7 Life Lessons from Construction

While I wait to process my loan application so that I can move on with building, I figured this was a good time to stop and reflect on what I’ve learned so far beyond the realm of construction and share with anyone it may be useful for. So here it goes:

1. Cement is my number one enemy

This one is a joke (kinda). Yes I’m grateful for the security that it gives, but if I have to hear “we need to order 40 more bags of cement” after what-feels-like just ordering another 40 last week, I may throw up.

2. Flexibility and adaptability are infinitely important

I mentioned in my first blog that your plans may often change when it comes to buying and/or building, but the whole process is increasingly about adapting to different conditions. It’s common to hear developers of even the biggest projects say things like “we originally planned to do XYZ, but now we’re doing ZYX instead.” I’m definitely the person who catches an attitude when plans change at the last minute, maybe because to me it seems like a failure from sticking to the original. However this process has humbled and taught me that there’s no shame in changing plans, especially since one size never fits all in real estate. The world is constantly changing, so it only makes sense to adjust as it does.

In my case, for example, it was good to build out of pocket for the first unit of my duplex so that I could have it secured in time for hurricane season, but using a loan to finish it off and start the next unit actually works out cheaper in the short term, which is ideal considering that the second unit will be rented out anyway. The quicker I can get it finished, the quicker I’ll see a return on that longer term investment.

3. Sometimes you won’t realise the value of your efforts until later

This is most obvious with the fact that it takes a huge imagination to be able to actually picture a functional building where there was once just bush. Even up to this point I’ve experienced not seeing the bigger picture until it starts materialising; when my foundation bricks were first laid I was actually super disappointed and felt like it was small enough to be a studio instead of a 2 bedroom apartment. Once the walls started going up, however, it was surreal to realise the difference an enclosure can make with the same square footage.

The even bigger picture though, as I mentioned in my last blog, is that your equity in the property builds up over time, and can either be used to reduce your existing loan or can be used as a form of down payment to buy another property; and if you know me at all, you know I’m already plotting on my next purchase. It almost feels like a tease for me at this stage to see the shell of a building while still being far away in terms of making it inhabitable with electricity, water and basic fixtures and fittings, but I know that I have to keep focusing on the end result.

4. Cash flow can be more important than having the cash period

Ideally, you’d have enough cash saved up to just give it to a contractor and let them do their thing until it's time for you to move in. However, for so many people, that’s something that isn’t realistic. Even if you do pay most construction fees upfront in a lump sum, you still don’t want to deplete your savings entirely. It’s ideal to keep having money coming in to replenish it frequently to spend in other areas of your life.

I feel like a common misconception that people may have about me is either that I earn an enormous amount of money from one job or that I inherited a lot of money which is funding this project. Neither of those are true. I try to reinforce to anyone who’ll listen: if you’re planning on embarking on something like this, especially solo and at a young age, you NEED multiple streams of income. There’s absolutely no way I would’ve been able to do this on one income right now. Sometimes I’ve had weeks where I’d get paid from one job on Monday and another on Thursday, then all of the money from both goes straight back into the building by Friday. I used to wonder why there are so many half-completed buildings throughout Nassau, but buddy… I understand now. Having enough money coming in as you have going back out is crucial.

5. Patience can be as important as the cash

My patience has been tested like none other. It’s not for a lack of urgency on the workers’ part - they’ve been great and extremely efficient. But waiting for this approval and that connection and this delivery of materials, all of these prolonged wait times add up, not to mention when cash gets tight things naturally can’t move as quickly. A clear example of this is the fact that it took so long between my foundation bricks being laid and the actual foundation being poured that Mother Nature actually started to reclaim it, as you can see from the whole plants growing back in the picture above. Yes it was a little embarrassing from a housekeeping standpoint, but what can ya do?

If you don’t have the patience of Job, you can easily lose your mind. I can’t count the number of times people have asked me how the building is going and my only response has been “it’s not”, because all I can do is wait for paperwork or whatever-else is holding up production. This is another reason why I wanted the loan to make sure that things move smoothly to finish my first unit as close as possible to August 2021. (Actually, my original plan was to move in by August 2020, but as we all know, Miss Corona Virus had other plans.)

6. You learn to tolerate less

This is one lesson that I actually didn’t expect, but may have come at a crucial time in my personal life. I’ve been known to be a people pleaser to the point of being a pushover, but after experiencing such extreme levels of stress, I’ve come to realise that there are some burdens that you genuinely can’t take on anymore. The experience of building has given me a tougher exterior, maybe in part due to the fact that I literally do not have time for certain things and in part due to the fact that this is one of my first experiences truly being the boss and having full control of something on my own. Either way, it’s been a great growing experience, even if it came with no shortage of growing pains.

7. Self care is non-negotiable

As I mentioned in my last blog, I was getting to the point where I was so stressed that it was impacting my physical and mental health. When I decided to apply for a construction loan rather than finishing out of pocket, I immediately felt the weight of that extra pressure lift off of my shoulders. When you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t even be able to function properly enough to finish your project to the standard that it should be done. That’s why when I’m in a better spot financially and have a minute to exhale, I’m planning a self-care day extraordinaire: massages, facials, the whole works. Anything to give me a balance and keep me sane to get through this project is as much of a worthy investment as the building itself.

While I won’t know exactly how valuable it was to build out of pocket until my new loan adjustment is completed, I figure that these lessons are worth taking with me through life regardless. My main goal with this blog series is to give other people useful advice to help them learn from my mistakes before deciding if this is something that they eventually want to embark on themselves, so I hope that these tips will be helpful for giving a more well-rounded view of what to expect.

Is building out of pocket more beneficial than a construction loan, or is building better than buying a turn-key property? I guess I won’t know for sure until the process is completed. Keep up with the rest of my blogs here at Major Cay to find out what happens with the end result and in the meantime, I’ll share my progress and thoughts on fittings, furnishing, decoration and property value enhancement along the way.

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