🚧 First time building – order of operations? 🚧

10 Replies

Hello BiggerPockets,

My wife and I have dreamt of running AirBnBs and resorts since we were married. This year we want to take the plunge, take a risk, do something. Our goal is to build 2-3 geodesic domes as short-term rentals in the Blue Ridge mountains, taking heavy inspiration from Domes Charlevoix in Canada. Ideally, we would like to complete this project for $250-300k (maybe this is naive, but I have no basis). The problem? We don't know where to start. Things I know need to happen before construction:

β€’ Find a lender. - I don't know what kind of lender to talk to, because I'm unsure what type of loan we will need. Business loan, construction mortgage, traditional mortgage?

β€’ Find a property. - I don't know how much we can allocate to land because I'm unsure of the final cost of the domes.

β€’ Get an estimate on the cost to construct our project. - Will a general contractor be willing to talk to me before the above two tasks?

My wife and I would like to live on-property as soon as one of the domes are livable (possibly in an airstream before), until a time where all domes are rentable, automated, and positive cash-flowing. It's worth noting that we do not own a house, we currently rent and have good flexibility of location with our jobs.

Where do I start? Who should I talk to first? Any and all advice is welcome and hugely appreciated.

This becomes slightly challenging. But I'll share my knowledge. Steps by steps are: 

1) Land

Pick your land. How will you secure it? Is it big enough. How much does it cost? What is it zoned?

2) Feasibility

Run your numbers. You'll have to get some construction costs, soft costs, land costs. Will the project make sense?

3) Municipal Approvals

Will a city allow you to do what you want to do? 

4) Design

Hire an architect to design it.

5) Construction

Hire a builder to build it. 

6) Financing 

Pay for it. 

That's obviously an overly simplified way to do it. But you really need to understand if the project is going to make sense. Have a good idea, and be able to present it to someone who's willing to listen. Run every number. How will you secure or option the land? How much does it cost to build in your area? How much do architects cost in your area? I live in two places (Vegas and Vancouver) where building costs in Vegas are half of what they are in Vancouver. Talking to builders will get you to understand that. 

Don't glaze over what the city will allow you to do and what they won't. Cities and approvals can kill projects and make people go broke. Be careful. 

Architects will make plans and get you design drawings you can then show to builders to get firm quotes. 

Banks will want to probably see 25% cash in the project and the remaining 75% guaranteed. Can you make that happen? A bank will not really talk to you too in depth until you have a full design and quotes from builders. That's really why it comes last. But have an IDEA before you spend $50k to get to that point. 

I can help you further if you'd like. Send me a message and we can chat more. 


Hey Nicholas, huge thanks for the time you've taken in your response. I'd love to chat more with you, but I'll keep some sort of conversation going here since I think this will be valuable for others to find in the future.

1) RE: Land

From what you've said, it seems like a good first step would be to involve a real estate agent to help us find a properly zoned piece of land and get a solid grip on what the cost of it will be. This will help us budget for the rest of our project. 

I'm not sure what you mean by "How will you secure it?" Since this is the first stage and we don't yet have a loan, I'm guessing a good solution here is an earnest money agreement.

2) RE: Feasibility

We definitely want to do our due diligence here. I think construction costs are the big question mark at the moment; this is not a very traditional construction project. 

At this step, we don't have solid architectural plans or drawings. Should I pay a general contractor/builder in the area for some kind of consultation to estimate the cost of the project? Will pictures of similar projects be enough to go on at this stage?

3) RE: Municipal Approvals

How do I go about this? What's the title of the person I should be talking to at this stage? Can a realtor help us start this process?

4) RE: Design

Fortunately, my father-in-law is an architect, as well as several good friends. I think we have some good options here, this stage I have a clearer picture of.


I've presented our general idea to several clear-thinking, money-smart people, and thus far everyone has seemed optimistic. To give you a rough idea, this AirBnB near Asheville, NC will be our closest direct competitor. Their occupancy rates are near 100% for the next 6 months at a nightly rate of about $250. I think this competition is good, and we will aim to differentiate ourselves in several different ways.

The area we're seeking to build in is closer to Atlanta, GA there's an abundance of more traditional cabins with great occupancy rates. I think we stand a good chance by standing out and doing something a bit more unique and niche.

Once again, I really appreciate your thoughtful reply, and I look forward to chatting with you.

@Marcus Bizal - There are construction loans you can do, but they may not want to loan on such a unique type of build.  My opinion, financing is always the first step, unless you never plan to have debt on it.  The fact you want to live there may help from the loan perspective.  

I don't want to be the dream killer, but I believe you are going to have a lot of difficulty getting financing for this kind of project because:

1. You have no experience building one property much less several, and

2. You are building something that is outside the box of what traditional lending understands.

I've built before. In fact it's in that podcast that's in my signature. I lost a bundle of money. Building is one of those things that doesn't sound that complicated on the surface but has a million little wrinkles once you start. I built using a construction loan and it just about bankrupted me because of the speed and issues with draws.

If this is really your dream, my suggestion would be to start with baby building blocks and work up to it. Find a lot and build a spec house that you can sell. You'll have an easier time getting lending, and once you are finished you'll have some experience and know if you want to do this and will have something to show a bank. 

My thoughts are you're probably taking an extreme best case guess about both occupancy AND nighty rate plus I see zero mention of expenses as well. Other replies have covered most of the basics but with the same end goal in mind I'd tend to approach it a little differently: -Can you find a property with a house on it already, with zoning that will allow at minimum 1 additional ADU, or multiple additional residential units under the current zoning code (or after subdividing, if required)? Don't forget environmental/site conditions like wetlands/slope, available water supply, and Septic. Maybe you will find something with additional under-utilized outbuilding/s already on it, that could perhaps convert to rentals? --buying something with a home on it already will allow conventional financing and then put the $ into developing additional STR units when your additional $ is available over time. --Have you considered using sub-permitted (ie under ~200f sq ft cabin, or "tiny home" built on a trailer frame)? Sub permitted rustic cabins/sheds/portable buildings on pier blocks, non-permanent/temporary (rv/trailer/tiny home/park model) and other unconventional rental units like tree houses seem to rent almost as well as larger units, especially worth looking into if start up cost is a consideration.. These could be more affordable to start things out and see if you can make it work in the area - just make sure whatever you're proposing is a legal use in the county/city zoning code. If you have the right natural attraction like a river, or even a "themed" property/units of some sort, smaller or more unconventional rentals even without all traditional amenities seem to rent out pretty well on airbnb in some cases.. -Finally if you can't find or afford the right property with a house on it already as above, the best rural new construction opportunities/deals are often land with a tear down mobile on it. If you can find something with at least a permitted septic and utilities on site, that could take a tiny bit of the risk/unknowns out of the equation vs developing bare land.

Originally posted by @Marcus Bizal :

Hello BiggerPockets,

My wife and I have dreamt of running AirBnBs and resorts since we were married. This year we want to take the plunge, take a risk, do something. Our goal is to build 2-3 geodesic domes as short-term rentals in the Blue Ridge mountains, taking heavy inspiration from Domes Charlevoix in Canada. Ideally, we would like to complete this project for $250-300k (maybe this is naive, but I have no basis). The problem? We don't know where to start. Things I know need to happen before construction:

β€’ Find a lender. - I don't know what kind of lender to talk to, because I'm unsure what type of loan we will need. Business loan, construction mortgage, traditional mortgage?

β€’ Find a property. - I don't know how much we can allocate to land because I'm unsure of the final cost of the domes.

β€’ Get an estimate on the cost to construct our project. - Will a general contractor be willing to talk to me before the above two tasks?

My wife and I would like to live on-property as soon as one of the domes are livable (possibly in an airstream before), until a time where all domes are rentable, automated, and positive cash-flowing. It's worth noting that we do not own a house, we currently rent and have good flexibility of location with our jobs.

Where do I start? Who should I talk to first? Any and all advice is welcome and hugely appreciated.

You definitely do not want to approach a builder first. The financing is the first step. Once you decide where you want to do this you need to make sure the numbers work and you can qualify for a loan. 25-30% down, solid net worth and assets to qualify for the loan etc. Once you figure these things out a good realtor can help you with land and finding the right builder and lender in the area.

Your father-in-law should have some insights about the construction process. Other tips:

- You're best off doing one dome at a time, and financing it as a personal residence. Depending on how the zoning works, you might be able to build a second unit under that loan -- e.g., as an accessory dwelling unit. You will likely not be able to get much construction loan consideration based on projected rental income.

- Deltec Homes sells round (not dome) house kits out of Asheville; they may have some recommendations for builders familiar with the concept.

- Keep in mind that expenses will be higher for something away from home.

- Always low-ball your expectations on rates and (especially) occupancy, since it's always better to be pleasantly than unpleasantly surprised. That said, a friend of mine has a dome rental in the Appalachians and is always surprised at the rates he can charge.


Yurts are cool and not as expensive and many people like the bamboo construction and the durability.   So I have a lake on 55 acres and I am thinking about constructing multiple yurts around the lake and AirBNB or get a management company to manage renting them out.


More or less turning the area into a camp ground or long term camping. Maybe even add a community well and provide sepic systems for sewage and trash services. Maybe create an HOA if I go long term to manage the lake and keep it stocked with fish and manage the roads or whatever else like trasdh services and roads and water or utilities. Maybe run power to each of them if I incorporate a HOA.