When city dwellers get fed up with the expense and congestion of urban life, they frequently entertain the same dream: pack it all in and move to the country.

This series of stories covers some of the major factors to consider before taking the plunge, as well as insights I gained from my own experience building a home outside of Leavenworth. 

Here, I discuss the realities of new-construction expenses, what you need to know about estimates, and ways to trim costs and stay on budget. 

Know this: It’s expensive

Any new construction is shockingly expensive. Rural construction costs will probably be on par with a city build since there are fewer contractors, and they can charge what they want during a boom. Shipping materials to the site will also drive up costs.

In the early stages, architects and builders will give you basic estimates. Their cost-per-square-foot is merely a starting point to land your job. Until you decide the fine details, those numbers are squishy at best.  

A good rule of thumb is to add 20 percent to whatever they say, but it can cost much more. If you can’t afford their estimate early in the process, it’s time to rethink your project.


Doing some work yourself

If you have the skills (or want to learn), you can save money by doing some of the building yourself. This is especially valuable with expensive finish carpentry.

General contractors may let you do some of the work; just make sure the arrangement is clearly spelled out in your contract. And don’t underestimate the time demands (or overestimate your skills), or you’ll slow down your project.

Those with construction experience are often tempted to act as their own general contractor. But a local builder is more likely to have relationships with local subcontractors, and can put pressure on them to keep your project on schedule. You may also have trouble sourcing people, and may even be forced to pay extra to bring in workers from elsewhere. 

Building your own house is incredibly gratifying, just know that construction skills take practice and your house may not turn out as polished as one done by a pro.


Going tiny is an option

Tiny homes can be a more affordable option for those on a tight budget. If all you want is a small space to enjoy the country life, do you really need 4,000 square feet of living space?

Most tiny homes are technically RVs, and their portability allows you to bypass most of the expensive site-development requirements. You can park them almost anywhere, and you won’t need a septic field. Some run on solar power so you don’t need electrical hookups. 


However, as with RVs, there are some potential hurdles. Many neighborhoods don’t allow mobile homes. It’s also challenging to winterize an RV, and your tiny home may suffer cracked pipes and frozen sewer systems. 

Writer Jeff Layton owns Osprey Acres, a three-year building project near Leavenworth that includes his dream home and a pair of weekend rental units available via Airbnb.com or Peerspace.com.