Armchair Builder

Owner Builders by the Numbers

New Home Plan


January 9, 2018

An owner builder is loosely defined as an owner who contracts out their own new home building project instead of hiring a general contractor.  The thought of overseeing the construction of one’s own home is terrifying for some folks.  But for others, it’s just another opportunity to tackle a project they’ve never attempted before, save some money, get exactly what they want, and capture some bragging rights for years to come.  So just how many people in the United States actually take on the general contractor role when building their new home?  Luckily, the U.S. Census Bureau tracks these numbers to give us a look into this opportunity.

Someone Actually Tracks this Stuff?

Before we dive into the numbers, we need to talk a little about how these numbers are tracked.  The U.S. Census Bureau collects this information from their Building Permits Survey and from the Survey of Construction which is partially funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The numbers are tallied to allow us to better understand the specifics of the new, privately owned housing units that are being built. It should be noted that these numbers exclude “HUD-code” housing units (a.k.a. mobile homes).  Here we will focus on privately owned, single family housing…in other words, no public housing or multifamily units.

Limitations to the Numbers

There are some limitations to these numbers from the Census Bureau. First, the numbers shown here are for housing starts, not completions.  So if someone were to pull a permit and not finish the home, the number is still counted. This is probably a small number but still something to keep in mind.  After all, who is going to spend the enormous amount of time and money to pull a permit only to then not build the home.

The other limitation is in the survey itself.  Since these numbers were gathered from permits pulled, any homes built without a permit would not be counted.  My guess is there is probably a higher percentage of owner builders in non-permit issuing areas of the U.S. Remember, about five percent of the population lives outside of municipal jurisdictions and therefore do not apply for a permit when building.  So, there is a good chance the numbers tallied by the Census Bureau are understated.

The Number of Owner Builders by Year

So here are the numbers per the U.S. Census Bureau of single family, privately owned housing units started by owner builders in the years shown.  The totals shown in parentheses are the total number of permits pulled for single family housing units in the year.

2015 – 50,000 Owner Builder Permits (Total = 715k)

2016 – 49,000 Owner Builder Permits (Total = 782k)

2017 – 55,000 Owner Builder Permits (Total = 849k)

The numbers so far for 2018 appear to be on par with the upward trend but only time will tell.  Thinking of building your own home?  Stop by the Armchair Builder ESTORE for tools to help with your new home build. 

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