“How much will it cost to build this house?” is the question we and home designers around the country are asked most frequently. Our answer is always the same, “It depends”. There are so many factors that impact the cost of building a home, it’s hard to pinpoint it with any accuracy before you get through the actual quote process with your builder. Actually, there are even a few factors that can’t be determined until the actual building takes place.
To be honest, it is possible to estimate the cost. The US Census Bureau provides an average cost per square foot of new construction both nationally and by geographic region. These are not precise figures and can vary by $20 or more per square foot. Therefore you must include room for variances in your budget. Factors impacting cost include where you live, the time of year you’re building, the quality of materials you choose, and your lot, just to name a few.
Geographic differences can be significant. Homes in the Northeast tend to cost more than homes in the South. Why? The cost of materials is higher, the building season is usually shorter. The average contract price per square foot as published by the US Census Bureau shows a difference of more than $30 per square foot between the Northeast and South. Now consider whether you’re building close to a metropolitan area or in a rural, less populated area of your state. We’ve seen prices vary by as much as $20 per square foot between towns only an hour apart.
Then there is your builder. Let’s face it, a building contractor provides a service. The type of service you want will impact the overall cost. If you want a builder who is meticulous about every detail of your home, it will cost more than if you want a builder who will focus on getting your home up quickly. Some builders increase their prices during high demand periods. If building in your geographic area is seasonal, you may want to consider starting your home in the “off-season” to take advantage of a builder’s down time, and hopefully, lower prices.
Lots can also bring on many hidden surprises. You don’t know for certain what’s underneath your feet until you actually start digging. If you are putting in a full basement, you may not discover ledge until you’re several feet down. Now you have to add the cost of blasting. A well can also bring on unpredictable costs. Contractors cannot guarantee they will hit water at a certain depth. Even if the lot right next to yours hit water at 100 feet, that doesn’t mean you will. You may suddenly find yourself spending a lot more (or if you’re lucky, a lot less!) than originally planned.
Now, we’ll get into those costs YOU can control. What type of heating and cooling system will your home have? Many eco-friendly systems are more expensive up front, although long term cost savings and environmental impact make them worth considering. Custom cabinets, granite countertops, one of a kind light fixtures and exotic hardwood floors - every choice you make will impact the cost of your home. Smart consumers will splurge on items that can’t easily be upgraded after the house is complete – like a geothermal heating system. Then they choose standard faucets, light fixtures and other items which can be easily upgraded at some point in the future.
These are just a small sampling of what impacts the cost of your home. It would be great if you could slap a price tag on each plan and say this is the final cost to build your home, but then you wouldn’t be able to customize it, make it your own. So be patient and flexible. Use the average square foot cost for your region as a starting point for your budget, but not as a final cost. Talk to local builders as they will give you a much more accurate picture of costs in your area.
Todd McIntyre is owner of Design Connection LLC. He has over twenty years experience as a home design professional.