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Is it possible to build a custom home for $65/squa


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By Michael in Baltimore, MD on 2/2/2003


We are going to be building our house in the near future in the Baltimore, MD area and would like to know if it's possible to build a 3,700 square foot house for $65/square foot. We would like to have hardwood on the first floor (which we will lay ourselves with the help of a friend who is in construction), granite countertops, nice but not great appliances and cabinets, etc. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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By Jeff in Hampton, VA on 2/3/2003


Hi Michael, your question seems kind of broad. Are you asking if anyone has built a custom for $65/sq. ft.? Is there a contractor that will build for $65/sq. ft? Or can you do it for that amount?

In all reality, you can build a house for $20/sq. ft. if you can get the materials cheap enough and you do all the work yourself. I just talked to an insurance agent and he told me he built his 5,100 sq. ft. home for $61 a sq. ft. So yeah, it can be done. My suggestion to you (and you probably already know this) is to sponge up as much as you can from this forum, talk to as many contractors as you can and read, read, read. Also, it wouldn't hurt to learn about the other trades, i.e. electrical, plumbing and HVAC, etc.

One of the most important things I've learned from Mark's book is to take at least a year in planning before you break ground. I have been planning for about two years mainly to educate myself in the field and let my lot's value go up. Although you can never know it all, the more you know the less chance you have of being snowed. You might want to check to see if one of your local community colleges has a home construction course. And if you are like most O-B's, time is more abundant than money. Otherwise you'd be paying someone else to do the work.

Hope this helps.

Jeff
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By Jeffrey in Vail, AZ on 2/3/2003


To start, you are not in a cheap place, so you will be pushing it, for sure. My first reaction would be no, especially with the level of finish you are talking about. To start with, cost per square foot is a meaningless number, with almost no relevance. The only time I can think that it is useful is for similar houses built in the same way. In other words, a builder who builds similar houses with a similar finish level can probably use it as a very quick first estimate.

The only way to find out what your house would cost is to get the bids. The good thing is, that really does not cost you anything but time. What can really add up is the finish, if you spend $20K or $25K on cabinets, countertops, and appliances, there's $8 or $9 per square foot on the house. Or, you scale back and spend half that, and it's only $4. Point being that just in the kitchen you can quite easily make a 5% swing in the overall cost. We just had our house built (in Tucson, somewhat cheaper than Baltimore, I think). We did not owner-build, but if we had it was going to be right around $62/sq ft for 3,000 sq ft, at the best (no goofs, etc.) with Formica tops, upper/low or lower/mid appliances, pretty cheap tile, relatively inexpensive fixtures, etc. We found a builder who basically charged up $20K, so we went with him, and got the finished item under $70/sq. ft. But again, the finish is nice lower end, not granite, hardwood, etc.

I would get things bid out, and price all of the finish stuff, and see where you are. I was advised, I think I agree, to go with the size you want, and upgrade the finish over time. Good luck!
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By Michael in Baltimore, MD on 2/3/2003


Jeff - Thanks very much for your thoughts and ideas. - Mike
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By Bill in Baltimore, MD on 3/4/2003


Mike, I am also planning on owner-building in the Baltimore area (Monkton) and the $65/sq ft target you are looking to achieve may be a little aggressive. Much depends on the design of your house and what other items you are looking to include. With some good strategies and the right planning you will definitely see an overall savings - perhaps not to the $65 level but better than most. For example, I recently attended an auction where wood flooring (maple, Brazilian cherry, pine, oak) all went for as little as $1 a board foot. Look for bargains wherever possible and you will bring the overall costs down... Best of luck and perhaps we'll run into each other sometime.
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By Nicolle in Hunt Valley, MD on 3/7/2003


Bill, I noticed your posting on ownerbuilderbook.com. My husband and I live in Norrisville, MD and have purchased a lot in Pylesville. I saw that you are building in Monkton, which is just down the street. It's neat to find someone close by who is doing the same thing. Monkton is such a beautiful area. I was wondering if you have any advice or recommendations on subcontractors, etc...

Thanks,

Nicolle
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By Michael in Baltimore, MD on 4/11/2003


Bill, Where do you go to find out about this and other auctions? - Mike
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By Bill in Baltimore, MD on 4/13/2003


Hello Mike,

Upcoming local auctions are usually listed in the "Sun" newspaper on Sundays in the back of the Real Estate section. Peak Auctioneering holds their auction at the Howard County fairgrounds (next one in August). Southern States holds an auction in Jessup (next one ?) and Wolgemuth Auction is held in Leola, PA. Information for both Peak and Wolgemuth can be found via their websites. The classifieds also run ads for "Building Materials". These are not always great deals, and not what you may be looking for, but you never know... Good luck, and maybe I'll see you at one of the upcoming auctions... just don't outbid me!!! lol

Bill
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By Jack on 4/16/2003


Steve: Would be interested in your owner-builder program. We are building, or this summer want to build a home in Priest Lake, Idaho. The foundation is poured and we just have to decide who we go with. We are looking at Sing Logs, but am open for suggestions. I am in the military in Korea, so would not be able to put the house up, but would like the shell, and I can sub out the inside, as we have the kitchen bought, bathrooms etc., and the wood for floors. Any help or direction would be great.. jack watson
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By Michael in Baltimore, MD on 4/16/2003


Bill, Have you gotten started yet? If so, how's it going. - Mike
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By William in Port Republic, MD on 1/2/2004


I am interested in how well you do also, Michael. I bought an 8-acre lot in Lusby that I plan to build on. I have shown the plan to a couple of builders who want $120/sq. ft. for their estimate. I want to see if I can owner-build for $60/sq.ft. I will do some of the things myself to try to save. I am working on finding subs to give me prices right now. I want to see how much roughly it will cost me and decide if I can afford the house. I hope to build in about three years, so I am doing my research now.
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By Bill in Baltimore, MD on 2/11/2004


Hello Michael, it has been awhile since we last communicated... My house is under construction - foundation is in and the framing is about to commence. How is your project going? Drop me a line and let me know how things are going...
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By David in Prince Frederick, MD on 7/7/2004


Hello. I am in Prince Frederick and am moving away from the builder route to doing it myself. Do you have any sub recommendations?
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By Susan in Midland, MI on 7/26/2004


We wanted to share with our friends here on this site our recent experience in developing the construction budget for our owner-build. We are building a 2,200 square foot ranch in mid-Michigan. The budget we just presented to the bank, which was very detailed after the hundreds of hours you all know it takes to plan a project like this, came in at $208,000. For comparison purposes, we asked a general contractor to give us a bid to build our house from the ground up. His bid came in at $252,600. He gave us lots of details in his bid, but the thing that was the most interesting was the number at the bottom which was his markup. It was a percentage of the total and came to more than $40,000! Not only did he mark up all of the materials and the work of the subcontractors, but he also added about 12% on top of all of those markups. So, markups on top of markups!

It's been a real education and it's exciting to have this confidence boost, knowing that while there is lots of uncertainty and stress ahead we've done the right thing for our future.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/28/2004


We had the same experience. We thought why not get some bids just so we get a feel for what money we are saving by doing this ourselves so we could determine if the effort was worthwhile. We got a bid for $350K to build the house we are currently building. The builder's bid sheet showed all of his supplier and subcontract costs, many of the same suppliers had already bid the job for us material-only, so we had a good feel for what material should cost. In some cases, his markup for material was in excess of 100%, and we were using the same suppliers for a true apples-to-apples comparison. And I bet he was getting better supplier bids than we were simply due to his volume of business - wow. At the bottom, he had a profit markup of just over 10%, in addition to all of the markup on materials and subcontractors. Our construction loan which covers our entire project (land paid for used as 20% collateral) is just over half of this bid, and we had to add features to get the costs up to please the bank.
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By Jeff in WI on 7/28/2004


Sounds like similar pricing in Wisconsin. My 2,200 sq ft ranch came in around $96 per sq ft for a builder. I went the owner-builder route through PresidentHomes.com. My loan was for $235K, which included $35K for land, $11K for septic and $6K for the well. I did all the electrical, and finish work. Subbed out the rest. Final appraisal came in at $290K.
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By Lynnette in Orlando, FL on 7/28/2004


Kenneth, What did your square foot price end up averaging at? With your bids and after the contractor bid the job, what was the difference per square foot? We own our land outright, so fortunately that is not an issue with the financing either. We more than likely will have the bulk of the money to build with cash, but now I am concerned that after we begin we may go over budget and have to secure financing halfway through. I know I should probably go ahead and do it anyway (especially since I was a loan officer) but I really don't want the hassle if I don't have to. What do you recommend?
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By Lynnette in Orlando, FL on 7/28/2004


Does your house have a basement? So is the square foot price just on living area? I am in Florida so we don't have basements, and sometimes it is hard for me to compare pricing because it seems almost all states but us do basements and take that square footage for granted in the pricing.
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By Susan in Midland, MI on 7/28/2004


Great feedback, Ken! What was the area where you felt the mark-up was the highest? We are struggling with electrical, for example. I have heard that the markup on those little electrical boxes is incredible. And, the wiring. We're having a tough time finding an electrician who will bid labor-only. Average price to install a canned light is $50! We went to Menards this weekend and bought the boxes (no trim) for about $6.50 apiece. We, too, used our paid-for land as collateral, and our 20% to avoid PMI. The final appraisal from the bank came in at $311,000.
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By Susan in Midland, MI on 7/28/2004


Hi, Lynnette. Our house does have a full basement but it will remain unfinished for the time being. Cost for the basement floor, foundation, etc. is about $16,000. One lesson I've learned so far is that the square footage cost shouldn't be the primary goal. My husband and I spent a totally depressing weekend after we had a Saturday morning breakfast with a builder who told us he really didn't think we could build our house for under $110 a square foot. We just knew we couldn't afford that. But, we decided to forge ahead and at least do our homework and get the numbers down on paper. There was nothing to lose by getting a bunch of bids and putting together a budget. It was only then that we would know for sure whether we could move forward. Good luck with your project.
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By Michael in Baltimore, MD on 2/11/2005


Bill,

It's been awhile since I've been on this website and just wanted to let you know that we have been in our house since May, 2004 and couldn't be happier in the end (although going through the process was a bit more than we expected and LONGER).

As I'm sure you're aware, our budget and our house seemed to grow as we went along. We came in at around $90/sq. ft., but that was with me deciding to upgrade quite a few things against my wife's better judgment.

If you get the message, I would be interested in hearing your experience. Hope everything went well.

Mike


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By Jason in Canton, MI on 2/15/2005


Hi Susan,

What about the lumber package? Where did you buy lumber?

How did you make sure you got builder/contractor prices?

Thanks

Jason


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By Andre in Livonia, MI on 10/14/2005


I don't know how anyone can really build a house and it make any sense... at least in the "LOCATION" that I am in.

@$70 a sq ft a 3,600 sq ft house will cost to build $250K.

For $250K, you can buy a house the same size.

If I would go through the trials and tribulations that come with building a house, I want some sweat equity.

Andy


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By Marc in Defuniak Springs, FL on 10/26/2005


Andre,

What got us started on this owner-builder path was the desire to have the size rooms we wanted, the cabinets and fixtures, the type doors and windows. A truly custom home.

To date we are getting the sweat equity (hope that continues) but even if we do not, the process is so fulfilling. Our love for this house is unexplainable. I have had two homes built by builders prior to this and somehow you are detached from the process. It is not all about the money, for us.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

M


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By Jeff in San Diego, CA on 12/31/2005


I'm not entirely sure if I should start a new topic for this, or just bogart this thread.


I am looking at doing an owner-builder; very small house on my land. While I will ultimately remodel this house into a "castle" and a retirement home, at the present time, the whole point of the exercise is to get just two things... a place to stay when I'm up there (okay if it has a very "cabin-like" feel to it, very "rustic"), and secondly because I want to get my water and septic done, and can't afford to do those without a construction loan. The well will have to be about 800 feet (ouch! around $22K with equipment).

The amenities will be at an absolute minimum (envision me bargaining with the county guy in an effort to avoid needing doors on the one-and-only homemade kitchen cabinet that is holding up the used kitchen sink)... to get a C of O.

So, to better frame the question, with a down-turned slab and ICF do-it-yourself construction for a 1,000 sq. ft. shell, and doing the absolute minimum to get a C of O, and not counting the deep well... what would you guys/gals guess is the absolute minimum per square foot cost to get a house built as an owner-builder where you are doing roughly half of the work yourself

Obviously there are lots of variables, such as where it is being built and a million more. I would just like to see some of you take a stab at estimating the bare-bones minimum "I've never heard of anything below this amount" type of per square foot "just-barely-C-of-O" quality house.

Thanks,

jp

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By Michael in Cave Creek, AZ on 1/2/2006


If I understand the question correctly, you want to build a 1,000 square-foot cabin for $65 per square foot. You have a separate budget for a well. This leaves you $65K to get permits, grade your lot, build a driveway, bring in electricity and actually build the cabin.

I can't answer the question whether this can be done, but there would seem to be enough of a chance of success that you should explore your options more. Here are some suggestions to keep your costs low.

Permit fees: keep your project simple and conventional. Choose an area with a minimum of building regulation and impact fees. (Typically a rural area in a county jurisdiction.) If you have your site already, visit the permitting office and find out what the requirements and costs will be.

Professional Services: surveyors, civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, architects, draftsmen, structural engineers, etc. The cost of all of these services is driven by the number of hours you need to buy from the professional. Building conventionally on a simple flat lot in a rural community will help to keep the costs down or eliminate them. Companies like 84 Lumber have some stock plans for cabins that you can buy for a few hundred dollars. Most jurisdictions will also require a site plan that shows the property boundaries, setbacks and finished-floor elevation. You may need to get a surveyor or civil engineer to prepare this. For a conventional simple wood-frame building on a flat lot, that should be it for professional services. For alternative building systems, hillsides, etc., a lot more professional services will be needed.

Site utilities: The cost of bringing in electricity and telephone depends on distance to the lines and is more related to the details of the site than the size of the cabin. Since you are on a well, you will probably also need a septic system. The cost of the system depends on how good the ground percs and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the cabin. County health departments usually have a packet that you can pick up that covers the requirements. A simple system is in the $5K range.

Grading: The cost should be pretty low for a flat lot. If you can obtain your fill on site and you have some surveying and equipment operating skill, this can be done yourself with rental equipment. If massive quantities of material need to be cut or imported or you are not comfortable running equipment this should be contracted out. The cost of equipment with an experienced operator from a grading company may be lower than rental equipment with a free but inexperienced operator. If you encounter rock and need to dig with a hammer hoe, costs go through the roof quickly.

At this stage before you dig your first footing, you may well have spent over $20K for preparing a basic cabin site.

Footings: It is more important to make sure that they are right than to try to save money here. Maybe $5K to $7K.

Cabin Materials: A basic cabin-materials package can be bought for about $30K from a lumberyard. It would exclude electrical and plumbing materials. You could probably save some money by getting used doors, windows, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, appliances, etc., if you want to. Talk to the building department to see who has pulled demolition permits or call demolition contractors to see where you can scrounge. Alternatively, you might find that you want new materials or that your time is better spent building your project instead of chasing salvaged building supplies.

During these times of rising prices, you may want to buy materials now before the price goes up (especially metals and PVC) if you can store them in a safe place till you need them.

Pick materials that you can work with yourself. Examples would be choosing wood or vinyl siding instead of stucco or choosing asphalt shingles instead of a hot-mopped built-up roof.

Defer work that can be done later. You do not need to have decorative work such as floor coverings and paintings done to get a certificate of occupancy.

Needless to say there is little money a budget like this for labor from paid tradespeople and you will have to do a lot of the work yourself. Many tasks in building require two or more people to do efficiently or at all. An example would be setting trusses. So it would be good to have an enthusiastic helper.


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By Jeff in San Diego, CA on 1/2/2006


Thanks Michael,

The $65 number was somebody else. I was hoping to get some guesses as to what the absolute minimum might be. Sounds like it wouldn't be much less than $65 in any event. Your information was very helpful.

Thanks,

jp

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By Matt in Minco, OK on 3/23/2007


I thought I would add my $.02.

We are planning a four-bed 2.5-bath 2,400 sf steel home, with hardwood floors, granite countertop and custom cabinets. Also, the price includes 'dozer work, septic and well. We are at $36 a square foot.


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By Justin in Chandler, AZ on 3/23/2007


Okay Matt,

I have to ask, how in the world can you build for $36 a foot? I mean with hardwood floors, granite and cabinets, you should be about $8 a foot right there. Do you have some super-great connection or are you planning on doing all of the labor yourself? Once you finish, would you mind coming to Arizona to build my home for $36?
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By Michael in Baltimore, MD on 3/24/2007


Justin,

I would have to agree that it's nearly impossible to build a reasonable house for anything less than $60/foot. We built a custom home in the Baltimore area in 2004, and came in at $90/foot. That included granite everywhere, stainless appliances, hardwood floors, Pella windows, some landscaping and decks, etc. Another friend who is in construction built a nice house in 2002 in this area for $59/foot. He had some great connections and did a lot of the work himself with friends. That house did have some nice finishes, but not top of the line. Therefore I can't see how $36/foot is possible unless it is a very basic house built in a much cheaper area.

Good luck, everyone. Also, forgot to mention that it took us 10 months to build, so don't forget to allow a few months of extra time when planning.

Mike


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By Matt in Minco, OK on 3/24/2007


Guys,

The number one factor for me being able to build so cheap is my location. Plus I am going with a total steel building. The roof, siding, and trusses are all metal. In my area a 40x60x12 building with insulation will run you around $10,000, a mono slab with 24-inch footing is $3 a sq ft; that included cement, dirt work, setting forms and finishing concrete. I found a place in OKC that installs granite countertop for $30 sq ft. And another helpful thing is I have a couple good friends who are a plumber and a electrician.

I will do the building construction and the framing and laying the tile and hardwood floors. My uncle used to install windows and siding on the side, so he gets a heck of a deal on windows. And just for comparison, My dad just had a water well drilled, total price $2,200. That includes about 400 ft of elec. wire, conduit, three water hydrants, renting a trencher and PVC.
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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 3/24/2007


The cost of the concrete alone in AZ would be about $12K. That's delivered close to the plant. Then the numbers start going up from there with form work, excavation, reinforcing and labor.

Are you using a stick-framed steel package or a post-and-beam package?

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By Matt in Minco, OK on 3/24/2007


Dale,

It will be a post and beam structure with metal framing on the inside. It just amazes me the cost difference from location to location.


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 3/24/2007


Construction costs are driven by several local factors:

1) Supply and demand of materials and labor. Is your area experiencing low or high growth?
2) Energy costs, manufacturing and transportation.
3) Location. Where are the materials coming from?

This could be a long discussion on construction economics, but I'll keep it short with just one example: Some areas have no locally-manufactured building materials other than concrete with the cement brought in from somewhere else.

Other areas may have just about everything locally made.

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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 3/24/2007


If you keep everything to "bare necessities", all you need is four walls, foundation, roof, a bathroom and area you call a kitchen, minimal windows and one door.

Without knowing your local costs, it should be inexpensive to build. But if doing ICF's, plan for future additions so you aren't hammering down reinforced concrete walls. Also, size your septic for maximum future size so you don't have to come and upgrade later.

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By Matt in Minco, OK on 3/24/2007


It will be very inexpensive to build.

Here is a local company that offers metal home building package. This isn't the one I am using, but it gives you an idea of what they can look like.

taylor-sons.com


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