In June 2017, I sat down with Architect & Developer Mike Benkert, AIA in Cincinnati, OH. See more information about Mike at his website and follow along his Home 2.0 Blog for his latest updates. Also check out his video series on YouTube.
Mike Benkert: Learning by experience is by far the best education. Keep your day job and start small. Build your own house. That is what I did for the first one. It is definitely the best way to start I think. In Ohio, I can pay cash and buy a lot, and get a construction loan to build it. I got a great lot for less than $25,000. It is a nice urban, walkable neighborhood that is a really desirable place to be.
James Petty: Even though you are developing your own projects, you still have a day job at an architecture firm. Talk to me about your day job. What kind of projects do you do there and how has the Architect & Developer endeavor overlapped with the 9-5 job?
MB: I work for a commercial firm and do a lot of educational work. I like it there. It has benefits, and I live off of that. When I sell this second project, I will make significantly more money off of that than what I do working at a firm. But, there is still no reason to quit. The banks want to see that you have a steady job. If I get to the point where it doesn’t make sense for me to have a job working full-time as an architect somewhere else, then I will revisit my options.
JP: I seem to see a lot of that regarding keeping a full-time job for financing reasons. It seems one reason alone for keeping gainful employment. Banks want to see that security in their risk.
MB: I would say that is the biggest myth to being an entrepreneur; the myth that you have to go all in and risk everything and that you have to jump in with both feet. Most successful businesses do not start that way. I think it is better to air on the side of keeping your full-time job.
JP: How do you balance the time of working on your side hustle of developing homes and your day job at an architecture firm? Do you work reasonable hours?
MB: Yeah, aside from deadlines, my day job is about 40-hours per week. My office is pretty cool with it. Sometimes I have to cut out in the middle of the day to check on something or go to a meeting. It hasn’t really been an issue balancing the two. My work is 5-minutes down the road from where I live and 5-minutes from the Oakley Home. That really helps.
JP: You mentioned that you were working on schools and commercial projects with your day job. Did you have any previous experience in stick-built construction or single-family homes before developing
these houses? Single-family home construction can be very different that large commercial or institutional buildings.
MB: There is a lot more leeway in terms of codes for single-family residential. My only residential experience was in school. I worked for a non-profit homebuilder in construction. I got to work on some stick-built remodels and new construction. I would say that it is pretty basic to do this. If you can do commercial, you can definitely do residential. For example, I gave my builder the plans for Pleasant Ridge House, and he said, “This is the most detailed set of plans I have ever seen in my life.” Typically these guys are used to getting elevations, plans, and maybe one wall section, and they build off of that.
JP: Did he appreciate the extra detail or did he think you were crazy?
MB: He appreciated it. He was definitely leery of working for an architect and knowing it was an architect’s home. But I won him over, and I have been using the same builder. I have a good relationship with him. I made it clear that I am not one of those know-it-all architects that say that my way has to be the way. I let him know that I wanted to learn from him and use this as an educational experience.
For more on Mike Benkert, see upcoming book Architect & Developer: A Guide to Self-Initiating Projects.