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This is how to be a “general,” i.e. hobby contractor.

My wife, Rita, and I built a 2,000-square-foot cabin, with two levels, three bedrooms and a large screen porch in 2006. The cabin, located east of Danbury, Wis., also has a well and septic system. We got it all for $160,000 ($80/square foot) on an undeveloped lakeshore lot I bought for $84,000. We moved in after a five-month construction time, and we saved at least 15 percent by following the principles I’ve listed below. We thoroughly enjoyed the process and the people with whom we worked.

Most people I have talked to hated the building process, had difficulty with their contractors or generally were not entirely happy with the results.

I think I have an idea how to improve the process and results, and save money. Here are my suggestions:

1. The secret is to plan well in advance. Chat with a contractor friend. Work with an architect for drawings only. Get your finances set up before you start at your local bank. Set up a short-term loan amount to pay off the subcontractors as soon as they finish the job (that was my deal with each of them). Combine that strategy with a long-term mortgage — in our case, 15 years.

2. Have direct interviews with potential subcontractors at their business or work site. Ask for their suggestions, and above all respect their skill. Pay attention to your instincts when choosing the subcontractors.

3. Start a schedule and have frequent communication with subcontractors to keep things on your desired schedule.

4. Make the building inspector your new best friend early on.

5. Buy all of your supplies yourself. You’ll save money and get the best quality. You’ll also get the contractor’s discount. I found Johnson Lumber Co. in Alpha (just west of Siren, Wis.). That was the most amazing business I have ever seen, and their prices rivaled anything here in the Twin Cities in my opinion. Better quality, too. They even had an architect on staff who found significant errors (from my earlier architect) that would have failed inspection.

Mark Nupen, Anoka