Residential Construction Costs

Bob Borson —  April 19, 2010 — 76 Comments

Construction Budget Estimate

Residential construction costs are not that complicated unless you really want to make them that way. There are some general broad stroke pieces of information that if you know them, you will not be surprised when it comes time to planning your budget. I get asked these questions all the time, it makes me wonder if doctors get asked to look down people’s throats everywhere they go? (I hope so…).

Since all these costs can be screwed up in any number of ways, take all this information with a grain of salt. It would seem reasonable to assume that masonry construction in the border states, with the amazing amount of readily available skilled labor, will cost less than masonry construction somewhere in non-border states. Texas is also a right-to-work state and we don’t face some of the typical cost issues that unionized states enjoy. So now that I have my disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk numbers!

When starting to plan for a construction budget, there are some items that you should plan on including in your budget. These would include:

  • Providing utilities to the site if not currently present
  • Site Preparation (clearing away trees, stabilizing soil, cutting and filling to grade the site, etc.)
  • Demolition (if there are structures currently on the lot)
  • Construction costs, including foundation, framing, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, interior finishes, exterior finishes, lighting, cabinetry, appliances, plumbing vessels, etc.)
  • Construction Management Fees and Site Superintendent Fees (in my area of the world, these are typically set at 10% to 20% of the total construction cost)
  • Sales Tax
  • Hardscape (exterior built items i.e. sidewalks, driveways, patios, pools, etc.)

The list above are large categories that will represent most, but not all of the total project costs. These are the expenses that are generally not considered part of the construction budget. Hopefully you and your architect would discuss these matters up front, I know I would. If you say your construction budget is $500,000, most would literally consider that to be the construction budget, not the project budget. Please make this clear, otherwise the relationship between architect and client won’t be all that great when the disappointment sets in. Other expenses you should plan for that complete the project budget include:

  • Professional Service Fees (Architect)
  • Consultant Service Fees
    • Interior Designer – provide a great service but can add significant costs to a project. I used to work in an interior design office and let’s just say that I am aware just how much mark-up some interior designers put on the FF+E (fixtures, furnishings, and equipment). I would recommend that if budget is an issue, rather than telling you to dismiss the services an interior designer offers, try and find one that works only as a designer and doesn’t try and purchase the items for you on your behalf (you will be getting ripped off). Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh because I do like what interior designers bring to the mix. Let’s just say that you will be paying a premium on the items purchased on your behalf.
    • Structural Engineer – very cost effective service to retain. We use a structural engineer on every project we design, partly because we carry professional insurance that requires it but a structural engineer will design a foundation specifically to the soil conditions on your site. Depending on the complexity of the site conditions and the house design, their fees always seem to run around $0.75/sf or .05 to 1% of the cost of construction. Even on our most complicated and large custom homes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fee over $9,500 (and this was on a 17,000sf, 4 story w/basement, steel superstructure and vertically cast concrete wall).
    • Energy Consultant – we don’t use these very often simply because we have been using energy conserving strategies (other than not building small homes) for years; it’s ingrained into our process. One of the items we are seeing now  is that cities have different “green initiatives” and Energy Consultants can provide evaluation and inspection services that satisfy the 3rd party requirements of the city’s inspection process. We have that in Dallas now and are going through our first new home that will have to comply with these additional inspection requirements. When I called around for proposals, we received bids ranging from $500 to $1,000 (we went with the $500 – I’ll have to let you know how that goes).
  • Permit Fees – In Dallas, Texas, the fees are based on the cost of construction. The highest cost category would cost you $2,600.
  • Landscaping – obvious

Finally, let’s cover something a little more tangible, like what do you get and for how much? I mentioned in the beginning that there are some very broad stroke assumptions you or your design professional can make that will get you very close to a realistic construction budget expectation. We use these costs per square foot references all the time during the schematic and design development phase and it’s rather remarkable how often they bear out.

$150 per Square Foot

  • This is the lowest amount we generally design to, not on purpose but we just don’t seem to attract the clientele who are looking for something less expensive. $150/sf will get you a brick house, composition shingle roof, wood windows, ogee profile galvanized gutters, and a slab on grade foundation.

$200 per Square Foot

  • This is the cost where most of our projects fall, in between $200 and $225 per square foot. $200/sf will get you Brick house with cast stone features, standing seam metal paint grip roof, clad wood windows (Marvin or Weathershield type brands – both are excellent btw), 1/2 round paint grip gutters, and a pier and beam foundation.

$250 per Square Foot

  • At this price point, you can do just about anything practical that you could think of. I say practical because importing Tibetan orphan monks to stamp gold leaf on the ceiling with their feet falls into a higher price category, not to mention that it isn’t very practical. $250 will get you a brick house, or masonry stucco on cmu block, standing seam metal paint grip or tile roof, high end clad/wood windows (Loewen brand), 1/2 round copper gutters, and a pier and beam foundation. You will also be at the point where you should expect high-end stainless steel appliances, designer plumbing vessels, and some extremely custom fabricated pieces i.e. steel framed entry doors, specialty feature lighting, and exposed floating staircases.

$300 per Square Foot (and up)

  • Bring on the monks and other artisans from around the world! At $300/sf, the exterior can be entirely 4″ thick cut Hadrian limestone panels on cmu block walls, true slate roof, whole house integrated art and audio visual controls, custom steel windows, etc., specialty energy features like geothermal, handmade tiles, etc. I am always amazed when I see houses that cost $500/sf and more – you really have to put some effort into getting the cost up that high.

A question that I get asked with some regularity (other than if I am Robert Downy Jr.) is where stucco falls on this list. In my world, with how we detail stucco, it costs just a hair more than brick. Our stucco wall assembly, from inside to out is:

  1. 5/8″ gypsum board
  2. 2×6 framed exterior wall (studs 16″ on center)
  3. 1/2″ exterior rated sheathing
  4. vapor barrier
  5. 1″ insulation board
  6. Expanded metal lath
  7. 3/4″ three-coat masonry stucco
  8. Exterior insulating finishing system topcoat

We do not stucco on top of sheathing. This is a hybrid system – a combination of E.I.F. system because we use an insulation board and a finishing system topcoat; and part traditional system because we have a true three-coat masonry stucco. By themselves, the performance in our environment isn’t what our clients demand as a final product, but working together, this hybrid system is great and gives us a finished monolithic product that suits our modern designs.

I should also point out what it really means when someone says things will cost a certain dollar amount per square foot. This is for the total construction cost, (which includes the contractor fees), but only use the amount of air-conditioned square feet of the project. For example, if you have a house with 2,000 sf of air-conditioned space with an additional 400 sf of garage and 250 sf of covered exterior patio, the project would still be the 2,000sf x $200/sf (or whatever) for a construction cost estimate of $400,000. This next part is where experience kicks in – when do you start including exterior spaces and garages? Historically the cost per square foot would take these non air-conditioned spaces into consideration and are built into the overall cost; but now that garages are getting bigger and exterior living spaces are becoming more developed and include more bells and whistles, they need some additional consideration. When these spaces get developed as real programmed space, we add around $40 to $60 per sf extra to make sure that there aren’t any surprises when the construction bids start coming in.

I’ll finish by saying that I had intended to make this a short post, kind of a residential construction cost cheat sheet, but I just couldn’t do it – maybe I didn’t want to do it. If you don’t have any knowledge behind the figures, I don’t think you will be equipped to consider the nuances of your particular situation. Hopefully, there is enough information here so that you can interpolate between what I’ve outlined so you can develop a reasonable expectation of your own project needs. You should be able to slide the costs per square foot to account for regional cost differences but if you can’t, I’m all for pulling the curtain back. Send me a email or leave a comment and I’ll see what I can find out for you.

.

  • 59 trader

    I have a quote from a structural engineer in Los angeles to do engineering on a 600 sqft garage that we had drawn up for 1k.his price is $3,500 plus hourly fees for city inspections .he charges $150 per hour. we was hoping to pay not more than 2k for engeneering. Is that unrealistic or do you think he is on the high side.It seems a lot more than the prices you have on your site and looking other places.we are on a budget and afraid of the costs to actually build the thing as we haven’t got there yet.Please let me know if you have any advise. interesting info on your site.Thanks

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      They sound a bit high for structural engineering fees but without knowing the design, the soil condition, the topography, etc. it’s almost impossible for me to weigh in one this. In my area of the country, engineering fees seem to run about 1% of the construction costs of the project. Maybe it’s a bit higher in LA but I wouldn’t think it would be this high.

  • Arkie

    Amazing you want $200-$350/SF for construction, but want to pay architects and engineers peanuts. Maybe your clients should find a designer for $175/SF that will build it for free! and STILL make a fortune. Used car salesman, this guy….

    • Jon

      His consultant fees do seem rather low…probably someone working out of the back of their house or moonlighting.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      You clearly didn’t understand this article; the $200 – $350/sf is not my architectural fee, those are construction costs.

      My fees are considerably less -

  • Jennifer Blackmon

    i just got a quote for a bathroom remodel. the quote came in at $300/sqft for just labor and construction materials. none of the finishing materials. does that seem high? the space is less than 100 sqft. it just seemed ridiculous for a remodel and no finishes, but maybe i’m unrealistic…

  • Rick Miranda

    I’m totally new to this and am trying to get smart on how to determine if an available lot is priced right so that I can build a residential home and still make money. I figure that looking at comps in that area might be a first step to determine what you can sell the property for once completed. What I’ve heard is that in general, the lot could be purchased for 25-30% of the final sale price. But I’m not familiar with how to estimate construction costs. Any help will be great.

  • Sunny

    I like the way you write. I’m building a house with an architect where I really love his work. I’m freaking out a little bit. He’s told me some of his other work he’s done for $150/sq ft and I know I wouldn’t be happy with the quality of the finish at that level. I’m also totally okay with $250/sq ft but I’d have to sacrifice down to about 2750 sq ft. I look at the Meaders residence at 10,000 feet and I cringe. I don’t want to offend the architect by building a house that’s too small for him to be really creative. Have you ever had a client in my situation before? What did you tell him/her?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I have been in that position before – several times BUT you are the client. If you know that you want the build-out that comes at $250 and know that you’ll need to reduce the size of your house in order to do that – you are already ahead of the game. Size is never the challenge, budget isn’t either – it’s when the two are at odds with one another. The person who wants the $250/sf build-out but only wants to pay $150/sf in order to maintain their original programming and house size – those are the clients that present the biggest challenge.

  • jewelz

    Building in Truckee California…a 2100sf house in what you describe as the $250sf range of home/finishes….what would you say the engineer fee should run?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I can’t say with certainty about California structural engineers but in my area of the world, we pay less than 1% construction costs (maybe in the .05 to .07% construction costs) but the complexity, or lack thereof, can make a huge difference.

  • Ryan

    Wowzer… $150 a square foot and that’s a basic house. I am right up the road from you in Oklahoma City and that wouldn’t fly here. We have custom home builders who build for $120 to $135 sq foot and you get everything. I’m talking granite, vaulted ceilings, central shop vac, hardwood floors, caststone, crown molding, massive walk-in showers, huge soaker tubs, large covered patios, 4 car garages… I could go on. We also have cookie cutter builders that can do a nice home, but nothing fancy for around $100 a sq foot.
    Maybe things cost more in Dallas. I will say, in some of our elite communities houses go for $150 to $175 a square foot, but these are truly mansions. Maybe that’s why all these California people are showing up in droves. You seem to know your stuff and I bet you’re a heck of a builder. Thanks for the article. -Ryan

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t actually build anything – I just design it. The numbers reflected here are for client driven custom designed and built single family houses. I can’t compare numbers against builder homes because they are running at a volume that allows them to provide more area for less money. Maybe your builders are different than the ones we have but despite the bells and whistles, they are cheaper versions of the bells and whistles than we require on our projects (unless you get up into the higher end spec builders – and then the costs run at these higher $/sf rates)

  • Donna

    Damn. Looking for a Reno, NV architect – am VERY impressed with your informative, intelligent, witty, and beautifully organized page here, I’m TOTALLY charmed by your FANTASTIC photo (How clever! Quirky/smart/charming.). I realize THIS is the architect for ME!!! And come to find you are in DALLAS. I don’t need you in Dallas! I need you in Reno, dammit!

    …grumble… grumble…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      sorry to hear that, I’ve never been to Reno before, this might have been my chance!

      • Wildlobo71

        Just that whole Nevada licensing thing… grumble grumble…

  • Caleb Hill

    Bob, thanks for getting straight to the point. And I appreciate your humor. (“Tibetan orphan monks” made me chuckle just a little bit)

    Just to highlight the importance of location when talking price per square foot…
    I’m a builder in the Charlotte NC area (great place to live btw) and I can build a nice house (granite, tile, hardwoods, crown molding throughout, etc. for around $70-$75/sf. (Not including lot cost but including well and septic) And I can sell that same house for $100-$105/sf. (sometimes higher depending on area)

    If I could just figure out how to build at my Charlotte cost and sell at your Dallas cost I could retire next year!

    Thanks for the post. (and the chuckle)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Caleb,

      Thanks for the input, sounds like there is a lot of value available in Charlotte. The least expensive project I have ever worked on was $187 per square foot and I was amazed that it came in at that cost and looked as good as it did.

  • Carey M Brennan

    Your article is very informative and helpful. Thank you. Considering that your categories ($150 per SF; $200 per SF, etc.) are now a couple of years old, what would the dollar amounts be in 2013?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      You might be surprised to learn that these values are still pretty accurate and if I were writhing this article today, I don’t think I would modify a thing.

  • Nina

    Thank you for that information, Bob. Very helpful for someone like me! My husband and I are looking at trying to build our dream home in Austin, TX in about 4 or 5 years. My question is: is it reasonable to think that we could build a nice, decent (what I mean by decent is not extravagant design) 4000-5000sf house for around $400k? We were trying to think of ways to cut the cost or stay at that budget by doing things early such as buying a piece of land that already has utilities and road with some type of view (water or hills anything!) so that it wont have to contribute to the cost of the house. Some additional info about the house: preferably a 1-story, something stone and stucco, maybe wood windows. What are your thoughts? I just want to know if I’m wishing or over my head, or am I on a good path. Thank you for responding.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Nina,
      The short answer is no, I don’t think you can build a 4,000 to 5,000 square foot house in Austin for $400k. That works out to $75 to $100 per square foot construction cost alone and unless you are buying in bulk and building the same house 10x overs, the economy of scale isn’t there and your budget won’t work for you. You might be able to buy a used house for that much (although unlikely in Austin) but a new one-of-a-kind house? Sorry to be the bad guy but I just don’t see it happening.

  • linda

    Bob, enjoyed your article. I am 62 years old and want to build my first home. I can only afford a 40 to 50 thousand dollar home. I want 2 bedrooms, 1bath, a walk in closet, a pantry and a screened in porch. I don’t have to have kitchen cabinets, some shelves will do , as I have the pantry. As well I don’t have to have a concrete foundation, I’am open to less expensive options. I feel its something that can be done. Whats your opinion? Oh I own my land.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      This is a different sort of problem to solve than I typically take on and I would need to know a lot more information. If I assume some generic size standards, we are talking approximately 1,200 square foot house (800 square feet if we go small). This works out to $40 – $50/square foot for construction costs with no professional service fees. DO you have utilities on site (electricity, gas, sewer, water…), what sort of soil do you have? Is the site level? Is it a rural or urban location? What is the availability of skilled labor? With a budget along the lines you are describing, there are more cost effective measures available to you than trying to design and build from scratch.

      I think if someone could figure out how to build a product that people wanted for $40 a square foot, they would have solved a problem where far smarter people than myself have failed.

  • Rob237

    With regards to the value of a property,how does the builders profit figure into this,after a decade or two is the builders profit still a valuable portion of the value of a structure?I pose this question purely from a taxpayers perspective,if a builder erects a structure for $400,000 with $95,000 profit isn’t the structure really worth only $305,000.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      not to put to fine a point on it but the building is worth what someone is willing to pay you for it.

      Since structures don’t magically appear from thin air, the cost to build them should be figured into the cost to create them. This is not simply a materials cost issue.

      Hope that helps,
      Bob

  • Mike Apodaca

    Bob, enjoyed your article, sometimes getting answers about price per sq. ft out of people is like trying to extract teeth, but you outline costs well. I live in San Diego where construction costs as well as prices of existing homes are frightening. Like the rest of the country, most of our houses built before WW11 had very high construction quality, and houses built as late as the early 1950’s were very well built. Most of our newer stuff is crap however. But building new in San Diego is expensive. I have heard of people doing additions of less than 1000 sq. ft, for example for a “yuppie master suite, and paying more than 400K. I have restored many older homes by redoing surfaces, and have gotten good results. I would like to build from the ground up, but now I only like early 1950’s style building , or older. How much do you think it would cost to construct a house with very similar materials and building techniques used in the EARLY 1950s? – raised foundation, solid hardwood floors, wood windows, clear wood siding and sand finish stucco, tiles with cement float, cedar shake roof, cooper gutters-old school? If I can find the tradesmen to build it I would like to construct one. Also, these type houses in good condition and unmutilated sell very fast and for top dollar, why don’t people build them more often?

  • Rachel

    Awwww, that was harsh on interior designers. I am an interior designer and sell furnishings to my clients to SAVE them money! Yes, I mark it up to pay for my time and the service of essentially babysitting the items so that they all arrive on the same day for installation, but I have one client buying a sofa, for example, that prices retail at $3,771 and she is getting it from me for $1,761, WITH the mark up!

    We’re not all bad!!

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  • Diane

    I am purchasing a small lot on a lake just south of Dallas. I want things simple, want to build a small cottage, probably 600 square feet. Will this truly cost me $90,000??

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I couldn’t tell you – there are a many decisions that would drive this cost one way or the other. Could you build a 600 square foot shed for less than $90,000 – of course. What type of structure, foundation, exterior materials, bathroom and kitchen equipment, are there municipal services (gas water, sewage, etc.) available??

      It doesn’t have to cost you $90,000 but it could – you have some control in how much things cost. My estimates here are generic and therefore should only be used to consider typical projects – which a 600 square foot lake house cottage is not.

  • Katie

    Bob, thank you for this wonderful resource. I reaqlly enjoy your posts and refer to them regularly. I am an architect that does primarily residential renovations and additions. I recently revised my contract and fee structure based upon my over-loaded work load and increased experience. I want to create a design fee that is fair to my clients and to myself. Any insight on what this would be? I have tried an hourly fee (with a max)n and a square footage fee. Thanks in advance for your help.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Katie,
      If you haven’t seen them, check out Architectural Fees part 1 http://bit.ly/archfees1 and Part 2 http://bit.ly/archfees2
      most of what I could add here I’ve already spelled out in those two posts.

      Best of luck

  • Brian Sanders

    Bob–helpful post. What do you think the avg. hard costs for a high end mid-rise in Texas with a wood frame on concrete podium, synthetic stucco exterior,and between 8 and 10 units of about 2500-3000 square feet each?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I couldn’t say without spending some time solving the problem and asking some questions

  • Mike_jones

    When you say $200/sqft for a project (where most of your projects fall), are you talking about total costs (architect, PM, etc) or are you talking about the construction budget only?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      $200/ft is for hard costs – meaning everything related to the construction which includes contractors mark-up and PM fees. It does not include soft costs like architect or consultant fees, interior furnishings, specialty products (like chandeliers etc.)

  • Cindy McNeff

    This is a field that is relatively new to me. Mother’s home was heavily damaged in 5-22-12 Joplin, MO tornado. Have you been involved in restorations following catastrophic weather damage? We are experiencing problems with adjustor and contractors regarding cost estimates. Have any advice regarding avg. cost per foot for plain jane 975 sq ft residence?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      construction costs vary by construction type and region so I am afraid I wouldn’t be of much assistance to you. It is also probable that since you are dealing with fixing your home after a natural disaster (and a great number of homes are in the same position you are) that there would be some price gouging – it’s a supply vs. demand situation. 

  • Todd Sloan

    I want to put  cement stucco on my  (E) house . Currently had 2×4 wood frame, FG insul,  black felt VB, and T1-11 siding.
    Reading your build up spec for stucco, can I add say 1/2″ rigid. insul, then the metal lath and the cement stucco system over that? Any issues with the vapor barrier?
    tonto356 @yahoo.com

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      since we a re in a warm climate, our vapor barrier goes on the exterior side of the plywood (it goes on the interior side of the insulation in cold weather climates). Are you leaving the siding in place and adding the insulation board on top of that? It isn’t typically done but I am trying to think of a reason why you couldn’t.

      Other than trimming out the top and bottom, inside and outside corners, which are unique to your house and I can speak to that, in theory you should be able to do what you are saying.

  • Marie

    Just found out, same designer mentioned below (marie) separate clients of this desinger, told me another horrific story.   Basically, once she was awarded an enormous project (still on-going for 3yrs) she abandoned her responsibilities to ensure client satisfaction was addressed.  We’ll call this designer Brohilda.  Brohilda is a Medium rated residential designer.  Not only ripped off these clients royally, but walked away & blamed the fault on the new home owner to her client who moved.
    She sub’d a contractor to remodel/install new master bath, closets & tile (wall & flooring).  Several flooring tiles (Brohilda spec’d out) lifted beyond repair. Brohilda convinces sub it’s their problem now to pay & repair.  The previous homeowner and the new homeowner had to come up with over $2k for materials & installation.  Original HO who contracted Brohilda, who moved to east coast, doesn’t want to file a complaint.  New homeowner is also fed up.  They need to be confronted about their ethical duties & responsibilities.  Again, small town …can’t report to ASID route.  Meanwhile, both HO’s are good friends of mine & I know better which makes it worse.

  • Marie

    Outside of reporting to ASID hdqrts (small town, can’t do it), How does one diplomatically, tell their friend; their interior designer is seriously ripping them off not only on FF+E,  add to the mix; hourly fees, shopping fees, installation fees, CAD service fees.   How do I know this?  I was a commercial/residential designer for many yrs.  Also … makes this client feel as though she’s the only designer they should work with, despite my mention to my friends, you are not obligated and can choose other designers for new projects; if at anytime you need a confidential second opinion, let me know.  This designer is very manipulative, persuasive, conniving & will
    stop @ nothing to get her way.  A bully to industry contractors when on a
    bid to convince clients she’s the choice & plays heavily on their guilt & loyalty.  Of course, I know the games designers play to close deals and lock themselves in.  Her practice is unprofessional & unethical.  She needs to be exposed and have her “spell” broken from her victims.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yikes!!

      Good luck with all that – sounds nasty.

  • Fiona Harden

    May I ask a question?  We’ve just been given a great opportunity to purchase a prime piece of land – not big (7,000sq ft) but it already has approved plans and permits to build a 7 unit condo.  We have found a contractor (who say they will also be Project Managers) and are looking into hiring a Cost Consultant.  Should we also appoint an Architect?  
    Fiona

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  • http://profiles.google.com/sarah.deeds Sarah Deeds

    In The bay area $300/SF buys you a mid range contractor and mid range construction quality.  I wonder why its so much more here.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Sarah,

      I would imagine that the cheap labor, readily available materials, and overall terrain/topography play a role but the cost of living out there is so much higher, workers need to charge more just to earn a living wage.

  • architectrunnerguy

    Bob: Playing a little catch up on a Saturday morning since I was only referred to your site a few days ago.

    And once again, great thoughts you have here.

    I always tell my clients that trying to peg the costs per SF for a house is like trying to buy a car by the pound. Big difference between a Lexus and a Buick. But for the lack of anything better in the early design phase, costs/SF can be a rough guide.

    Regarding the non conditioned spaces, I figure garages, porches and decks at half square footage. Basements are a little bit of a sticky wicket. I don’t factor in a crawl space at all and a basement really isn’t that much more expensive then a crawl but if it’s a large basement I’ll usually just put in a hard number “to be safe”. So for example if I had a 2000SF house on a crawl with 500SF of decks and 200SF of garage I’d have the whole thing at 2350SF.

    We (my wife and I) just built our third home (and yes, we’re still married!!!!). Cost/SF were interesting as it’s a whole lot different when I’m spending my own money! If I get a moment, I’ll send you an email about it.

    Doug

  • 2 HD

    All square feet have been noted as construction cost. What is average square feet cost without the land? Let’s asume that with the land, it comes out to $150.

  • Rachel – eTTa designs

    as an interior designer, from my experience, the purchasing i see from designers is done via thorough documentation to and communication with the client so they see the trade purchase price and any mark-up applied and it’s absolutely not hidden from the client. mark-up is just a 1 way to pay for a designer’s services. often it’s combined with a fee so that if a client decides not to go through with the purchasing phase, the designer gets paid for the work they did thus far. though, more and more, i’m finding that the client or their rep. or purchasing agent does the purchasing so the designer often charges for their service in other ways like hourly and/or fixed fee.

  • http://www.kitchendetailsanddesign.com Details and Design

    Ok, so since this is an older post, may have to address on my blog!!
    But, in short, would say that I think is unfair to classify interior designers under one umbrella “ripping people off” on FF and E costs. I am sure there are some that may do this but I can tell you that most do not. Especially in Residential design. It is very hard for a client to NOT know what pricing really is….a short trip to google can confirm almost all costs you are looking for in residential homes.
    Any designer that does NOT work from home or a very small office will have a difficult time making any money on design fees alone unless you are a) a very famous designer, b)take one job at a time and charge very high fees or c)pay your support staff peanuts.

    If you have a true design showroom, then you have what we call in business: overhead.

    There is an advantage to seeing and touching materials such as furnishings and not choosing from a catalog with finish charts and samples. Same with fixtures such as lighting and plumbing. You really think anyone can overcharge on plumbing fixtures? It has one of the lowest margins of any product and is easily sourced. What a “good” designer can bring to the project is far more than a “pretty house”. A good designer knows the products well. Knows how to communicate installation desires to the subs and builder. A good designer understands transitions in areas, say, like showers, that many do not..including architects. This is because they are dealing with the materials every day and they specialize in this area ( that is of course, if they do…like myself) Some architects who specialize in Interiors may be even better at it. All I can say is that when you do “sell” the products, you learn them far better than if you do not. I make little to no money on plumbing fixtures because I do not retail them per se but sell them in my showroom to my clients and the stray passerby. I keep the lines because I specify them and because plumbers typically suck at high end installations unless they again, specialize in it. I do not want to visit the local Ferguson or whomever because I need to really KNOW the products in order to adequately specify a custom shower and I also like the control. No waiting for Bill or Suzy to get back to me when they feel like it. I need to know and understand the products I am talking about and there is little doubt that they are not going to “memo” cheryl when something changes or new comes out. Yes, you can keep on top of it but still think we provide something no one else does BECAUSE we know the product.
    Hell, I just had an inspector question something on a remodel to my project manager. She had to EXPLAIN THE PRODUCT TO THE PLUMBING INSPECTOR. Hello?? This happens every day with plumbers and builders.
    All I am saying is that there are no rules to working with an Interior Designer or a specialist in a particular area and that you are mistaken to put out info to say you will be “ripped off” if you let them purchase products. And, often the pricing is far better if they buy a lot from a particular vendor because of the volume. Some designers do a cost plus but then their cost is wholesale and the markup is less than what the retail would be! And God help you if you get things off the internet that have working parts. EVERY single day people call me wanting a widget for this “dang faucet” they bought or want to come in and “just look” at our displays of hardware or whatever so they can feel it and then go by off the internet. Even if other designers do not have the showroom like I do, they often still get better pricing on a multitude of objects and I have never had personal experience with anyone marking up unreasonably.

    This is all part of what we have to battle often enough. I know my business is unique and that many Interior Designers do not work like we do in a multi faceted showroom. And, maybe this is why I am so freaking busy and just moved to a 3000 sq ft building. I am definitely NOT getting rich and probably could make more money by working from home and “studying” pamphlets on products but I can tell you one thing: I would not be the designer I am today if I did.
    I also think this does not apply at all to remodel projects which you were not including anyway. I guess really, I am objecting to the “ripping off” part which does not explain well…and many fine folks who read your AWESOME blog may not understand all the variables. You know I am one of your fans. But, I also am proud of the work I do and my company does and the industry as a whole. Not all designers deserve to be defended but I think there are enough great ones with good ethics out there that I need to take a stand.

    Ok so not so short after all. :) Other than this area, I think this is such a great post and provides incredible info to people. I am not sure how I missed it first time around since such a loyal reader!!
    ~~~~Cheryl

    • http://www.kitchendetailsanddesign.com Details and Design

      Bob: Yes, you touched a nerve and still believe you need to educate readers on what you are specifically talking about: commercial work. In residential, which your post was INDEED about, does not work this way. Even the multiplier process, which I understand completely and use everyday in hardware/plumbing is used in commercial work not residential. There is a retail price list and a wholesale price list. Some vendors also use a “designer” price structure if you are not a showroom.

      And, whether the client is getting ripped off or not, depends on the fee structure. Giving a client a 30% disc off of retail is acceptable practice and is not considered ripping off unless the client would like to invest in a showroom, staff, Insurance, the potential problems ordering anything for anyone can entail… and all the other things that go into running a business. Pricing is what the market will bare to some extent also in all things in life is it not?
      Some folks may think a dress designed by a well known designer such as Jason Wu is a “rip off” too when they can buy a dress that looks similiar at Dilliards. I mean really, we can go into this ad nauseum. I read one of your other posts about the ID office you worked for 12 yrs ago…think you got bad jou jou from them and has soured you on the way it works with most.
      And, by the way, I DO have a showroom but am not a showroom designer. The showroom exists to further my jobs and client’s needs. I “sell” the products for all the reasons listed above and yes, because I CAN MAKE MONEY DOING SO and there is NOTHING wrong with this concept. You may term it “ripping off” but that is very short sighted in my opinion. I stand by the fact when you “sell” a product you know more about it all day long than someone who does not, Typically.

      I did not take this off topic either. You are discussing costs. This is a cost issue. Not a skill issue or a personal issue at all. I can go into lovely homes designed by architects where the architect NOR any professional had been involved in the interior appointments and design and tell you that who got “ripped off” is the CLIENT who did not get professional help and years later will be calling me or you to help them fix horrid issues in their home….with finishes and often with layout too.

      So, my point is to not be so broad sweeping in your characterization of interior designers ripping off clients…esp in residential which was the topic because your example is commercial (I disagree with this too but def more room to do so in that arena)and because you make it seem to the casual reader that anytime an interior designer purchases products on a client’s behalf, it is a rip off and this simply is false, misleading and a torpedo directed straight at every interior designer whether they own a showroom or not.

      • Anonymous

        I am not speaking specifically about commercial work, I am talking about residential work (remember, I wrote this piece so I am the perfect authority on what I meant). I am also not talking about vendors who sell products as well as offering design services – good for them. What I find troubling is how the fee structure is often times represented when interior designers act as the purchasing agent on behalf of the owner. I see and hear about this process more times than not specifically in residential work.

        I don’t have a problem with interior designer’s charging the owner their actual product cost and adding a handling or processing fee on top of it. I am not suggesting that interior designers don’t add value – I specifically wrote that they add value but said that the owner would be paying a premium if the interior designer acts as the purchasing agent – and nothing that you have written here has changed that fact or my opinion. Based on what you have written, you sound like someone with an ax to grind and took this opportunity to get up on your soapbox. The process you describe isn’t that much different than buying a car – I suppose it’s worth what you are willing to pay for it but I don’t know to many people that love buying cars when they know that the price has been marked up just so that it can be marked down so they think that they got some sort of deal.

        In my office, we also have insurance and staff and all the things that go into running a business – but our fee structure is transparent from the beginning. We don’t mark up our consultants fees simply because we process them through our office. What we pay our consultants is what our clients pay despite the fact that I still have to coordinate that information and I am still required to be an expert on that implementation of that information.

        I believe we are at a point where we will have to agree to disagree. If you wish to continue the conversation, I look forward to reading about it on your blog.

  • http://elizations.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth

    Great website and great post. I’m from the Dallas area originally and have been working in modern residential architecture in Los Angeles and Chicago. I plan on moving back to Dallas soon and this post was very informative. It’s interesting to see how different things are regionally. I shall be following your work and website a little closer from now on!

  • bobborson

    Yes – we generally use the sand finish. I would be interested in hearing a follow-up after you talk with your subs. I made a few calls to support my observations and all three contractors supported the premise that the hybrid stucco system we use is the same cost as a brick masonry veneer system.

  • Tyler

    I'm interested in the costs you associate with stucco vs. brick. Other than the 1″ foam board our three coast systems always come out substantially cheaper than brick alternatives (I design and build in the commercial arena in Dallas). Do you typically use a fine sand finish on the stucco system? I'll check with our subs on the insulation.

  • dougmcneill

    Great topic and great info. I also think the sense of humor is great.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Doug – I appreciate it and I ‘m glad you posted a comment.
      Cheers!

  • http://blog.buildllc.com Andrew

    Great post! It’s refreshing to see this level of transparency in the design industry. Thanks for sharing the data.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Andrew,
      Thanks for stopping by and reading. I am a big fan of yours and thoroughly enjoy your site. In all fairness, creating this post was a result an on-going conversation I have with one of the partners at my firm and seeing your cheat sheet. It makes me very happy when people who do what we do move themselves out of irrelevancy by taking responsibility for what things cost (at least in our own respective worlds).

      The eventual part two (or should I say phase two) of this post builds on this theme and on how architects have marginalized ourselves by removing ourselves from the front end by not dealing with the money and time implications (which developers were all to happy to take); and by removing ourselves from the back-end by taking the position that we aren’t responsible for the methods of construction, we only “observe” and don’t “administer” the construction process (in comes the contractors happy to take that part). All that’s left is the middle (which we know is everybody’s favorite part of all things) and we have given up any type of control over the process.

  • http://blog.buildllc.com/ Andrew

    Great post! It’s refreshing to see this level of transparency in the design industry. Thanks for sharing the data.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob Borson

      Andrew,
      Thanks for stopping by and reading. I am a big fan of yours and thoroughly enjoy your site. In all fairness, creating this post was a result an on-going conversation I have with one of the partners at my firm and seeing your cheat sheet. It makes me very happy when people who do what we do move themselves out of irrelevancy by taking responsibility for what things cost (at least in our own respective worlds).

      The eventual part two (or should I say phase two) of this post builds on this theme and on how architects have marginalized ourselves by removing ourselves from the front end by not dealing with the money and time implications (which developers were all to happy to take); and by removing ourselves from the back-end by taking the position that we aren’t responsible for the methods of construction, we only “observe” and don’t “administer” the construction process (in comes the contractors happy to take that part). All that’s left is the middle (which we know is everybody’s favorite part of all things) and we have given up any type of control over the process.

  • Brad

    Bob,
    What a wealth of information! I’ve spent the last couple days trolling through some of your posts and really appreciate the insight you are willing to share with those of us about to enter the profession. It’s inspirational and invaluable. I’ll be sure to keep reading.

    I also wanted to thank you for taking the time out of your Saturday to show our group of architects-to-be around the home in Urban Reserve. pics (starting at 25)
    It was great to meet you and see what you are passionate about.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Brad,
      I was really glad to pull the Urban Reserve tour together for you. I enjoyed myself and anytime I can get a private audience with Kevin Sloan for 1/2 hour, it’s well worth it.

      Please feel free to comment on the post (or send me an email if you don’t feel comfortable sticking your neck out) anytime you have a question or have an idea on a post topic you would like to read.

      Thanks for reading,
      Bob

  • Brad

    Bob,
    What a wealth of information! I’ve spent the last couple days trolling through some of your posts and really appreciate the insight you are willing to share with those of us about to enter the profession. It’s inspirational and invaluable. I’ll be sure to keep reading.

    I also wanted to thank you for taking the time out of your Saturday to show our group of architects-to-be around the home in Urban Reserve. pics (starting at 25)
    It was great to meet you and see what you are passionate about.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob Borson

      Brad,
      I was really glad to pull the Urban Reserve tour together for you. I enjoyed myself and anytime I can get a private audience with Kevin Sloan for 1/2 hour, it’s well worth it.

      Please feel free to comment on the post (or send me an email if you don’t feel comfortable sticking your neck out) anytime you have a question or have an idea on a post topic you would like to read.

      Thanks for reading,
      Bob

  • http://www.loveaffairwithcolor.com Marilyn Russell

    Hello Bob, this is a pretty in-depth post. Loads of information. As a former construction defect adjuster I have gained a pretty good understanding of the sequential order of a construction of a residential building; but had no clue on the costs. Just curious, does the architect also serve as the project/construction manager as well? Or, does the architect remain involved throughout the entire building process?

    Is the pricing per square foot different from the cookie-cutter (for lack of a better term) builders’ pricing?

    Thanks,
    Marilyn

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Marilyn,
      In my office, we do offer construction administration with our services. Since we are not a design/ build company, we do not have construction managers (as in we do not manage the construction).

      I would imagine that the pricing per square foot on my list is slightly different than builder pricing. If you read many of my posts, I’m not a big fan of the speculative builder market and feel that there is a “put your money in the lobby” mentality on these projects. Out of sight = out of mind which leads to the specuaaltive builder not spending money on it. How many times have you seen a house where the front is masonry veneer but as soon as you turn the corner, the masonry turns to siding? Those are the types of builder homes that make all architects indignant and cringe; I would surmise that since these homes fall short on quality throughout that they would cost less (but that’s not always true now is it?)

  • http://www.loveaffairwithcolor.com/ Marilyn Russell

    Hello Bob, this is a pretty in-depth post. Loads of information. As a former construction defect adjuster I have gained a pretty good understanding of the sequential order of a construction of a residential building; but had no clue on the costs. Just curious, does the architect also serve as the project/construction manager as well? Or, does the architect remain involved throughout the entire building process?

    Is the pricing per square foot different from the cookie-cutter (for lack of a better term) builders’ pricing?

    Thanks,
    Marilyn

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob Borson

      Hi Marilyn,
      In my office, we do offer construction administration with our services. Since we are not a design/ build company, we do not have construction managers (as in we do not manage the construction).

      I would imagine that the pricing per square foot on my list is slightly different than builder pricing. If you read many of my posts, I’m not a big fan of the speculative builder market and feel that there is a “put your money in the lobby” mentality on these projects. Out of sight = out of mind which leads to the specuaaltive builder not spending money on it. How many times have you seen a house where the front is masonry veneer but as soon as you turn the corner, the masonry turns to siding? Those are the types of builder homes that make all architects indignant and cringe; I would surmise that since these homes fall short on quality throughout that they would cost less (but that’s not always true now is it?)

  • http://www.abadiaccess.com Marcy

    Great stuff…can you put together the same thing for remodels?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Marcy,
      I think putting something together to address remodels would end up confusing matters more than clarify them. Remodels are tough because so many things come into play – age of the house, original style – new style, contractor (more so than on new construction), will the owners be living in the house during the remodel, how much is being remodeled, etc. (I could keep going).

      People really should talk to a design professional if they are considering a renovation or remodel beyond of a simple kitchen or bath.

  • http://www.abadiaccess.com/ Marcy

    Great stuff…can you put together the same thing for remodels?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/ Bob Borson

      Marcy,
      I think putting something together to address remodels would end up confusing matters more than clarify them. Remodels are tough because so many things come into play – age of the house, original style – new style, contractor (more so than on new construction), will the owners be living in the house during the remodel, how much is being remodeled, etc. (I could keep going).

      People really should talk to a design professional if they are considering a renovation or remodel beyond of a simple kitchen or bath.

      • rohan

        Hey Bob,
        Could send me a mail on my id unicefrohann@hotmail.com. I have a few doubts which I believe you could solve. Also give me your mail id as I dont view this site
        thank You