Every evening as the sun sets, the black cabin in Hochatown, Oklahoma, disappears into the shadows of the surrounding trees. Natalie Taylor Cross and her husband, Scott, would not have it any other way. They make the three-hour trek from their home in bustling Dallas to the 1,570-square-foot cottage to lose themselves in the area’s sparkling lake and winding bike trails; the more immersed they are in nature, the better.
Custom homes in the popular vacation destination can cost up to $400,000, but the couple paid thousands less than their neighbors by opting out of using an architect. Instead, they purchased an existing blueprint online for just $500. “It is very easy,” Cross explains. “You choose your plan, make the purchase, and download it within minutes.” Even better, it comes with electrical, plumbing, foundation notes, and the option to buy a materials list.
Cross estimates that it would have cost her $10,000 to have an architect draft a similar layout. However, taking the prepackaged route comes with its own unique challenges. Curious if this might be right for you? Cross walks us through the process, from finding the perfect floor plan to casting the right construction crew.
Vet Your Team
When you buy premade plans online, you lose out on the opportunity to work directly with an architect, so any questions that come up have to be answered by the construction crew. When vetting candidates, Cross recommends not only getting a feel for how seasoned your contractor, plumber, and electrician are (they should be confident about how much things are going to cost) but how flexible they seem. Look for “roll-with-the-punches kind of people” who can pivot when things get tricky, she says. And be prepared to spend time on-site just like you would with a traditional new build; Cross visited every other week when they first broke ground. Once the project really got going, she made the three-hour drive to Oklahoma weekly to check in on things.
Unearth the Right Floor Plan
When scouring websites for blueprints, Cross narrowed in on straightforward layouts that would be easy for any contractor to follow. This meant avoiding difficult rooflines or intricate nooks and crannies. In the end, she went with a three-bedroom, two-bath design from Concept Home, a site she favors for its modern designs. While hers was $500, they can cost up to $2,000 depending on the size and intricacies of the plan.
Look to the Locals for Help
In competitive building markets like Hochatown, local lumberyards have come up with unique ways to drum up business. One, in particular, offered Cross access to someone well-versed in CAD (a program used to create renderings and technical drawings) if she agreed to purchase materials from them. Cross jumped at the opportunity—she was looking to make some tweaks to the layout, and Concept Home was going to charge her $1,500 for the same service (although it has since cut the fee to $600).
Cross kicked off the project by sending her plan to the expert, making sure to include detailed notes about her desired expansion of two of the en suite bedrooms by cutting into the third (which she hoped to turn into a closet/laundry room). After a few days of emails and phone calls, the lumberyard gave Cross a physical copy of the updated blueprints for the builder and framer to use on-site. “The end result is still the same 1,570-square-foot home but just feels more like us. The space is more useful for entertaining and relaxing with guests,” says Cross.
Cross wanted the cabin to have an “unpolished” feel, so while the home was under construction she hunted down vintage decor that had lived a little. In the living room, Cross paired an orange Southwestern-style sofa she bought off a neighbor with a vintage wood-burning stove in the same color (an eBay score). “It heats the cabin and makes it smell so good and woodsy,” gushes Cross. She carried the hue into the bedrooms through modern task lamps that sit in contrast to the humble bed platforms she commissioned from a local carpenter. Add to that a marble countertop from Craigslist, thrifted claw-foot tubs, and a stovetop she bought on closeout, and the savings quickly added up.
In the end, Cross and her husband cut costs by around 20 percent. Would they do it again? Absolutely. “It was totally worth it,” she says. “The day we arrived with our trailer to move in, the crew was finishing up the final details, and they had a fire going in the old wood burner for us. We even hugged out our goodbyes on the porch that final day.”