The Blanchards with Berry.
• Look for undervalued lots.
• Keep the design simple and small.
• Use efficient building methods, such as a framework of insulated concrete form (Rastra, www.rastra.com) and structural insulated panels (Premier Panels, www.pbspanels.com).
• Balance cost of materials with long-term maintenance costs. For example, exterior finishes like composite decking and copper railings for low-maintenance; interior trim that is stained instead of painted, to show less wear.
• Splurge wisely. If your budget allows, choose one or two high-impact upgrades. (Here, Madrone floors cost about $1.50 per square foot more than oak but since they only had to cover about 575 square feet of space, the extra cost was insignificant.)
• Add sweat equity. The couples did all the design work and construction oversight, helped with some of the construction, landscaped, and moved all the furniture.
• Barter. They traded rental time at the house for services.
• Bargain hunt. Look for stores where you can buy in bulk (for a volume discount).