The (true) cost of building a home

This post has been a long time coming. So long in fact you may have forgotten where we started from. So let's do a brief recap.

Two years ago my wife and I decided we wanted to build a modern home in East Austin, and we started looking for land.

16 months ago, we bought the house we are currently living in. Mostly we bought it for the lot, and the amazing tree, but we figured we would do a quick superficial remodel to it so we could live in it and save money while we designed our home. You can see the before and after photos of the remodel here


One year ago we moved in.

6 Months ago we hired an architect.

This month we will submit our plans to the city for permits. 

So about that budget. This was one of the hardest things for us to wrap our head around as we started out. What was it really going to cost us to build. When we hired Bercy Chen we put a target budget of $225 - $250 sq/ft for our house. After six months of design, and a lot hard choices about what parts of the project were most important, and what needed to be simplified or cut out, we have arrived at a cost per square foot of $265 ($240 sq/ft if you take out the 10% contingency). Not too shabby. We could have easily come in cheaper, but there were some things that we just weren't willing to downgrade or cut out.

The $265 sq/ft does include all the construction related costs, but it does not include the cost of the architect, and any other work needed to get to the point of construction (including buying the land). We talked to several architects about their design costs, and honestly all of those conversations left me a bit confused. The general rule is that an architects fees will add up to about 10-15% of the cost of the construction. In our case this has held pretty true. We may even be on the low side of that number. In addition to architect fees we have had to pay for a topographical survey ($900) soil tests ($2,450) structural engineering reports ($5,000) and maybe a few other things I've forgotten along the way.

Overwhelmed with numbers yet? Well go ahead and add all those costs up and multiply by 20% because that is how much money you need down to even get started. That and the fact that it's going to take almost minimum of two years from when you start looking for land until you have an actual home you can live in. Building a custom home definitely isn't for the faint of heart. For me though, I wouldn't have it any other way.