How Do I Know If I can Build What I Want?


How Do I Know If I Can Build What I Want?

Given enough time and money you can build anything! But a wise man counts the cost before he embarks on any endeavor. So a better question might be, when and how do I determine the cost?

While most people have no problem talking about what they want, many are reluctant to discuss budget. Perhaps this discomfort is caused by a genuine lack of knowledge of actual construction costs. But it might also be caused by fear; a fear that if you are honest with your budget, your actual costs will exceed what you want to spend. It might be counter-intuitive, but in my experience, that is the exact opposite of reality. Without an expressed budget at the outset of a project, actual costs will most likely exceed your expectations.

So when and how do I determine a construction budget? Many people find an architect after buying a piece of land or closing on a home they hope to renovate. Often they walk away from a meeting with an architect disappointed because they didn’t have a realistic construction budget and now they’re not sure what they can do. The answer to when to determine a construction budget is before you buy. Many architects will meet at no charge to discuss your project and help you determine if your scope will fit your budget. A little time spent up front can save you from a world of heart ache and financial pain.

You can also determine a construction budget by taking the amount of square footage that you intend to build or renovate and multiply it by an average cost per square foot. A good starting range for per square foot construction costs is $150 to $200. Costs can end up higher depending on finishes, level of detailing, and location, but these figures will get you in the ball park.

This year I worked with two different couples that involved me in their project at two different points with two very different outcomes. The first couple was looking for a lot on which to build or a house to buy and renovate. They knew how much they could spend and asked me to help them with their decision making process. We looked at one vacant lot and two possible renovations and developed design concepts for each. After evaluating both for cost and design, they made their decision with realistic information and were successful because of it.

The second couple purchased a piece of land but didn’t have a realistic idea of what it would cost to build the home they wanted. Then they looked for an architect. With their excitement dashed, they now have fewer options. They own a piece of land but will have to build less or spend more.

Unfortunately, the second couple is much more common than the first.  As an architect, one of my jobs is to give my clients the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them. Sometimes that information is not pleasant to receive. However, a design you love but can not afford does not improve your quality of life and will remain in the realm of dreams rather than making its way to reality.

Considering the cost first will provide you the best possibility of making your dreams for home come true.

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