How much will my home cost to build?

How much it’s going to cost to build a home is probably one of the first questions our clients ask us. Unfortunately, it’s doesn’t come with an easy answer.

Note: The numbers I”m going to throw around in this example are pretty relevant to our area of the country. (The answer to why it is more or less expensive to build here versus somewhere else is a matter for a whole different post!)

 A simple 1,600 or 2,000 sq.ft. structure with basic interior trim and fixtures can have a per square foot building cost of $120 or $150 per sq.ft.  On the flip side, a house with high-end interior and exterior details, even though it has the same square footage, can run much higher.

(Since you can never tell how someone has calculated their cost per square foot, we always recommend our clients ask contractors for the total budget based on a specific set of plans. Any building quotes without drawings or anyone who promises a house at a square foot without telling you the total budget is just pulling numbers from the air – making it pretty meaningless.)

While we always try to stay on top of material and labor building costs, and therefore have a pretty good feel for what a home will cost as we are designing it, we still never know when certain material prices will jump up or down or when some subcontractors need work enough to give a big discount. All of which means that when we are done drawing your plans, and we select a small handful of contractors to price it, things get very exciting around here.

This week was no exception as we had two big projects bidding.

For those of you who have never gone through this process, it’s quite an eye-opener. The bids were due in Friday at 5 pm. At 4:45, the fax started spitting out pages. (For some reason, contractors love to wait till the last minute to send these things in. I’ve heard it’s because the subcontractors wait till the last minute so the contractors can’t shop around their quotes too much.)

The bid form looks a bit like this.


Then we get pages and pages of detailed cost breakdowns that looks like this…

All of which means we were up late going through all the numbers and have a long weekend in front of us to analyze the bids. Just because someone comes in with the lowest number doesn’t mean they have the most accurate number —  and sometimes it does. Our job is to go through the numbers line by line and look for any costs that strike us as too high or too low. Sometimes the contractor, material provider or subcontractor has a reason for the figure and sometimes it means they didn’t catch all the work or materials needed for the job. We recently had a job bid where one contractor simply forgot to bid the roof material. It happens. That’s why it’s so important to check these bids instead of just signing a contract with the lowest bidder. Plus, it teaches us how certain kinds of structures or materials are pricing these days. When the next client asks us to draw a home with a certain kind of roof material or outdoor pool, we now know how much to tell our client to expect that feature to cost.

We’ll be letting the contractors know next week who one which project. Until then, we’ll have our noses buried in paperwork.