Frequently Asked Questions

There are so many questions to be asked when building a new home...

How much does it cost to build a home?

A new house will probably cost between $100 and $250 per square foot…

In one form or another, this question is one of the most frequent requests we receive from our visitors. Unfortunately, it is also one of the few questions that we simply cannot answer very specifically. Can you tell me how much it costs to take a vacation or send my kids to college? How much should I expect to spend on a new car? What is the “average cost” of a dinner for two, or a wedding dress, or a fishing boat, or a gallon of gas?

All of the above questions contain so many variables that it is impossible for anyone to answer them accurately without first asking several additional questions and gathering much more information. The same is true when calculating the cost to build a new home of a specific type or size or quality level, at any given time, in a specific location somewhere in the world.

Let’s begin by considering what square foot homebuilding costs really are — nothing more than the total cost of a given project divided by the total number of square feet in that project. So, a 2,000 square foot home with total construction costs of $250,000 would cost $125 per square foot to build. Spend another $50,000 on a gourmet kitchen, an elegant master bath, marble tiles in the foyer, a fancy curved stair, 10 foot ceilings, or any other combination of “above average” features or finishes and the price jumps to $300,000 but the square footage didn’t change. So now, that same 2,000 square foot house would cost $150 per square foot to build; an increase of 20 percent.

Now consider the structure itself. If the house in question is a rancher, with all of the finished area on one floor, the foundation and roof would both have to be large enough to cover the entire 2,000 square feet of living space. Turn that single level rancher into a two-story colonial and both the foundation and the roof are instantly reduced by 50 percent because the two floors fit into the same foundation and roof spaces and the second floor system became the “roof” for half of the area on the first floor. Increase the roof pitch from 3/12 to 12/12 and the roof area (including framing members, sheathing, shingles) quickly increases by 35 percent. Of course, these examples are oversimplified because they don’t consider any other differences like the need to add the cost of stairs and take away the space they occupy, or in the case of a slab-on-grade foundation, the difference between the cost of a concrete slab verses a wooden floor system, but hopefully the point has been made. Costs of similarly sized homes can also vary considerably due to the shape of the building, the number of corners or offsets in the design, the type of foundation and required local footing depth, the pitch of the roof, and many other design characteristics that are not directly related to the size of the house.

Next we have all of the regional, governmental, political, seasonal, and unpredictable human factors. Development impact fees, which more and more state and/or local jurisdictions are charging owners or land developers, can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $50,000 (at last check) per single family home. Labor and material costs can vary substantially based upon the time of the year, complexity or uniqueness of the project, good or bad economic times, jobsite conditions, regional markets, the unemployment rate, local building codes, construction moratoriums, zoning laws, covenants and restrictions, availability of supplies and workers, weather conditions, natural disasters, public or private water and sewer, and several hundred other factors. And, to make matters worse, there really isn’t any uniform method of measuring square footage or defining what is included in those numbers. Is your builder or realtor using exterior dimensions or interior dimensions? How do they define heated or unheated space? Have they included the garage or basement or unfinished loft areas in their calculations? What about decks or covered porches? Is the land included in the square foot costs? What about building permits, liability insurance, utility connections, wells, septic systems, driveways, sidewalks, landscaping…

Unfortunately, the only way to be sure that your homebuilding budget is reasonable is to identify and price every item that will be used to build your individual home and bid all of the associated subcontracts and labor costs. Of course, in order to do that, you will need to have plans and specifications and you will need to develop a complete and thorough estimate for your individual project. The obvious problem here is that not many people want to buy a dozen different house plans and then spend weeks or months pricing them in order to determine which one(s) they can afford to build. So, a more realistic approach to determining how much your new home will cost might be to simply work backwards. Start by determining how much you can afford to spend, then be realistic about the size of the house you need, and finally, decide what and where you can afford to build.

There are plenty of financial resources on the Internet that will help you learn more about mortgages and calculate monthly payments for a given loan. After you have a good idea of your financial situation you can look in the real estate section of your local newspaper for homes that are in your price-range. Often, the advertisements will provide you with prices and square foot descriptions from which you can develop a square foot price. Then, visit several model home communities and tour model homes in order to see room sizes, the type of finishes, and the quality of workmanship that you should expect in that price-range. Be sure to take – and use – pencil, paper and a camera to record what you like, as well as, what you don’t like about the homes you will be touring. Also remember that many of the things seen in model homes often are not included in the price of the “standard model”. If you visit on a weekend, you might even be able to walk around the community and talk to homeowners that are working outside. Introduce yourself, tell them what you are doing, be polite and respectful, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much information they will happily give you.

You may also want to check with local mortgage bankers, real estate agents, or friends who have recently built a new home or addition to see what type of “ballpark” numbers they can provide. Local contractors and homebuilders associations might be able to quote “average” home building costs and figures. However, before you put too much faith in “average” numbers, keep in mind that the only house that you really care about is the one that you are about to build. Home prices of $55, $79, $84, $87, $92, $110, $122, and $315 per square foot combine to produce an average of $118 per square foot, which is probably a reasonable figure for many areas of the country, yet the difference between the lowest figure and the highest is very substantial. While professional builders may be able to average their profits and loses over several projects, the typical homeowner or owner-builder probably cannot. So, regardless of how you finally come up with the numbers, be sure to take the time to review your finances, prepare a reasonable budget, and produce an accurate construction estimate for the specific home that you are about to buil

Should I buy land before contacting a builder, or talk to a builder before I buy land?

As a custom home builder, our business model is such that we generally work with clients who already own land and we build on their lot. However, it can be advantageous to contact a builder while you’re still researching land, as he can help you get a better idea of the kind of land you’ll want to build on. Ultimately though, the land you end up with will dictate much about your home’s design. So while it may be obvious that we can’t start building a home until you have a place to build it, what might not be so obvious—but is just as important to know—that we really can’t design a home either until we know exactly what kind of building conditions we’ll have.
All that to say that generally, you will want to own land before you start talking to a builder about design and pricing. If you’re interested, we can work with you and one of our lending partners to bundle your loan for the land and your construction loan, so feel free to contact us if that’s what you’d like to do. Also, if you don’t have a Realtor yet, feel free to contact us and we’ll connect you with one of our preferred real estate agents who can help you find land.


What do I need to know before I buy land to build a home on?

4 Things to Consider Before Buying Land to Build A Home

#1: Remember: It’s All About Location

This is, above everything else, the most important consideration when buying a lot. Aside from just choosing the right location, it’s also important on a micro scale as well: for example, if your lot is part of a bigger real estate subdivision, is it going to be on the side that has a nice view, or the side that’s right next to a highway? If you have children, you’ll want to think about nearby school districts. If you are still in your working years, you’ll also want to make sure you don’t build a house that’s so far from work that you have a commute time that’s longer than you like. If you are retired or retiring, you may want to look into nearby community amenities including medical services, recreational facilities, clubhouses, fitness centers, etc..


#2: Know The Property’s Setbacks

What are the setbacks on your lot? (If you are not familiar with the term, “setbacks” are the guidelines that state how close to the border of your property you can build.) Your local building department or owners association will have the answer to this question, and it may affect where you put your house; on smaller lots, setbacks may even dictate the size of the home’s footprint.


#3: How Will You Get Utilities and What It Will Cost?

Making sure that you understand exactly how you are going to power your house and take care of water and waste is very important, because these items can be a deal-breaker in some cases. Before you actually complete a purchase on a lot, you’ll want to know exactly how you are going to get access to the following:

Water (either from a utility company or from a well)
Waste (either septic or sewer)
Gas (either from a utility company or from a propane tank)
Phone and Internet service
For example, you may be interested in a lot that’s in a very remote location, and you may see that the property is listed as having access to municipal utilities such as water and sewer. However, if you are far away from other homes or from the utility provider, you may be charged a hefty fee to actually bring the utility lines out to your property.

Just because you can find a lot in a beautiful area that has a low asking price, that doesn’t mean that you’ll save any money if you need to pay large fees to connect to the utility services. The solution is just to call the utility company ahead of time and get a quote on the costs before you buy the land. The same thing goes for gas service: if you need a propane tank, is there even a nearby gas service company? See if you can find out before you buy the lot, and see what it will cost you.


#4: Don’t Forget Zoning & Restrictions

Finally, you’ll want to know all about the restrictions on the property. Are you buying land in a community that has Covenants, Codes and Restrictions (CCRs)? Is there an Architectural Control Committee (ACC) that you’ll have to run your design and landscaping decisions by for approval? You’ll want to make sure you know this before you buy the lot, and certainly before you start building.

Zoning is important as well: some areas have land that is zoned for either commercial or residential use. You probably don’t want to build a house where you’ll end up with a gas station as your next door neighbor… but even if you are in an area that’s zoned for residential homes, is it zoned for more than one structure? If you want to build a barn, a detached garage, or a “mother-in-law cottage” behind your house, you’ll want to make sure your lot is zoned properly for this, and finding a lot with this kind of zoning may be more difficult than you think.

Some areas have minimum home sizes on their lots.


Can I save a lot of money by building my own home instead of hiring a builder?

Ten Reasons why Not To Build Your Own Home:

1. A contractor usually has more buying power than a homeowner—he can hire subcontractors at a lower cost than a homeowner, because he buys in volume.

2. A contractor spends several hours each day managing a job. If a homeowner were to do this himself, he would be spending a considerable amount of time “away from work” while managing his own personal project that is costing him money, when he should be making money. An equation you can think of for this is: Lost Time + Lost Money = Substantial Costs.

3. If, for some reason, a contractor mismanages your project, or somehow leaves you stranded, a homeowner has a remarkable amount of legal options available for taking action against the contractor (in most states). However, if a homeowner is building his own project and for some reason is unable to complete the project, or otherwise mishandles the construction due to inexperience, he has no recourse and just has to live with the results. (We’ve been called by homeowners needing a “rescue” job where we’ve had to finish a project that was halfway done more than once!)

4. Being handy at home repairs doesn’t always translate into being a skilled project manager. General Contracting requires great expertise in managing many trades—and not just simply having the means to perform one or two aspects of the construction. There’s a huge difference between building a 5′ x 10′ trex deck in the back yard and building an entire house from the ground up.

5. A contractor spends his time, energy and passion in the building field. A homeowner often doesn’t. A contractor’s lifelong career is building structures, while a homeowner’s career seldom is. Most established contractors have 10, 15 or even 20 years in the business while a homeowner often has little or no experience. Learning to build is often a process of trial and error, so relying on a builder’s experience to avoid mistakes is money well spent!

6. It takes several years for a good contractor to build up a collection of worthy subcontractors, at his considerable effort and expense. These are often “wholesale” subcontractors who only work for General Contractors, and their price and quality cannot be matched by a “retail” subcontractor found in the phone book or online. A General Contractor’s “portfolio” of subs is his most valuable assets. For example, we’ve built up a book of the best tradesmen in the Rocky Mountain region, and it’s taken us nearly fifteen years to do so.

7. A good contractor can finish even a large project very quickly, because he’s spent a career creating processes and systems for streamlining his projects, and has the advantage of being able to focus full-time on your project. Unlike a homeowner who might try to fit in an hour here and there, a builder has your project at the top of his mind as a high priority.

8. A homeowner seldom has a sufficient grasp of construction to “know what he doesn’t know” until it’s too late and significant changes are necessary to correct mistakes made (usually at a considerable cost). A General Contractor who’s doing his job properly can inform a homeowner of value engineering options, and will often suggest proven cost saving ideas, products, and/or approaches. When we build homes, we are often been able to come up with ideas that a homeowner hasn’t thought of before; simple because they don’t do it for a living.

9. A building project is usually funded by a construction loan. As previously mentioned, a good contractor can complete a job much faster than a novice homeowner. Time is money, especially in the form of interest on a loan. Construction loans, by definition, are meant to be short-term, so the longer the project takes, the more interest you have to pay. One month’s worth of interest on a typical new construction loan can run anywhere from $2,000 and $8,000 per month, depending upon the size and stage of the loan. The sooner the project is finished, the sooner the loan converts to a traditional mortgage, thereby significantly reducing the homeowner’s monthly costs.

10. In the end, the final decision rests on two variables—your comfort level and your overall financial health. Comfort is crucial: most families aren’t comfortable building their home on nights and weekends. Sometimes a project done in this fashion can take years or even decades to complete. Financial health is important as well: if you don’t have the luxury of taking several years to slowly build your dream home, hiring a builder is usually the smartest move.

A good suggestion before deciding whether to build your home yourself or hire a contractor is to talk to people who have experienced either approach. Listen carefully to both sides and then decide for yourself whose experience was more pleasant or successful, then choose whichever you prefer based on your comfort level—not out of fear. We’ve met homeowners who’ve built their own homes: some who say it was a great experience, and some who said they would never do it again.


Can I save money by choosing an existing set of plans instead of going through the custom design process?

This is something we hear all the time, and it’s a great question. It can cost a few thousand dollars to have a custom set of plans drawn up for your home, and so some people ask themselves a reasonable question: “What if I just choose a set of existing plans that have already been used in the past? I’ll be able to save all that design time, the hassle of having to create something from scratch, and I won’t have to pay for a custom design.” While this is a perfectly logical assumption, our experience over the years has shown that the cost savings between creating a custom design with one of our architectural partners vs choosing a “stock” home plan is basically a wash.

Here’s why: stock plans are designed to fit a “general” list of requirements to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. With a plan that’s this generic, you’ll find yourself trying to fit your family and your lifestyle into a home that wasn’t designed with you in mind. But just in the same way that there are many different shapes and sizes of cars to fit different lifestyles, if you can, you want to find the best fit for you. With square footage costing you dollars, we’ve often found 100 or 200 square feet (or even more) of wasted space in stock plans that we can completely avoid in a custom home. If you can eliminate 100 square feet to the tune of $130/square foot (a reasonable number for building in Georgia), you’ve just saved yourself $13,000!  

The benefit to working with an architectural designer will help you to accomplish and effectively translate your dreams into reality, stay within your budget, and be there through out the construction process. It’s truly a “win win”.


How do I get financing to build a custom home?

Great question! Unless you’re paying cash (which some clients do), you’ll want to get a construction loan. If you don’t already have financing in place, feel free to contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our preferred lenders to help you with this.