What does it cost to build?
Updated: May 11
I get this question in my DM’s all the time from people who are thinking about building. I really like talking to everyone, but I’m sure people don’t like waiting on me to get back to them all the time. I know how stressful it can be to the get the information you need to make decisions so I’ve made this blog post to share what I’ve learned about building costs and I give examples of what you can expect to get at 3 different price points.
So, what does it cost?? And the answer is……it depends. No, really, it does depend, I'll explain. There are four main things that impact the cost; 1) where in the country you are building, 2) the type of builder you choose, 3) the types of finishes you want, and 4) the plan itself.
Where you live can have a huge impact on the cost to build. Land prices aside, construction differs so much depending on where you are. You may or may not need a basement, you might be able to get away with 2x4 construction versus 2x6. Building codes are different in different states too, in MA we had to use more expensive engineered wood where other places you can do stick construction.
Some people choose to GC the job themselves, I’ve heard folks say it can save you 20% and I don’t doubt that’s possible. My perspective on this is that if you’re not in the business you could be overcharged by subs who look at you as a one hit wonder. You may also be a low priority for subs who think they’ll never get additional business from you, thus impacting your timeline.
Now that I see all the coordination that needs to happen as far as lining up each sub when you need them and dancing around dependencies and even space issues, there is no way I would have been able to do that without a lot of guidance. I feel like I’d have to do it a few times before I got good and I’m only building one forever house, so that’s a problem. The other negative to not having a GC is that you don’t have that knowledgeable person that is constantly thinking about your house and making suggestions as well as foreseeing issues.
There are so many different types of builders out there. There are ones that come with a team of project managers and subcontractors who they have on their payroll, which might be great if you want that level of service, but you’ll pay for that. Other builders will build you exactly what is on a plan, they may not have a lot of flexibility or creativity but could be quick and economical. Some builders, like ours, are also craftsman and will do custom woodwork throughout including all custom cabinetry, another place to splurge if that’s important to you, or cut if it’s not.
Finishes is the area that can make the biggest difference in cost. Cost of plumbing fixtures can have a huge swing, we were shocked to see the price difference in finishes from nickel to bronze, each fixture can be hundreds of dollars more to get oil rubbed bronze or black. Add that all up across all the fixtures in the house and you’re in the thousands. Finishes aside, even the fixtures you can pick have a huge swing, when we first looked at tubs we asked the price of the one we liked in the showroom and it was $7,000, same thing with a $1,000 faucet!! For us a tub or wall mounted faucet wasn’t a huge priority so we found a more affordable ones.
Doors and windows are huge, we wanted quality windows and splurged on Anderson 400 series. Countertops can make a big difference from granite to quartz or even quartzite and marble. Cabinets, do you want readymade or custom? Light fixtures are another one with a huge swing, you can spend thousands on lights or hundreds. Flooring too there are so many options you can go high or low with. See where I’m going with “it depends”?
Floorplans have a huge impact on the cost to build as well. Is the house on a square foundation or a rectangle or L shape, are there alcoves and bump outs? Square is the most efficient cost wise and everything else starts to add up. If you simply want the most square footage you can afford then go square or rectangle.
Bathrooms are an area that can add a lot of cost when you think about all the plumbing fixtures and labor to install. Our upstairs, which has three bedrooms (the master is downstairs), had 2 full bathrooms, since we really only needed one full bathroom upstairs, we cut the other one out making a bigger bedroom.
Ceiling height and style is something to look at too. Tray ceilings are expensive, and bring no joy to my husband or I so that was an easy scratch. Look for high ceilings, do you REALLY love them? Then you’re really going to pay for them. Our plan called for 24’ cathedral ceilings in the great room, this added a lot of extra cost in the engineering to make a structure like that work.
I think about costs in 3 different buckets, these can tweaked and aren’t meant to be exact but it’s the easiest way to give you a sense of costs and what you could get.
$150 sq/ft. You may have a builder that’s going exactly by the plan or maybe a couple small custom features. Your plan is pretty square and simple, and you aren’t splurging on most finishes.
$200 sq/ft. You have a custom builder who may or may not have a team of project managers, subs, etc. You are splurging on your priority items but not on everything, you probably have custom cabinetry. Your floorplan is unique and has some architectural features like high ceilings.
$250 sq/ft. You are probably going with a builder that has team to help you through the process. You are able to splurge on many items, there are many custom elements to your home, the plan is complex.
I hope this gives you some of the info you need to make decisions on your build. Please let me know if you found this to be helpful!