The saga continues

For those of you who missed an earlier column about the land my family purchased in Kodiak, the quick synopsis is this: We bought a couple of gorgeous acres in the only gated community in all of Alaska with an HOA that won’t allow us to camp on it or put a trailer on it (except temporarily or while building). It’s been two years, and so far, the only improvements we’ve made to the parcel are the wrought iron table and chairs I hauled out onto a knoll overlooking Middle Bay, where I sat enjoying a PB&J and dreaming about what it would be like to live there. My spouse has been a-okay with the fact that we’ve not spent any more money on the project, since interest rates are high, and it was my idea in the first place. As it is, I only get out there a couple of times a year, typically in spring and summer, securing a rental car and shelling out for a VRBO in town, which adds insult to injury when I’m paying property taxes for a place I own but can’t live on. In lieu of a storage unit, I keep a few small items like bear spray (you can’t fly with bear spray, and I need it every time I’m there) and non-perishable goods stashed in a cooler that the developer gave us in 2021 as a closing gift—retrieving it from their office when I get to town and leaving it there when I go. I feel like a kid coming home from college to get snacks and do laundry. That said, I get the feeling they’re tired of keeping it, and that this year when I visit, Mom and Dad will officially kick me out and redo my room.

So, what’s the problem, you might ask? Why haven’t you built yet? The barriers we’ve encountered so far are myriad, and most have been brought on by my own naivety. For example, I went down the road (pun intended) with a pre-built home, only to find out that the shipping cost would kill us and that the trucks wouldn’t be able to make the turn in the road to the property without tipping over and falling off the cliff into the sea. I complained to the developer that they hadn’t given us proper access to our lot—which wasn’t entirely accurate—because who in their right mind would try to truck a 45,000-pound, 50-foot-long completed home down a hairpin turn? I’d been sucked in by the allure of a turn-key house that could be set onto a foundation and hooked up to utilities. And, of course, there were other alternatives where the paperclip turn wouldn’t be a problem. But since we’d already gotten to the engineering stamp phase, I was almost desperate enough to consider a helicopter drop (which, as you might expect, is impractical and costly).

The Kodiak contractor I had enlisted to do the site work and the coordination for the hook-up of the prefab convinced me that it would cost less money to stick-build something similar on site—and more importantly, that the construction materials could be hauled onto the lot without ending up in the Pacific. Because we weren’t keen on the idea of owning an unmoored flooded houseboat, we changed course, ate the money we’d spent already, licked our wounds, and vowed to move forward.

Newly energized with visions of how to spend the savings, we revisited grand ideas: a 1,400-square-foot home with three bedrooms and a lock-off suite over an attached garage for out-of-town photo clients, renters, and guests. After sticker-shock as powerful as an Alaska-sized earthquake, we scaled it down, and then down again, until we reached a 725-square-foot, one bedroom, two bath unit over a garage. We priced it out with fingers crossed, only to find out that costs had risen so much during the last few years of our dilly-dallying that we couldn’t afford to build that either. 

I count these failures as part of the learning process. I’m a writer and photographer, and yet I now know about wind and snow loads, slab foundations, the cost of cement, lining wells so they don’t collapse, and Kodiak houses needing to “breathe” because of the weather here. They aren’t things I wanted to learn, mind you, but I suppose all knowledge is power—and I’m in desperate need of it.

Another contractor, ironically the first one we met with in Kodiak after purchasing the land—who two years ago was too busy to take on another project—has put together bids for the build; so far, they look reasonable. I hesitate to get too excited yet, but it’s possible the site work could be done before winter, and the building perhaps completed before the end of next summer. Until then, I plan on retrieving my Kodiak cooler and visiting my table and chairs to reassure them that they haven’t been abandoned.    

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