for summer break. And though we tend to thrive on a full schedule, we decided against adding one more thing to our plate and pushed the build to the fall.

For us, it’s not worth it for busyness to blur the simple joys of family time.

And we had one heck of a summer, with many of our favorite days spent on and in the water.  We chronicled some of our best days in the Cruisin to Ocracoke, Day Trippin’ to Shackleford Banks, and Carolina Caribbean articles.

Back to business

Contractor consultant holding a fish standing next to Blair.

The school bell rang and September came quick. It was time to get our construction ducks in a row.  We’re not naive to the fact that building a house takes know-how that we haven’t quite mastered.   Hiring a GC would be a necessity, with expert advice and know-how at the ready.

Blair thought our GC (and fishing) buddy Jeffrey would be a good fit.  He had built two of our personal homes and five others in AP.  Don’t let his baby face fool you.  He knows all the ins and outs of the building world and is one heck of a respected businessman all over the coast.  And this pic is from 2009… fast forward a decade and we’re all a little less baby faced.

Some people say mixing friends and business is like oil and water.  For us, business always takes a backseat to friendships, and with that mentality we have successfully navigated build jobs with close friends, who are now closer friends.

We called him with the grand plan and it was an immediate “yes”. He has the expertise but can’t be here everyday… we’re here for the day to day but don’t have all of the core construction knowledge (yet).  The best of both worlds.  Jeffrey is of course now on speed dial, Facetime and is able to stop by all the time since he now has a house on Harker’s Island… we’re the perfect pit stop!

Not getting this house darn near perfect is simply not an option.  We’re lining up a winning team, but also plan on being super hands on to soak up all of the knowledge we can about house building from conception to completion.

Crowd sourcing design

Poll results deciding on which shutters to feature on the Southern Comfort spec home.#thehousethatfacebookbuilt might get us into trouble, but we’re letting our Facebook followers help call some of the shots on design decisions.

We’ll post facebook polls with an either-or choice.  We already had Facebook name the house and Southern Comfort won big, now lovingly nicknamed “So-Co”.

The cedar versus black shutter poll was almost a split decision with some very strong opinions for both.  When the polls closed, cedar narrowly edged out black which means my favorite craftsman, Jim Poole, can get to work on cedar shutters and corbels… thanks dad! 😉

I wonder what else this opinionated crew will choose… your guess is as good as mine.

let’s roll

Whoa there’s a lot to getting mobilized. The paperwork for permitting is a bit tedious but obviously necessary. Having gone through this drawn out process, I now easily see why general contractors get paid so much.

If you’re currently building or getting ready to build then gather ‘round. If not, feel free to skip down.

  • Check out the AP Design and Development Standards.
    • This 25 page document is a great read if you’re trying to fall asleep. Boring yet informative info that walks you through building in the neighborhood from start to finish.
  • Select a lot, we can help with that 😉
    • The lot will need to be surveyed with your preferred location for the house, driveway, septic and repair areas. Unless you have a large lot, what you prefer might not be what you end up with. There’s usually a good deal of shuffling that happens at this point.
  • Select a floorplan.
    • This might come before the lot selection, sometimes the plan dictates the land.
  • Get your septic improvement permit rolling ASAP.
    • Most permits need a renewal or redesign and this typically takes the longest, we’re talking weeks if not months, especially if your lot has topography or is tight on space.
    • Septic systems are permitted through Pamlico County Environmental Health.
    • Pull your construction authorization septic permit.
  • Submit an application for your zoning permit through the Town of Minnesott Beach, usually a quick process for most builds.
  • Submit EVERYTHING to the Pamlico Building Inspections Department for your building permit.
    • If you have all of their required info, this is typically a quick turn around. I said quick, not cheap.
  • Submit everything to the AP Architect Review Board.
    • Our forms have checklists to keep you on track.
  • Homesite prep
    • Surveyor re-stake house to match now approved septic permit.
    • Clear building/septic area.
    • Scrape build site and bring in fill if needed
    • Add culvert/rock for driveway per plans.
  • Water
    • Fill out application.
    • Water department site visit to determine tap location and size.
    • Pay meter fee.
    • Water department sets meter.
    • Plumber will get it flowing.
  • Electricity
    • Set up an account with Tideland (800-637-1079)
    • Electrician meets Tideland onsite to determine the temp power pole location.
    • Electrician sets power pole.
    • County inspects power pole.
    • Tideland hooks up juice.

Okay, now you’re ready to start building.  All this while you should be scheduling and pricing subs and building supplies, which seems like a part time job in and of itself. But wait… YOU don’t have to do any of this. These are services that your general contractor does on your behalf, they earn their keep quick.  There’s so much involved behind the scenes before you can even break ground.

This is where I leave you because this is as far as we’ve gotten…

Aerial view of the Southern Comfort spec house.

Along with the SoCo construction, we’re building two other model homes in AP this winter with Kim and her team at Coastal Heritage Construction.  The Carolina Capehouse and the Harley Lane model homes have equally livable floor plans and cool finishes and fixtures that will give them a personality all their own.
And stay tuned for the next Sink or Trim – Going Vertical to see how the Southern Comfort spec evolves. With hopeful fingers tightly crossed, we envision the end product to be the perfect blend of form and function as we weave together old with the new… a house that will soon be a home, and one that can live up to its name.

Arlington Place blog author Becca Lang. Story by Becca Lang

Hey there, I'm Becca... my husband Blair and I were thrown into the deep end of the development game in 2007. I have overlapping passions of real estate and design, he has overlapping passions for building and fishing. Between the two of us, we gotcha covered on all fronts! Each build is unique with it's own successes to be celebrated and lessons to be learned, and that's what I hope to share with you in the 'Sink or Trim' series.