What is the cost-per-square-foot of your homes?

A question we get a lot from potential clients is “What is the cost-per-square-foot of your homes? We understand the question is really, “How much will my house cost?”

And the answer is: “It depends.”

Professional custom home builders rely on proven management systems to finish a home on time and on budget. Creating an accurate budget is as much craft as a science. No responsible builder will quote a per-square-foot price without more information, because doing so would risk misleading the client. That is because a custom home is not a product. Instead it is the physical realization of a particular client’s dream home on a specific site. Each person’s dream home is unique; so the only way to estimate the cost is to ask some follow-up questions.

First we need to clarify what the client means by square foot cost of the home. Does it include the garage, unfinished lower level, or other unfinished space – such as a over the garage bonus room? Does it include costs for lot clearing, driveway, utilities, well and septic, and permits?

Once the assumptions and variable costs have been clarified – what kind of home are they dreaming of? Is the floor plan simple or complex? Is it a traditional style with intricate interior mouldings and built-ins, or a modern structure with lots of glass and minimal trim?

Then we need to define the level of desired finishes. A professional custom home builder can help refine the expectations, starting with questions about exterior materials, windows, plumbing, flooring, cabinetry preferences and special features of the home.

After sorting through all of the above, we may be able to reference plans and photos for similar homes built in the past. We can often provide a ballpark estimate of what it would cost to built that home with their specifications on their site.

However, it is not something you can do over the phone. The client needs to spend some time with us before we can offer a realistic idea of what they can get for their budget. Regardless of whether they ultimately decide to build with us, this is time wisely spent.

Universal Design Ideas in the Kitchen

Wouldn’t you want the hardest-working room in your house to allow you to perform tasks with ease as you get older? A kitchen with Universal Design features can be your body’s best friend (at any age).

Pantry Power

,

Pantry

According to the National Association of Home Builders, a pantry was the kitchen feature most desired by new home buyers.  Kitchen pantry possibilities range from a closet, a nook to a dedicated room.  A couple of interesting trends in pantry design:

  • Wanting more daylight in the kitchen prompts a shift in storage design. Delivering more daylight means less available wall space and that has translated to an increased interest in walk-in room pantry space.
  • A really large pantry can serve as a secondary kitchen; also known as a “messy kitchen” , or a back kitchen – complete with cooktop, dishwasher, sink, prep space, floor to ceiling storage for canned goods, serving platters, oversize pots and pans, and space for caterers to set up. With open kitchens adjacent to living areas, a back kitchen provides a place to keep kitchen chaos out of sight when company comes.

Convenience, accessibility,  and “at a glance” visibility are the key attributes of a great pantry.  A walk-in pantry doesn’t need to be fancy since it’s behind closed doors.  However, even if it’s only simple shelving, it’s a good idea to include a countertop for a landing zone. It’ll make it easier to stock items, provide extra place for food prep, and space for a blender, a stand mixer and a coffee maker.  You can add as needed wall cabinets with pull-outs and built-ins. Other features can include pullout baskets for root vegetables, narrow cubbies for large platters, and nooks for cookware. The pantry should be large enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries and close enough to the food prep area. Organization and the right location are more important than size alone though.

Other pantry design ideas to keep in mind are: Pantry Tip

  • Which way will the door open? A door that opens inward can work, but it may make an already small space smaller. When space is at a premium, the best options are a pocket, folding or a sliding “barn door.”
  • Ideal lighting illuminates every shelf evenly, so be sure to install quality LED lighting. A skylight is a great idea if the home design allows. And make sure the light switch is in a spot by the pantry door.

Whether your pantry is  built-in cabinetry, a butler’s, a walk-in, or a combination – storage is never in short supply, and your kitchen layout is optimized for maximum efficiency.

How long have you been in business?

A newly constructed Thelen Total Construction home - built to look like a 19th century farmhouse.

A newly constructed Thelen Total Construction home – built to look like a 19th century farmhouse.

Why this is a great question to ask a builder.

The National Association of Homebuilders estimates that it takes at least 3 to 5 years to create a sustainable building business. Most builders never get there: residential contractors have a failure rate higher than nearly every other business type, surpassed only by restaurants.

Only the strongest  homebuilding companies survive.

High-end custom home building is even more competitive. The few companies that rise to the top of this challenging niche are financially sound and professionally managed. They work to exacting quality standards. They know how to keep customers happy. These top builders all have a lot of experience. One only learns to excel at building complex homes for demanding customers by, well, building complex homes for demanding customers.

But it’s not just a numbers game. Besides having completed lots of homes for lots of people, the best builders make a point of learning something from each job. They spend time at the end of the project analyzing what worked and what didn’t, and they put those lessons to work on future projects. That’s one reason they have risen to the top of their markets.

Another reason is that they stay abreast of industry trends. Like everything else in today’s world, the demands on builders are growing faster than ever. They include ever-evolving tastes in home design, as well as codes, standards, and regulations. Successful, experienced builders educate themselves and their staff on these trends and smoothly incorporate them into their business practices.

Tuscan villa home constructed by Thelen Total Construction featured in 2015 Parade of Homes.

Tuscan villa home constructed by Thelen Total Construction featured in 2015 Parade of Homes.

Depth of experience and a culture of learning have direct benefits for customers. Top builders systematically track the time and money required to complete each project.  Over the years, they have learned exactly what can and cannot be accomplished with a given schedule and budget. And they have developed the communication and problem-solving skills to help customers reconcile the vision with the reality.

Experienced custom builders will also have earned the trust of their business partners. A long track record with material suppliers ensures the best prices and delivery schedules. And because like companies tend to flock together, experienced professional builders have long-term work relationships with the most experienced and professionally managed trade contractors in town, including plumbers, electricians, and HVAC companies. These relationships play a huge role in getting the job done right for a fair price and in a timely manner.

Rustic lodge design home

Long after the home is complete, these relationships ensure quick responses to warranty requests. In fact, customers can be confident that if a warranty item needs servicing a few years down the road, the experienced pro’s team will be around to take care of it. How many new companies can offer that peace of mind?

The point is that high integrity, great communication skills, and a track record of successful projects and satisfied customers raise the odds of a smooth building process. Hiring a professional company with the resources needed to do a great job, on time, and with minimal stress pays off big in the long run.

Ultimate Dream Home vs Reality Dream Home

,

Thelen Total Construction Kitchen

Building a new home – more than any other endeavor tends to pit dreams against the hard reality of cost.  And it’s pretty common for the homeowners’ vision to be out of sync with the budget and actual costs to build. That can be disappointing, but there can be creative solutions that reduce building costs while still delivering that vision.

The solution to the budget conundrum involves more than shrinking the size of the home and giving up favorite features and amenities. The method for finding the happy medium is called ‘value engineering.’ It’s a way of doing everything that optimizes the return on every dollar, and it’s not just a random cost-cutting exercise. Instead it’s a systematic and thoughtful approach to satisfying the homeowners’ most important needs while still honoring the budget.

We put on the “value-engineering glasses” when initial pricing is completed and it looks like the home design and materials will need to be modified to keep it in budget. An experienced builder knows of alternatives that lower costs while maintaining quality. The goal is to support the homeowners in making informed choices.

It’s not unusual to be able to shave tens of thousands of dollars off the budget for a custom home by making a lot of small adjustments that only minimally impact the home’s look and feel—if you know how to do it right.

How does a builder know where to make those adjustments?

By asking the right questions in the right way, identifying patterns in the answers, and reading between the lines. A builder who is good at this can often uncover priorities that the homeowners weren’t able to articulate. Solutions can then be tailored to those priorities.

For instance, if the conversation reveals that the homeowners aren’t likely to use the front porch very often, they may be receptive to making it smaller. If a priority is a large kitchen with high end appliances, having a simply designed family room can completely acceptable. Where substitutions must be made, the trick is in knowing which lower-cost materials and design features will deliver the needed performance, aesthetic, or warranty features, while not increasing maintenance costs or reducing the home’s longevity.

Value engineering can also include reducing exterior wall space by simplifying the facade. Exterior walls cost a lot more to build than interior walls, so a facade with fewer corners, nooks, and crannies will require less materials and labor. Changes could be as simple as moving windows or doors a few inches to eliminate framing members, or as complex as adjusting the home’s footprint to minimize waste in roofing and siding without sacrificing interior space.

It even means working with subcontractors to redesign pipe, wire and duct runs. In fact, good value engineering is a team effort, and a good team of subcontractors will be accustomed to helping make it work.

Budget is a very important factor in home building. During the design and the building process, fully understanding what the essentials are for the new home, and considering what are the “nice to include if budget allows”, helps you make informed decisions to create a home you’ll enjoy for a lifetime.