How much will my home cost?

Hello, my name is Amy and no, I’m not an architect. My husband and I started our own architecture firm nearly six years ago. Now, having survived this roller coaster ride this long, I feel like so many of our clients and friends come to us with the same questions: how to even begin to design a home or office or what are the pros and cons of different building materials and methods.

Figuring that we are not alone in tackling these questions, I have decided to start this blog in an attempt to help others out there working through the same predicaments. A word of warning: I am not an expert. But having been a part of everything from co-founding the firm to shopping with clients for new appliances to analyzing geo-thermal systems, I feel I can answer most questions based on my general working knowledge of the subject matter. However, as financial advisers are fond of saying: it’s best to consult an expert before making any major financial — or home improvement — decisions.

Number 1 question: How much will our home cost?

Nine times out of ten, maybe even ten out of ten, this is one of the first questions that people ask us when we first meet to talk about their home design. Probably because it is one of the hardest and most important questions someone should ask when considering building a new home or office.

Why is it so difficult? First, without a plan, it’s almost impossible for anyone to say how much the home will cost to build. Think of it this way: If you asked a car salesman how much a new car would cost you, the car salesman could say $10,000 or $50,000 because you haven’t told him what kind of car. The same is true for a contractor. If you say you want a house, even if you say it is a 2,000 sq.ft. house, it’s the same as telling a car salesman you want a four-door car and expecting him to give you a firm quote.

Given all that, it’s hard to reassure a client with a budget, no matter what that budget may be, that they can afford to build the home they are paying up to design. That’s why some architects, including our firm, work very closely with contractors, subcontractors and building supply companies. We keep close tabs on where prices are going on the key items to build a home. When we see wood prices going up or windows becoming more competitive, we take note. We have a constantly updated rolodex and price list for our favorite materials and labor sources.

This allows our firm to work closely with contractors to estimate the cost of the home as the drawings are being developed. Consequently, we know if we are on the right track for our clients’ budgets.

This doesn’t mean that when the drawings are done, that we know exactly how much the home will cost.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait, what? How is that possible, you just said you had an estimate for me?”

When the drawings are done, assuming the client wants to bid the project between three or so contractors whom they have previously met and feel comfortable with, the costs can still come back above or below our architectural estimate.

Common sense says this shouldn’t happen, right? Given that wood framing, windows, insulation, plumbing, roofing, etc…  in other words, the bones of the house, are a fixed cost item, why are the prices different?

Yes, a part of it is labor prices, which can vary contractor to contractor. But a lot of it is material sources as well. Our firm spends almost as much time drawing as we do always looking for the best material sources and laborers. Does this mean ours are the best and cheapest? Not always. Sometimes new companies pop up and offer a contractor a great deal and sometimes they get busy, demand for a product goes up, and suddenly prices jump.

So back to the main question…. How much will my house cost? In reality, yes, we can give you a good, solid ballpark number as the plans develop and often our estimates are pretty close to the end result. Sometimes the crystal ball gets a little hazy, but most of the time we end up on target. It’s not an exact science, but then again, neither is car shopping – and I can guarantee you that designing your home is more fun.