cramereast

Do Per Square Foot Estimates Include GC's fee?

cramereast
August 11, 2019

Prior to retaining an architectural firm we spoke with a few builders for our planned vacation home. A couple threw out per square foot estimates as very rough ballpark figures. Do these traditionally include the GC's fee or should we presume the GC's percentage was not included in the per square foot estimate?

Comments (27)

  • PRO
  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Ask the people that gave you the estimate.

  • BT

    A couple [Builders] threw out per square foot estimates as very rough ballpark figures.


    Does it matter? Until the plans are finalized, job bid out, finishing selections are made, contingencies removed.. It is a SWAG. The finishes can add a tremendous cost...


    Yeah I would assume it is included. But going with high finishes ... it will double.

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    Builders threw out a couple of cost/SF estimates and that's exactly what I suggest you do--throw them away.

    A cost/SF metric is affected by too many variables to be a useful metric for anything except floor finishes and even those will depend on the specifics of the installation.

    You'll need preliminary plans and a preliminary site development plan in order to get reasonable estimates of the construction cost of your home. Lacking that, the best you can do is to tour similar custom homes under construction and ask the builders what it would cost to replicate those homes on your lot.

    I recommend you select your builder as early in the process as you can and have them collaborate in the design process. They can provide real world cost information to inform the design and help prevent unpleasant "surprises" that often occur when real estimating is deferred until plans are complete and competitive bids are sought.


  • cramereast

    Thx, Joe et al. I've read the Chubby Builder's book so I'm aware that these are ballpark estimates without any basis on the specifics of what we're planning. Same for the lack of accuracy for sq ft estimates. I was assuming that GC's cost were not included so our forest-level budget plan included 20% on top of the construction costs.

    Mark, I didn't want to ask the builders at this point. I'll see them later in the process.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Wait...you got SWAG estimates from builders, but didn't want to ask them if their fees were included...but you are asking the strangers on this forum?


    What's wrong with this picture...?


    But OK, I'll play along: yes the fees were included...unless they weren't...

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    Only the particular builder knows what is included in their cost/SF ballpark estimate.


    To complicate matters, I'll bet they didn't clarify whether the SF part of the metric is based on conditioned living area only; total area under roof including garages and porches; total area under roof plus decks and patios; total disturbed site area, etc. Proceed with caution.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Charles, you've scared off the OP, who thought he was dealing with a simple yes-no situation...!

  • Adam Thomas

    I'll chime in as someone who has proven time and again on this forum that I don't know what I'm talking about. Cost/SF is a number that is dumbed down to the lowest level of intelligence to the point that it is almost completely meaningless. 90+% of people (like me) aren't involved in the construction process more than once or twice in a lifetime, we don't know enough about it to understand everything, but a cost/SF number seems like a whole lot of information wrapped up in a nice little package. So it's easy to latch onto.


    My business partner and I are both building houses right now. He bought a nice lot in the nicest subdivision in our area, I bought acreage in the country. His lot cost 5x what mine did. I have a 900 foot driveway, he has a 50 foot driveway. I paid nearly $5,000 for a weathervane, he didn't. He's got some crazy massive beam that was special made a long way from here and shipped in on a truck. We are both going to end up with nice custom homes and we may even be within $10 cost/SF of each other when it's all said and done, but even so, we got there in completely different ways.


    I imagine if you're willing to cut enough corners, you could get a cost/SF within almost any budget. Sadly, when you're wife goes to pick out countertops, trying to get something she likes that doesn't blow up your cost/SF may be a challenge. Just remembered, we got a quote from a builder that included a pool allowance of $30,000. Six months later we'd modified the plans and sent it out to requote. The second quote, from the same builder, had a pool allowance of $20,000. So a $2 cost/SF savings for the same pool! Until we went to put in the pool...


    The end.

  • hummingbird678

    First builder I talked to gave me an estimate per square foot in the beginning. Did a design with them, actual bid came back 20% higher than that initial estimate.

    Started over for completely different reasons - but definitely learned that that number is pretty meaningless.

  • bry911

    Average cost per square foot is good information for feasibility when you are thinking about buying land and starting the process. It helps determine whether or not building a house is even something you should investigate further. After that it is useless. You should plan on that number being a best case scenario and anticipate not being the best case.

    I will note that feasibility is an important part of the decision making process, so cost per square foot has some value.

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    Is anybody else wondering what Adam's weathervane looks like?

  • D B

    Instead of giving a customer a SF number, I show them previous projects and what they finished at. From there I will talk in general terms about what drove the price (up or down) on that project.


    It is tough because I want my customers to have an understanding of what they are getting into, but I don't want to be misleading and be way off when the quotes finally get in. I have lost several clients to other builders who quote low and change order the heck out of the customer to get to the project they asked for.

  • Adam Thomas

    Mark! It looks just like my dog. It may have added $.95/SF to the cost of my build, but it was voted the #1* Weather Vane in the continental United States.

    I may be mistaken, but I believe when I posted my house plans a couple years ago you had positive remarks, followed by some commentary that it might be quite costly to build. You were right, with or without the vane.

    • Informal poll of two people and one dog.

  • PRO
  • chicagoans

    Love the dog and the weather vane! (And yes, Mark, I was also wondering what a $5k vane looks like!)

  • Lidia

    Dog weathervane totally worth it! Oh, and looks like the puppy may have cost as much at one time and way more over a hopefully very long life!

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I would have a dog weathervane, but it doesn't have the same effect with a pug.

  • Holly Stockley

    I would have a dog weathervane, but it doesn't have the same effect with a pug.


    Especially since, from the ground, it would be difficult to tell which direction it was pointing...


    And I think Adam made some excellent points. Would-be custom home, er, victims, would be wise to pay attention.

  • Adam Thomas

    I reviewed my post history and it was Virgil who commented that my build could be quite costly. Thanks for all of the kind words about the vane. I relayed them to the dog but she was uninterested.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Actually...I don't think I did...but what would you like me to say?

  • doc5md

    Another point I'd make to the OP and anyone reading along...

    Mark, I didn't want to ask the builders at this point. I'll see them later in the process.


    The sooner you identify the builder, the better the design and planning with the architect. We love our builder- he's fantastic. I do wish we'd have identified him sooner in the process (as my architect recommended). Building a house isn't quite the same as buying other things we all buy. We wanted to have the plan fairly well nailed down before taking it to builders to bid. Having builder input would have helped to better estimate costs as the design was progressing. Within a few meetings with our architect and each of the builders we were considering, we knew the right choice of builder. Pricing was slightly more for the one we identified, but quality was best, and he wasn't trying to (artificially) lower costs by modifying the architect's plans and details.

    (As an aside, one builder would meet with the architect to discuss an issue. Then, after the architect told him how we wanted something... he would set up a meeting with us and try to talk us into the way he wanted to do it instead. It was always a cheaper product, or making a detail easier on him).

  • Adam Thomas

    It was a long time ago Virgil. We are 90% done with the build. I'll post a full recap when we move in.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Wow! A two year old posting. Was I right?

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I was right once too.

  • Adam Thomas

    Virg, I appreciated your comments in that thread and my previous thread which was before we met with the architect. You, and many others, were quite helpful. You have been right often enough that I carefully consider everything you say. Now with regards to my house, I have no frame of reference, but I think it's safe to say it was fairly costly. With that said, I live in rural Alabama so perhaps cheaper overall then other parts of the country.

    In the spirit of this thread, what would a house on 7 acres, 5100 SF heated/cooled, another 2000 in porches/garages, and upper end amenities appraise for in other parts of the country? More than $775,000?

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    One has to careful how they ask the "cost per foot" question.


    Met with a client who was building "the last house" with a generous $285-300 pf budget they obtained from another builder, but were out shopping again because they didn't figure the 1800 sf conditioned shop, 200sf pool house/bathroom, 1000 sf of garage, 600 sf breezeway and 600 sf covered patio would change much. I forgot the previous house demo, building over the existing basement & $100K range budget.


    Every builder defines this differently. Permits? landscaping?

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