Man reviewing construction blueprints

Pride of Ownership

Feb 20, 2020
Empower Insights

How one couple built their own custom home - with cash

When Sam Castner and his wife decided to build a new home on his family’s eight-generation farm in upstate New York, they fell in love with a contemporary steel-truss “kit house” that had been featured on the cover of Architectural Digest. So they bought the kit for $20,000, then went to a local bank for a $150,000 mortgage to cover construction costs, which is how much it costs to build the custom home.

They prequalified for the loan — but a week into the paperwork, the bank changed hands, and the new management turned them down. “They said the house wasn’t ‘traditional’ enough,” recalls Castner, 44. “They were worried about resale value.”

Fed up with the loan process, Castner decided to build it himself, with cash — including the roughly $1,000 they would have put toward a monthly mortgage payment. A metal sculptor who also teaches art (his wife runs her family’s vineyard), he figured he could do most of the work on his own over time. But the kit proved too complex and expensive. Instead, working with the local zoning board and code officers, he came up with his own simpler design, which would use salvaged building materials.

Not having a mortgage has given us a lot more peace of mind

“We got a used trailer to live in, and started building,” he says.

Castner sourced steel beams from recycled highway guardrails. Lumber came partly from his own forest; a friend with a sawmill cut it to size in exchange for some of the timber. The four-by-eight-foot picture windows were salvaged from a car dealership. “I did all the cork floors and drywall myself,” he says, “mostly working nights.”

Many people wonder how long it takes to build a custom home. The 1,200-square-foot house went up in less than a year and cost about $50,000. Its open plan features ceilings as high as 20 feet, which might seem like an energy hog, but the massive windows generate passive solar heat. “In the winter when the sun comes up in the afternoon, the house heats up by 15 degrees,” says Castner. The rest of the heat is provided entirely by wood from the surrounding property.

Castner says that while building your own house isn’t for everyone, “the beauty of the internet is that someone has already done everything on YouTube. If you’re remotely handy, you’ve got all the instructions right on your phone.”

The money the Castners saved on mortgage payments allowed them to pay cash for an addition to the original house, which comes in handy now that they have four kids. Next up is finally building that kit house, which Castner plans to use as an art studio and classroom.

“Not having a mortgage has given us a lot more peace of mind,” he says. “In hindsight, I’m glad the bank turned us down.”

Build a foundation for your future with an Empower Investment Account

Latest Empower Insights

African American man standing in front of store front, smiling
Jan 6, 2021
Empower Insights

Work in retirement – by the numbers

The number of retirement-age Americans in the workforce is at an all-time high. According to one report, in February 2019 over 20% of Americans age 65 or older were working or looking for work.

Carefully consider the investment option’s objectives, risks, fees and expenses. Contact Empower Retirement for a prospectus, summary prospectus for SEC-registered products or disclosure document for unregistered products, if available, containing this information. Read each carefully before investing.

Securities offered and/or distributed by GWFS Equities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. GWFS is an affiliate of Empower Retirement, LLC; Great-West Funds, Inc.; and registered investment advisers, Advised Assets Group, LLC and Personal Capital. This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide investment, legal or tax recommendations or advice. 

IMPORTANT: The projections, or other information generated on the website by the investment analysis tool regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes, are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results and are not guarantees of future results. The results may vary with each use and over time.

Insurance products are issued by or offered through Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company, Corporate Headquarters: Greenwood Village, CO; or in New York, by Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company of New York, Home Office: New York, NY. Guarantees are subject to the terms and conditions of the contract and the claims-paying ability of the insurer.

The Empower Institute is a research group within Empower Retirement, LLC.

All features may not currently be available and are subject to change without notice. ©2021 Empower Retirement, LLC. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted: Not a Deposit | Not FDIC Insured | Not Bank Guaranteed | Funds May Lose Value | Not Insured by Any Federal Government Agency.