Residential Construction Cost Cheat-Sheet
February 8, 2009, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Architecture, BUILD LLC

Here at BUILD, we pride ourselves on being industrious- we establish reasonable project costs very early in the design process with our clients and then stick to those costs till the physical construction is complete. We work diligently to maintain the budget, and when circumstances chosen by our clients or brought to us by the nature of custom construction cause impacts to that budget, we are forthright and manage those circumstances immediately. In our spirit of transparency, we’ve devised the residential construction pricing guide below- around the BUILD community we’ve been calling it the BUILD Cheat Sheet. We believe our industry has done a fantastic job of misquoting and/ or poorly enumerating what the actual construction AND overall project costs of a project are going to be. Many of us have experienced something like… “oh I didn’t know that wasn’t included in the construction costs before” or the dreaded “I read in a (fill in the blank) article that they built the (fill in the blank) for $110/ sf.” What is in that number? Who’s uncle was the electrician? Were the appliances and lighting free? Does it include the cost of the cabinets and finishes? Was it built with student or prison labor? Who verified the number anyway? So, in response to these and other pressing questions, we’re giving the guide away below for free. We hope its valuable as you’re looking at your options for the design and construction of your dream house. And if you want more of the straight scoop, feel free to contact your friends here at BUILD LLC.


The PDF download can be found here.


13 Comments so far
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This is excellent. There is so much insubstantial and conflicting information about construction pricing on the internet that this document may actually become the datum. Nice job guys!

Comment by Knudsen

if this sheet is correct, then a new construction 2000 sg ft home would cost about $500,000.00? so basically anyone in the middle class would never afford a new home?? man, that sucks!

Comment by mlm

mlm – you must not be from the Seattle area – a half million dollar mortgage here is quite ordinary. As of recently (before the recession) 2 bedroom condos were selling for $500k.

Comment by TDI

We’re also talking about custom modern design here, in which case this pricing is reasonable. For people not interested in design or quality there are other options.

Comment by mobius

These cost per square foot numbers may still have sticker shock for some folks, depending on where they live and what they’re used to. But I think the point is being missed here. This “cheat sheet” isn’t proposing the lowest cost – its proposing a method for determining the ACTUAL cost.

Comment by Richter

There’s some good points being raised here. It’s entirely possible to build a custom, modern home for less than the cost per square foot prices we mention. But if you’re getting overly optimistic numbers in the design stage it’s a good idea to compare the pricing breakdown with the applicable categories in the Cheat Sheet. This document is primarily about keeping the profession of architecture accountable.

Comment by buildllc

working on a public projects lately has given me a much better insight to the realities of construction costs. it’s also been sobering to see these costs normalize a little to numbers in other parts of the country.

do you guys use consultants (ecotech, etc) for energy calcs or do you tend to do them in house?

Comment by mike

Mike – we’re using a consultant for energy calcs more and more, especially as the energy code becomes more nebulous and out of sync with the manufacturing industry.

Comment by buildllc

whoops, i meant ecotope. how do you guys justify consultant spending as the economy tightens down? we get more and more calls from consultants looking for work or tipping us to RFIs, and at times it seems like we’re looking for ways to trim the fat just in case.

Comment by mike

Mike – Energy consultants seem to pay for themselves on our projects and I think clients are realizing this. If we were to use a prescriptive energy approach on a residential project we would end up having to use triple-pane glazing because of the walls of glass prominent in many of our designs. A good energy consultant knows the intricacies and exceptions of the energy code and can prove that the numbers work for double glazing. Also in some cases the consultant can prove that a more cost-effective window package meets the energy code. And this is all for a reasonable fee – far less than if I were to try and navigate through the energy code at my hourly rate.

Comment by buildllc

This is helpful, but is design-build really the same price as traditional Architect + Contractor? I thought the whole point of Design/Build was to streamline communication, drawing requirements, etc.

Comment by winston

Winston- that is an excellent question. We have listed the cost per square foot as a baseline (a starting point) with a carefully placed “+” after it. In our experience, we have seen, and BUILD has completed, projects for these lower cost price points. We would love to hear from the traditional design + GC folks reading this blog if these are their baseline numbers, or if they are higher or lower.

Now, in our experience, design build is substantially less expensive than traditional design + GC. We have found projects can save 15% and up by using a design build entity. Many in our industry may bemoan the loss of protection for a client or the watered down nature of the design or the loss of quality on the construction. Basically, we entirely disagree with any of these stances in our practice, and we would offer our portfolio of work that the client can save time, money and headaches by carefully choosing a design (Architect) build one stop shop. Thanks for the question.

Comment by buildllc

I’m just catching up on my reading of the blog- I still can’t believe someone has made this information so clear and available. In our limited experience on small remodels, it seems like the builder always wants to shroud the costs in mystery- very antiquated approach. This type of cheat sheet is a great and open response to that outmoded approach. Thanks!

Comment by Samuel

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