This is one of the top questions and concerns of homeowners and builders when embarking on the custom home building journey. Building a custom home can and should be a fun and enjoyable experience. Custom home building allows a homeowner to create a one-of-a-kind home that is specifically tailored to the needs, tastes, and desires of their family from exterior architectural style and interior finish details to the mechanical and technology systems. Today’s building marketplace offers a vast array of products and choices in the many facets that make up a new home from roof shingles to hardwood flooring. The internet is a great source of ideas including websites like Houzz and Pinterest. These products and sources are an asset in providing a catalyst for creative thought. At the same time, they create a challenge in managing and balancing budget with the desired plans and amenities. We have built some extraordinary homes over the years. With that said, we have never built a home for a client that had an unlimited budget. Managing budget is one our top priorities and requires a team effort to achieve including the homeowner, builder, architectural designer, and interior designer. This process requires time, experience, planning, ingenuity, and likely a certain degree of compromise. We will strive to be candid and upfront with you from the beginning. We are not interested in telling you what we think you want to hear only to disappoint you in the long run. We will look out for your best interest and that involves listening to you and then educating you on your options and possibilities.
A common question we hear is “how much is your price per square foot”? Price per square foot is a good ratio to use for very general real estate valuation. However, unless a builder has spent a lot of time getting to know you and your desired plans and specifications, price per square foot is a very inaccurate and misleading approach to forecasting the price of a proposed home. We only use high quality building materials and high caliber suppliers and subcontractors. Keeping that in mind, the home we build can vary in price per square foot by over 100% from one home to another.
What are the key factors that influence the price of a new custom home? There are several factors that affect the price of the home and they all need thought and attention to assure you are allocating resources to your higher priorities and less on your lower priorities. It is a balancing act to create the home of your dreams while maintaining a realistic budget. Based on our 45 years of experience building custom homes, the following is a summary of the key factors that will have a strong influence on the total price of your new home.
Sanitary Sewer and Domestic Water Source
The source of the sewer and water supply varies from property to property based on the location and the services available in that location. If a property has municipal sewer and water, an approximate budget of $3,500 generally covers the cost to install laterals from the main line to your home. A private well and well pump system typically ranges from $8K to $12K. The required well depth is a major variable in determining the final price. Some water sources require no water conditioning equipment. Other building sites require water conditioning equipment including a water softener, iron filter, and/or reverse osmosis drinking water system. Septic systems can range from approximately $8K for a conventional septic system to up to $18K range for a mound septic system. A soil test by a licensed geotechnical engineer will determine the type of septic system required. In reality, the sewer and water supply costs should be thought of as part of the land cost as they are directly tied to the land. However, the costs of these systems are incurred at the time of the home construction and need to be factored into the overall cost of the home.
We recommend investing in soil testing and evaluation by a licensed geotechnical engineer before committing to purchasing a property or building a home on a property. Some sites have higher ground water levels. Some have soil type that require additional reinforcement and waterproofing of foundation walls. Some sites may have soil that is not structurally suitable for building a home. All these factors can typically be uncovered by the geotechnical engineer. In many instances, soil challenges do not prohibit building on a property. However, they do typically require additional measures that add cost to the construction project including custom drainage systems, importing structural fill material, and specific backfill and compaction methods. We want to uncover these challenges and associated remedies in the planning stages of the project.
Excavation, backfill, grading, and crushed stone fill are items required on every home construction project. The actual price of those activities and materials can vary significantly from one project to the next. It is important to perform survey work to determine accurate estimates for the site work activities.
Exposed Basements & Retaining Walls
Building costs vary when comparing building on a relatively flat lot compared to building on a lot with significant changes in grade. The changes in grade can be managed with various methods. We consult with a surveyor, architect, and landscaper for expertise in managing the changes in grade. Exposing part of the lower level is a great way to manage the grade change and also add windows to your lower level. After maximizing any exposure opportunities, we will determine if any retaining walls will be required to manage grade changes. Retaining walls are typically not part of the new home construction costs and are part of landscaping. We focus on aesthetics, safety, function, and costs in determining the best methods to use in managing grade changes and we want to help you plan for these costs in advance.
Decks can be nice outdoor extensions of your home and are often required on homes that have exposed lower levels. We recommend low maintenance materials for decks including Azek decking and aluminum railing systems. Decks typically range in price from $15,000 to $30,000 depending on size, shape, and material selection.
The size of the home is obviously an important factor in the price of the home, but it is a somewhat overvalued factor. A 5,000 SF home with a simple structure and moderate finishes costs less than a 4,000 SF home with major roof and structure complexity and top end finishes. However, it is critical to start out in a reasonable square foot range that is in align with your budget expectations.
We include a minimum basement foundation height of 9’ which is generally sufficient if we are able to keep the HVAC duct work in the unfinished areas. We typically recommend a 10’ foundation height or taller if the HVAC duct work will be in the finished area for future finished area of the basement. Taller walls require additional steel rebar and increased thickness resulting in increased cost. Each additional foot of wall height adds between $5K to $10K depending on the size of the footprint of the home. Taller ceilings add a lot of perceived value to a home and the foundation height is not something that can be changed in the future.
Foundation and Roof Structural Complexity
Homes with complex foundations and roofs can provide great architectural aesthetic appeal. They also take a significant amount more time to construct than the same size home with a relatively simple foundation and roof system. It is important to balance aesthetic appeal with budget and also with function of the home.
The amount of windows along with the size and shape of the windows has a major influence on the price of a home. Windows provide architectural appeal and allow you to maximize the views that your property offers. Curved top windows and circular windows are significantly more costly than straight rectangular windows. Each window on a home requires installation, interior trim, exterior trim, and painting/staining of the window.
We typically install asphalt dimensional shingles on our homes. This provides a quality roof and we are able to include a 20 year labor and material warranty. This shingle has a weight of 233 lbs/square. Some subdivisions require a heavier shingle and in those instances we upgrade to a shingle that is 250 lbs/square. This upgrade typically ranges from $8K to $12K more depending on the size of the home. Certain asphalt shingles like the CertainTeed Grand Manor provide a heavy decorative shingle that emulates the look of a slate roof. The upgrade to Grand Manor can add $20K to $30K compared to the standard shingle. Other options include concrete tile, slate, and cedar shakes. These options are significantly higher in cost than the mentioned asphalt shingle options.
Exterior veneer is any exterior covering on the home including brick, stone, lap siding, shake siding, vertical siding, and stucco. The allocation of these products will significantly influence the overall price of the home. Full natural stone is the most expensive veneer in the $25/SF to $30/SF range. Brick and stucco are approximately half the price of stone at around $16/SF range. Shake siding is approximately $10/SF and lap siding is around $8/SF. We recommend creating an appropriate balance of materials on the exterior of the home while keeping architectural style and budget in mind.
We assume you will want certain appliances like a gas cooktop, double ovens, built-in microwave, French door refrigerator, dishwasher, and under counter refrigerator. This type of package is going to be in the $12K range for brands like Bosch, GE, and KitchenAid. Appliance packages with Wolf and SubZero or Miele brands are going range from $20K on up. Items such as dedicated ice makers, dishwasher drawers, and built-in espresso makers will increase the appliance budget.
Choices of tile, wood flooring, carpet, countertops, and fireplace facings will have an impact on pricing. For example, wood floors can range from $9/SF to $20/SF. Many high quality choices can be selected in the $12/SF to $15/SF range. A fireplace facing can range from $2,500 to $10,000 depending on material selection. Many other factors can enhance the home’s interior and add cost accordingly including ceiling beams/details, millwork & cabinetry selections, wainscoting, crown molding, etc.
We always include a forced air system with variable speed furnaces and Wi-Fi thermostat control systems. Hydronic in-floor heat systems are an option that can add $20K or more depending on the size of the home and scope of the system. The sky is the limit with electrical options. We strive to create an electrical plan with ample switches, outlets, and lighting to ensure that we provide an appropriate electrical budget. Lighting control systems can add $5K to $30K depending on the type and size of the system.
Low voltage includes central vacuum, security system, and the audio/video system. The biggest variable in cost is typically the audio/video system. We recommend meeting with our low voltage contractor in the early planning stages to determine an appropriate budget for A/V.
There are several “luxury” items that are not essential to building you a quality home. However, they are nice features that may enhance the beauty and enjoyment of your home. These include the following:
- Blue stone pavers at front entry stoop in lieu of standard gray concrete.
- Epoxy concrete floor coatings at garage and unfinished basement areas.
- Indoor and outdoor pools.
- Stairs from garage to basement.
- Indoor sport courts.
- Precast concrete planks at garage to create living space below.
- Indoor golf driving and putting areas.
- Screen porches/decks
Ultimately, your home is comprised of a vast amount of components and they all add up to create an incredible home and one lump sum from a cost perspective. I often compare a home price to my credit card bill. I am shocked every month when I get the bill and look at the total price. I then go through item by item and realize the individual charges all seem relatively modest and logical ($78 for groceries; $135 on Amazon; $134 at a local restaurant, etc.) The key is planning and prioritizing. Some options you can do at a later date. Other options are “now or never” type items such as your foundation height. We likely will not be able to accommodate every item on your wish list. However, it is our goal to include many of them including all of your top priorities. Some builders quote an attractive “get you in the door” price only to hit you with an abundance of extras during the construction process. It is our goal to provide you with a price on the front end that is truly reflective of the actual cost to build the home so that you can plan properly and thoroughly enjoy the building process.