Customer Reviews: Build Your Dream House for a Song: and Own It Free and Clear in Five Years
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on November 6, 1999
To assert that a house can be built "for a song" may be slightly hyperbolic, but David Cook's book is so laden with intriguing money-saving ideas that any owner-builder who uses just a handful of Cook's ideas is bound to save thousands of dollars on the construction of a house. To do so, however, takes time, planning, plenty of energy, and a place to stockpile the lumber, ducts, plywood, salvaged windows, drainpipe, even the land, that Cook says can be picked up virtually for "a song" and/or barter at auctions, salvage yards, fire sales, construction sites, and so forth. In the house that he built himself, Cook installed kitchen cabinets that he had bought for a fraction of their worth years before he had a kitchen. (A German manufacturer displaying the cabinets at a trade show sold them cheap to avoid the cost of shipping them home.) To find an architect to do the required drawings of his house, Cook dropped in at the school of architecture of a nearby university in order to find grad student to do the work. Cook's methods are fascinating. While reading the book I kept wishing that I had thought of that in years past while building the equivalent of two and a half houses of my own. To think of all the money I could have saved if I only had had David Cook's luck, insight, fortitude, ability to take advantage of a bargain, and, of course, his book.
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on September 7, 2000
I've been reading and researching low-cost homesteading for about a year now, so I was very excited to come across this title and see what else I could learn from a first-person success story.
Sadly, the answer was not much and what *was there* wasn't terribly detailed. There are other, better books that will leave you prepared to act upon the ideas David Cook only touches upon.
The first that comes to mind is Rob Roy's "Mortgage-Free". Ironically, a reviewer for that book thought it wasn't detailed enough. Apparently, they hadn't read this book first.
The truth is that no one book can prepare and educate you for the experience of "getting back to the land". But, while we're on the subject of land, I'd recommend Les and Carol Scher's "Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country".
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on November 17, 2012
First of all, don't pay full price for this book. Pick it up used and you will thank yourself later. Here's a Cliff Note version of the book:
1. Buy a piece of property for 10%-50% retail value by going to tax-default state/county auctions. David Cook does offer other suggestions, like word of mouth and dealing directly with the seller. I researched this option in the Puget Sound/Seattle area. Nada. Steeply discounted property seems hard to find. Comments?
2. Go to auctions and buy steeply discounted German cabinets, 8x16 salvaged redwood beams , and Corintian leather wall panels and store it on your property. Pay only 10% of retail! Actually, if you have the time, this part of the book seems plausible.
3. Go ahead and buy a motor home. Maybe your cousin's double-wide down by the river. Put it on your property while you build your house. I haven't called the City of Seattle about zoning, but I haven't seen any double wides camped out on vacant lots in Seattle. Actually, let me suggest this movie if you ever get this idea:National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
4. Build the house yourself. Have you ever heard of sweat equity? This also seems plausible.

Good Luck
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on January 5, 2001
I live in California where the price of owning my own home seemed to prevent me from ever realizing my dream. With the information in this book, I learned how to acquire land inexpensively, acquire materials inexpensively, and have my home designed around available materials. And, I found out that you don't have to know a lot about building to build your own home. I am very grateful for this book and the seminars the author teaches.
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on September 11, 2014
Oversimplified to an extreme fault! This book leaves out so much critical information that it's seriously misleading and ill-conceived. This book and the seminar cost me a fortune by everything it didn't include. I took Mr. Cook's class in 2000 in the S.F. Bay Area and was full of great excitement about the prospect of buying and building my own home. Fourteen years later and I haven't even broken ground on the darn lot I paid a fortune for! I wonder what century the author is thinking about: he based this book on what he did in the last century. BUYERS BEWARE!

Mr. Cook, who seemed like a very nice man, claimed at the time that he could build a home for $20,000.- Maybe in backwoods Appalachia, but NOT in California. I was blindsided by not just the astronomical rate of the permit fees, but WORSE, the IMPACT FEES that weren't even mentioned in the book. Just the two sets of fees would cost me $65,000.00, not including building materials and labor! Forget living on or near the building site in a RV or mobile home (or tent)! The County where I bought my land said "Absolutely not."

Then there is the cost of grading, paying for an engineer, a percolation test, developing a site plan, and worst of all: finding water. You see, Mr. Cook didn't say a word about anticipating the unexpected or all of the additional costs that would accrue that cannot be delegated to a student architect or semi-retired contractor. Turns out that the cost of drilling a well in $30,000. IF the earth is even able to be drilled, and to a depth of 800 feet. The neighbor's wells are running dry already! It's not just from the California Drought either. It's from over-use by Agricultural ventures and vineyards with very deep pockets. Then there's so many other, critically important, very expensive other factors that were either not included at all or entirely glossed over.

My County decided that paved roads were absolutely essential before any building can start. Then the additional fees and materials for hooking up electricity BEFORE a well can even be tried. It's out in the country, so telephone is essential & Internet not yet available. Add to that the fact that it's on a slope (as Mr. Cook stated his own home was), but he forget to give any clue as to carve out a building site. Did I mention I may not even be able to drill a well because of granite underground? Yep. Mr. Cook also failed to even bring up all manner of other problems that can easily sink any new home owner/builder such as me. Like the complexity of legal issues involved when my next-door neighbors planted olive trees on my land while I've been up here in the city trying to survive the recession.

The same neighbors are water hogs and about the worst type of people to live in the country: they have the same cut-throat attitude as many city dwellers. They went to town on my once beautiful acre and not only over-built their olive orchard, they created a crop circle and planted their own corn, while using the balance of the acre as a playground for their son's ATV. The "No Trespassing" signs mysteriously vanished, or course.

I dislike giving any criticism, but Mr. Cook failed to grasp just how badly he over-simplified everything and certainly I would never have even bought the land if he had given any idea about how much it really costs to build in California. My costs to date, including 14 years of taxes: 90 thousand dollars just for land that may have no water under it! So think of how daunting it would feel if you were working in a low-pay job, and had saved up enough where I could have just paid off at least half the cost of an already built home at the time. I'll have to come up with an additional $95,000.00 PLUS the cost of building materials and labor.

In sum, this author's failure to give sound advice will cost me $155,000.00 before I can build a home, WITHOUT EVEN INCLUDING BUILDING MATERIALS AND LABOR!!! In the meantime, I cannot even place so much as a 10 foot storage shed on my own property, according to the County planning department. Heck, I can't even camp out in the country overnight (not allowed either). And STILL, I'll have to pay legal fees and hire an attorney to sue my neighbor for overtaking my land. No, he didn't get a prescriptive easement or take adverse possession, and my County said there's nothing they can do about it. Needless to say, I feel Mr. Cook shouldn't be profiting off a book full of such massively expensive misstatements and omissions. At the very least, a large disclaimer on page one forewarning inexperienced builders of all of the potential pitfalls should have been included. BUYER BEWARE!!! I feel greatly disappointed and even devastated that my dream home has now become a nightmare with no easy or simple way out!
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on August 29, 2005
David Cook does an excellent seminar in California. In Berkeley '05 it was $35 for 3 hours. David uses his excellent book as a text. It is an optional purchase for $20. See [...] for dates.

If bought at the seminar, David includes a free half hour consultation. All in all, that's an offer you couldn't beat with a stick. Though you will get more out of the seminar if you have already read the book. Second copy anyone?

If considering building a house for a great deal of money, making David Cook's acquaintance would be a very smart move. Plus it better allows one to assess the practicality of the ideas in his book and the character of their proponent. That and consulting him made it a terrific bargain.

Verdict: He is a nice man. I believe him.

For examples of people not to believe, google "John T. Reid" and look at his ratings of real estate investment gurus. 90% very bad news. A word to the wise - check "Bill Nickerson" there and also for books by Mary and Sam Weir. Both good; very very good. But very different to self building. Bon voyage ;-).
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on August 29, 2005
A masterful overview of the process of building your own house that makes it seem both straightforward and eminently doable. David Cook's personal experiences at saving a great deal of money make any canny reader want to go and do likewise.

The hard work needed is not ignored. If you don't want to, David Cook says you can still build your own house without lifting even a hammer. But most of his readers will be eager to wield the hammer, the nail gun and especially the backhoe.

If this book jumps off the shelf at you when you see it; or you laugh out loud or give an involuntary shout for joy, maybe you need to build a house, aided by Mr. Cook's excellent advice.
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on November 28, 2013
It has so many good Ideas that are simple to execute if you can allow some time before you build. Great book. Any one of the ideas will save you more than the price of the book!
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on September 3, 2013
Well done! Could use some more detail but I'm finding that in
other books. This is a great head start to doing this vastly complex project on the cheap!
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on May 16, 2012
If you happen to be a rather wealthy and apparently successful professional who can take a summer or two off to build your house, here's the book for you. A fairly well written account, finances are never actually mentioned other than purchase prices.

I doubt you'll build a house with this book, but if you're already started on that path a few of the ideas listed may help shave substantial amounts off your final cost.
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