Home pricing is a complex subject. Here’s how we answer the most common question.
A question we get from a lot of potential clients is “What’s the per-square-foot cost of your homes?” Some clients arrive armed with numbers gleaned from Internet articles. Others quote realtors who appraise and advertise houses by the square foot.
It’s an understandable attempt to simplify a complex subject—but when it comes to custom homes, this approach is too simple.
Production builders do often price homes by the square foot. What the potential client may not have considered, though, is that these companies are simply product manufacturers. They build the same plans over and over. Like car manufacturers, they offer relatively few models and limit the number of options available for each. This allows them to calculate the cost of each model and option to the dollar, leaving little to the imagination.
Custom building is different. While professional custom builders rely on proven, scientific management systems to finish a home on time and budget, creating an accurate budget is as much craft as science. No responsible builder will quote a per-square-foot price without more information, because doing so would risk misleading the client.
That’s because a custom home is not a product; instead, it’s the physical realization of a particular client’s dream on a specific site. Because each client’s dream is unique, the only way to estimate the cost of its realization is to ask some follow-up questions.
These questions start with checking assumptions about what the client means by square footage. Do their assumptions include the garage, or the unfinished basement or attic space? Also, do they understand that prices for excavation, utilities, permits, and engineering vary greatly, depending on the site and the jurisdiction in which they want to build?
Once the assumptions and variable costs have been clarified, we ask for a general overview of the home they’re envisioning. Is the floor plan complex or simple? Is it a traditional two-story Colonial with a couple of dormers and intricate interior moldings or a modern structure with a flat roof, lots of glass, and minimal trim?
Finally, we need to define the level of interior finishes they want. Some people give a nondescript answer like “medium.” While that’s too general, it is a good place to kick off a more detailed conversation about expectations. A professional builder can help refine those expectations by starting with some easy questions, like the client’s preferences between two levels of plumbing fixtures, flooring, windows, or siding. The answers will tell us what to ask next.
After sorting through the topics above, we may be able to show them plans and photos for similar homes we have built in the past. And we can often provide a ballpark estimate of what it would cost to build that home with their finish specifications on their site.
The key word in the above paragraph is “show.” We can’t do this over the phone. The clients need to spend some time with us before we can offer a realistic idea of what they can get for their budget. Regardless of whether they ultimately decide to build with us, this is time wisely invested.