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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 22, 2007

Do-It-Yourself Home contracting

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By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

A lot of DIY home construction comprises small improvement projects, and often is performed with the help of skilled family members, friends or self-help community organizations.

llustration by Greg Taylor

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Robert Pagampao and his wife, Gaylyn, had thought about expanding their three-bedroom Waipiço home for years and recently decided to do it themselves.

PHOTOS GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Robert Pagampao will be renovating his home and expanding his house by 300 square feet as a do-it-yourself contractor. The family will remodel the kitchen and living room areas with help from UBuildIt.

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Gaylyn and Robert Pagampao had been thinking about expanding and remodeling their Waipi'o home over the last couple of years. Recently, they decided to do it — themselves.

With no construction experience, the Pagampaos took on the role of being their own general contractor for the roughly $200,000 project.

Gaylyn, a Lockheed Martin systems engineer, and Robert, a Hawaii Instrumentation & Controls manager, do have some help though. They're working with a recently established local franchise of Kirkland, Wash.-based UBuildIt.

"It sounded like a really good thing — we were going to be in charge," Gaylyn Pagampao said.

"It is kind of exciting," her husband added.

The Pagampaos are among expanding ranks of Hawai'i homeowners tackling do-it-yourself home construction projects that have doubled in value over the last three years.

A lot of DIY home construction comprises small improvement projects, and often is performed with the help of skilled family members, friends or self-help community organizations.

But in recent years more work typically reserved for professionals is being sought by companies in business to help homeowners undertake everything from major remodeling to complete home construction.

Pacific Resource Partnership, an alliance between contractors and the Carpenters Union Local 745, said the value of owner-builder construction in Hawai'i grew from $301 million in 2003 to $613 million last year. In 1998, the figure was $122 million.

"A lot of money has gone into that market," said the organization's executive director, Kyle Chock. "It's a huge spike."

Chock's figure excludes projects under $50,000, leading the Building Industry Association of Hawai'i to estimate DIY construction could be a $1 billion slice of Hawai'i's $6 billion construction industry.

"A national company like UBuildIt wouldn't even be here if it wasn't a huge market," said Karen Nakamura, the building association's executive vice president and CEO.


Nationally, owner-built housing represented 8 percent of all new home construction last year, according to the National Association of Home Builders and the Census Bureau.

Though the percentage of owner-built homes nationally is down in recent years compared with the early 1990s when as much as 16 percent of new homes were owner-built, franchises started in the last several years such as UBuildIt, Colorado-based DirectBuild LLC and Texas-based Owner/Builder Network aim to expand the niche.

UBuildIt opened in Kaka'ako in November. Another do-it-yourself home construction assistance firm helping Hawai'i homeowners for the last several years is California-based COBS Homes.

UBuildIt was established in 1988 by Chuck Warrender, a custom home builder. The company began franchising in 1999, and has grown to 113 offices in 33 states.

The local UBuildIt franchise was established at 680 Ala Moana by a pair of 30-year-old friends and University of Hawai'i School of Architecture graduates, Denise Nakasato and Gerald Pascual, who left construction industry jobs to start their own company with Pascual's wife, Maile Shimabukuro-Pascual.

"We got to talking, 'We should start our own business some day,' " Nakasato said. "You know, live the dream."

Nakasato said the trio invested about $180,000 to establish UBuildIt in Hawai'i, and hopes to expand the franchise to the Neighbor Islands.

The business has experienced a slow start, according to Nakasato, but she believes that interest will pick up as recognition and understanding of the company and its concept build.

UBuildIt charges a fee based on a project's scope to provide a homeowner assistance with planning, design and construction. The homeowner becomes the general contractor making decisions and hiring subcontractors, while UbuildIt offers phone consulting, up to 23 site visits by a construction consultant and references for subcontractors and materials suppliers. Architectural plans and financing help also are available.

Of course there are downsides to being an owner-builder. Under state law, owner-builders may not sell or lease their home within a year of completing construction.

Owner-builders also are responsible for ensuring that all subcontractors have appropriate licenses, and that construction complies with all laws, zoning and building codes. Violations can result in fines.

UbuildIt says its system isn't for everyone, but that owners do save money — 10 percent to 30 percent of construction costs on a national average — because there are no general contractor expenses or mark-up on materials.

COBS Homes, which has a marketing and vendor partnership with Home Depot on the Mainland that the retailer doesn't extend to Hawai'i, has helped about a dozen owners build their own homes mostly on Kaua'i and the Big Island.


Rob Mackle, COBS president, said an owner-builder should save at least 10 percent on construction or it may not be worth the time and effort. "It is a lot of work and (takes) time," he said.

But savings can be substantial, especially if owner-builders contribute sweat equity to a project. For one COBS project, a Waikoloa residence completed last May, the owners received a pre-construction appraisal of $555,000 and built the home with a $400,000 loan, according to COBS.

Nakamura, of the local building industry association, said saving money is the primary reason homeowners become do-it-yourself contractors. Another reason is the recent building boom in Hawai'i, though cooling now, has made it extremely difficult to find contractors or obtain economical bids, especially for smaller projects.

Mackle of COBS said the best reason to be an owner-builder is to control the construction project — materials, features and costs. Savings often are invested back in the home as upgrades.

The Pagampao family in Wai-pi'o had considered expanding their three-bedroom home for a couple of years after their family expanded from one child to three.

Last year, the Pagampaos saw UBuildIt at a local home remodeling exposition and figured it would give them more control and be easier than finding a general contractor.

"It would be on our time schedule," Gaylyn Pagampao said, adding that the thought of managing the $200,000 project also was "a little scary."

The project includes a kitchen and living room renovation, and adding 300 square feet to the 1,400-square-foot house.

The Pagampaos met with a structural engineer who presented expansion options. The family accepted a bid, and recently received design drawings to be considered for approval by their homeowners' association.

"Our experience has been great so far," Gaylyn Pagampao said.

"It's one step at a time," Robert Pagampao added. "It's a learning process. We don't know what to expect."

Then, he joked: "After I finish this house, I can tell UBuildIt, 'Let your customers know I can help them. I'm a general contractor.' "

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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