How to get a good estimate of cost to build, before buying plans

One of the most difficult aspects of purchasing house plans is knowing if you can afford to build the house before paying for them. It is probably the most frequent question we have been asked over the years – “how much will it cost to build this house?” — and it is one we’d love to be able to answer. But as you continue reading, you’ll understand why we simply cannot do it.

Now on most “stock” plan sites, they offer either estimates right on the site, or an opportunity to pay for an estimate. Unfortunately, these are not only of limited (if any) use, but they can actually cause a serious problem!

When sites display the “average” low, medium, and high costs per square foot to build a house, the numbers are based on data that’s essentially useless. Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing publishes these figures, based on data from the year before. They divide the entire United States into four enormous segments, and create averages for each.

These figures have nothing to do with the cost of building the house you select, on your property. Construction costs vary hugely, not only from state to state, but also from community to community. There are still places in this country where you can build a simple house for $100 per sf, and sometimes less. But the same house might cost twice as much in a different location.

These estimates also don’t factor in other costs. If your property is a long way from your builder, you’ll be paying for driving time along with construction time. And your property may require a lot of prep work before construction even begins. Then there are all your choices of materials and finishes, which can have a significant affect on overall cost. And the soil you plan to build upon can affect the cost as well. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.

Think about this using simple math. If someone (on a website or in a pamphlet) gives you an estimate of your cost to build, it can only be either accurate (the chances of which are extraordinarily low) or inaccurate. And if it is inaccurate, the estimate must be either too high or too low. If it is low, you may buy plans and then discover that you can’t afford to build the house. And if it is high, you may pass on plans that were perfect for your needs.

Fortunately, there’s a cost-free solution to this problem! The only (and I do mean only) persons who have a reasonable idea of what the cost will be to build the house you like, on your specific property, are builders in your area. Period. They can’t give you a quote, of course, without finalized plans and sufficient time to get bids from their sub-contractors. But if you’re looking for a good ballpark figure before buying plans, they are your best choice to find help.

And you needn’t hire them to do so. When you’ve identified the house you’d like to build, have a builder (or builders) you are considering hiring go to that page on the website. He can then see not only the square footage, but also the footprint of the house, how many stories it has, what kind of roof it has, and on our site (where unlike our competitors, we display all four elevations) they can see the number, size and locations of all the doors and windows. They can also see pictures (on our site, at least), and the full description can provide other details.

An experienced building should have no problem giving you a ballpark figure once he has an idea of what quality level of materials and finishes you’re going to want. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s by far the most accurate estimate you’re going to get.

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We highly recommend that you click on two boxes – the number of bedrooms you know you need, and one less bedroom. For example, if you need 4 bedrooms, click on the boxes next to 4 and next to 3. Otherwise you will not see homes where existing rooms on the lower, main, or upper levels might work perfectly well as a bedroom instead of as an office, study, etc.