Designing $1M+ Home in Austin TX- Floor Plan, Elevations and Site Plan

Dayne Thornicroft
January 11, 2020
last modified: January 11, 2020

My wife and I recently moved to Austin TX where we purchased an acre of land on a sloped lot overlooking Lake Travis and Austin hill country. We are both MBAs that have worked hard to climb the corporate ladder quickly. Last year we decided to seek a change in our lives and moved from Boston MA about 6 months ago for a slower pace of life and to start a family.

We are an active couple in our 30s with two dogs and a growing family with our first baby on the way. We plan to have an additional two or three kids in the not too distant future. I work from home 50% of the time and travel to various offices around the US the other 50% so we made sure to purchase a lot no more than 45 mins from the airport.

Given our family plans, we have decided to build a home that we can grow into over the next 10 years. We are working with a local custom builder and architect to come up with a 3,500 to 3,800 sq ft home consisting of 4 beds, 4 bath, 1 office, 3 car garage which maximizes views from most rooms. The home will be a one-story home with a 1,000 sq ft unfinished space below the living room, dining room and casita that will require minimal cutting given the slope of the lot.

Our lot starts at 900 ft of elevation and drops to 840ft which is great for views but not so much for slab costs therefore we've decided to build an unfinished basement for now instead of filling it with 18ft of concrete.

I have attached our current floor plan, site plan and first draft elevation sketch.

We intend to change the size of the two bedrooms (guest and bedroom 2) to square 12'8 x 12'8 as well as reduce the size of the flex space to try to bring the conditioned sq ft down to 3,600 or so.

We are building the home as close as possible to the north side of the lot as their is a slope easement that prevents us from cutting into the land on the south side so we intend for the driveway to be on that side.

The orientation of the home is as follows:

- Front of the home faces West and into a cul de sac

- Rear of the home faces East and faces Lake Travis

- Master Bedroom side of home faces North and Lake Travis

- Garage side of home faces South and hill country

We spent ~$300k on the land and intend to spend around ~$850k on the initial build with a ~$150k pool budget in year two and plans to finish out of the basement further down the line. The home is in a new development so there is some risk however the two other homes on the street are asking $1.35M and $2.0M for 4,000 to 4,500 sq ft for semi custom homes so we feel comfortable with our plan.

The deed restrictions are very lax with the only major considerations being that the house needs a 25ft setback in front, 5ft on either side, 2,800 sq ft minimum and 3 car garage not facing the street.

Any tips on our floor plan, site plan or elevation are greatly appreciated.

Comments (193)

  • Mrs Pete

    Since you've determined it is impractical to add attic rooms and since you've determined it is impractical not to have a basement, reconsider the size and use of the basement.


    - Build a master + one nearby bedroom on the first floor. Omit those other two bedrooms and whatever the casita is.

    - Put the office in the basement for now.

    - 1-2 children can share the "near the master" bedroom, and when they're ready, build them nice bedrooms in the basement. And at that point, the "near the master" bedroom becomes the office.

    - The problem with this: Financing. Banks won't want to lend for what is (for now) a two-bedroom house. However, since this would greatly decrease the cost of the 1st floor, perhaps you'd complete the basement level now instead of waiting -- if four children are the eventual goal, I'd say put four bedrooms in the basement.

    There is a version of a j&j that is two entirely separate powder rooms against the outside wall and a totally separate room for a tub/shower between the interior wall of those powder rooms and the hallway leading to the bedrooms.

    Yes, J&Js can be built in any number of configurations, and -- when done right -- they're a practical choice.

    Pool+kids=ground floor supervision of the pool. Not something 15’+ in the air. That’s a complete non starter Deal Breaker, full stop.

    Yeah, I'm on that page too.

    This is gonna surprise nearly everyone here, but in this area of Texas, you wouldn't *believe* the solid concrete foundations on slopes that I've seen. :-O Sure, 15' is crazy. But around here, the crazier part is, it's done all the time, so people don't actually think it *is* crazy!

    Just 'cause it's commonly done ... oh, well, you already know the rest.

    Just thought that I would mention that in my previous house in Texas we lived an indoor/outdoor life. Now that my first floor is fifteen feet above ground level in the back yard, we are never in the yard.

    Yes, my backyard slopes downward, and we rarely use it -- though we use the walk-out 12x30ish covered porch all the time. On the other hand, my daughter has a much smaller house with lots of windows /a glass door directly to the backyard -- she and her husband use the backyard ALL THE TIME.

    For our retirement house, I only had two ABSOLUTE-ABSOLUTES, but one of them was a completely flat building lot.

  • J Williams

    Maybe the op doesn’t spend a lot of time outside, but it does make sense to me, to make a less sprawling house but build in more access to the outside. The landscape looks a bit barren and for kids there wouldn’t be a lot to do without some kind of landscaping, terracing etc. The casita as I understood it, is what some people would call a granny flat or in-law suite or guest wing.

  • Related Discussions

    What colors should I paint my house? I plan to unify the house by painting the brick and siding one color.


    Comments (84)
    I'm a little late adding my two cents, but it's probably not very helpful anyway. In my old neighborhood there was a house that looked just like yours and was (no offense) kind of an eyesore compared to the rest of the neighborhood (think golf course neighborhood where some homes are 1M+, not that mine was, lol). Anyway, the people ripped the porch off and put in a porch that spanned the entire front of the house with nice big columns and the new porch had a hip roof. They kept the brick put painted the rest and did some landscape as part of the job. I wish I had a picture to show you, because honestly, when they were done it looked better than some of the significantly more expensive houses in the neighborhood. Probably a different budget than just giving the house a paint job, though :(
    ...See More

    Level Entry House Plans - Looking for On Line Design Resources


    Comments (7)
    Hi Tinwhistle! OnePlan asked me to take a look at your discussion here. Looks like you have a 25 foot building setback on the north & south sides with 5 foot building setbacks on the east & west sides. On the west side you only have 92.83 linear feet of building space. Which means your garage entry should probably be on the northeast side (driveway enters where the text says "37.98'" of your proposed lot) This would allow for a larger backyard and pull the house away from the slope. You mentioned you were looking for a home about 3000 sf......but what type of home style are you look for? (ex. Bungalow, Ranch, Cape Code, European, etc) We are a drafting & design company. With that in mind i have a few plans for your consideration. The first one is here.... Consider House plan 122B - download price is $377.33 as the plan exist. It is a Cape Code style home with a bonus room. A side entry garage would work because the house is less than 59 feet wide and your lot width is 93.52 feet. Subtract 10 feet for the (2) 5' building setbacks and you have a remaining 83.52. Subtract 59 feet for the width of house it leaves you with a side driveway area of 24.52 feet. (or you can center the house upon the lot and make it a front entry garage. I would also remove the bonus room & bathroom upstairs and use the closet area within the laundry as an access to the basement. The door on the north side of the stairs can be the entry to a closet. The rear deck should extend from northeast corner of bedroom 2 along back of the house. Add a 18 panel glass door from Master Suite to the deck. The home would have to be mirrored to fit the left drive scenario. There are other plans you may consider. (such as House Plans 121F & 121N are Ranch styles & have courtyard side entries) I'd really need to know the style of home of interest. What home styles are in the neighborhood? If you find another plan on the website or else where, let me know. In any case I'm sure we can design your plan based on your ideas at an affordable rate. Email me at if you are interested in our services. The last floor plan is House Plan 121N Here is a link to our website:
    ...See More

    Constructive criticism wanted on house plan


    Comments (52)
    I would swap the kitchen and great room. You can have a nice u-shaped kitchen. Centre the range on the wall as a feature and put your sink in the island facing the great-room and the view beyond. I don't think you will like having people go through your mud room to use the powder room. I would suggest taking out the angled closet, square it off and put the powder room there. You may find you even have room to then turn the closet into a pantry and still have room for the closet where the powder room currently is. In the guest bathroom I would suggest you swap the bathroom door and the linen closet. With the door in it's current location furniture placement of bedside tables would be awkward. If you rotate the linen closet you would get a nice large closet but sacrifice the window or consider having the window fill the wall and build a long, low cabinet underneath it. In the master bath I would consider moving the door to the closet so that it faces the sitting room. And look at reconfiguring the bathroom layout for a better flow. Personally, I am partial to a long counter with two sinks. Good luck.
    ...See More

    Feedback on new house plans


    Comments (12)
    Thanks for the feedback. juudean - Thanks for sharing your house project. Our window exposure on the view side is mostly to the East, so the Sun will be to the side of the house during the afternoon. But I am still wondering how much light will come in through this window during the morning. As you mentioned, it is hard to control, because it's so high and we probably won't have window shades. Will there be awkward light at various times throughout the year? I'd hate to have it shining directly in our face as we sit in the kitchen or dining space. Also, we are planning for 9.5 foot ceilings in the living room, which will allow plenty of light, so nice to know that this is working for your home. We also have an 8 foot veranda in front of the kitchen and dining space, which is why we wanted to consider a window above. But maybe the transoms will be enough? If so, should we just make that attic space above? Or should we consider turning some of it into usable space on the second floor? acroteria - I'll have to look at the roof lines in more detail to see how our architect is handing these rooflines. Overall, we don't love the look of the front of the house. We feel like it is overly complicated, so we are trying to figure out how to simplify it. jhov - Thanks for the feedback. I agree that vaulted ceilings can take the coziness out of a living room. We have seen a lot of homes in this community go with vaulted 2 story great rooms. When you walk into them, they feel like an elevator shaft because the rooms aren't wide enough to handle the 2.5 story ceiling. Our Kitchen & Dining space will be a large room, so i'm hoping that the vaulted ceiling won't feel out of proportion. We will likely put in faux beams to help fill this space. Here are some examples of vaulted spaces we like. The whole reason for the vaulted ceiling was to see if we could allow light in over the shed roof covering the outdoor patio. We also like the exterior look of this house, which was our original inspiration. They don't have any outdoor covered space, which allows them to lower the dormer with the window. I prefer this look as well as the lower position of the window, but we really do want covered patio space. So with a 3/12 pitch shed roof, the dormer will be at least 2 feet higher (to accommodate the 8 foot roof run). Any additional thoughts? Thanks again for the great feedback.
    ...See More
  • chocolatebunny123

    I'm not a pro, so I don't feel comfortable commenting on the structural or room placement issues this house has, but I do feel as a parent of 2 high school aged kids I can comment on some things I never thought about before I had kids. :)

    My husband and I also planned on having 4 kids. As I said, we have 2. I won't get into the reasons why we didn't have 4, except to say that things can easily change after you have that first one. You never know how the pregnancies will go, will you have a child that requires special needs, etc. You're definitely putting the cart before the horse here.

    You say you're moving from MA to TX for a slower pace of life (your words). The endeavor you're looking to take on, really does not allow you to do that. Your wife is planning on taking a huge chunk of time off to "raise the kids" - if you have 4, I'm guessing a minimum of 10 years? (assuming you have them relatively close together) So that means all the financial pressure is on YOU to maintain this house and lifestyle. If you're already working 60 hour weeks now, how much more will you have to do? Assuming your wife currently makes a similar salary to you, have you thought of how her staying home for a number of years affects your overall financial plan? You're likely looking at a 50% reduction in income. And don't think it will be that easy for her to just jump back into the workforce after taking considerable time off. I work in healthcare so I could not take significant time off and I see friends who have kids similar age to mine have a LOT of trouble getting back into their fields. New grads are cheaper and have more recent schooling/knowledge.

    I also think you have to be realistic and as others have said, think about if this is what you want 10-20 years from now. I find it funny that you haven't even built this house and you're already thinking about resale. But at the same time, what happens if you lose your job? Don't say it can't happen. My husband and I both have doctorate degrees in our respective fields and we BOTH lost our jobs within a couple of years of each other. Because when we bought our house we did not extend ourselves thin (the house was a lot less than what we were approved for), we weren't in any financial strain that time each of us were off. Was it stressful? - of course, but we weren't in dire straights is what I'm saying, and that's because we lived below our means. I too know people that built their dream homes only now to try to sell them since they're empty nesters. They don't need the 4,000 sq ft monster of a house. The time goes by way too fast and kids get more expensive the older they get.

    I will comment and agree on the others that say you want to have the bedrooms together. We live in a 2 story house with all 4 bedrooms upstairs. It was very convenient being close when the kids were little, and it's still convenient because I know who's still up. I also concur that all teenagers need is to close the bedroom door to have privacy. They don't need their own "wing" of the house. Plus you're also going to want to check up on them.

    A lot of people have also addressed the pool situation. I agree that with this terrain this is something that needs to be thought out and planned for now. It doesn't appear looking at other listings in that area, that it would be simple to just plop a pool in later. And little ones need to be supervised at all times around a pool. In my area it's code to have a fenced yard with a pool, so make sure that is included in your costs.

    Keep your office in one area from the get go. My husband works from home a lot and it would be a nightmare if we had to move everything from room to room every couple of years. In his profession though he cannot just rely on WiFi, he has his computers hard wired so that makes moving rooms a challenge for us.

    We almost built but then we found a house that *almost* met all of our needs and was cheaper (and less headaches) than building. I went back and saw that it sounds like you already bought the land, so that may be a moot point now but generally speaking buying a house already built is less expensive than building.

    I hope you're reading the comments and realizing that we're all here trying to help. I feel like you are brushing some of the comments, and obviously it's your prerogative to take what you want, but this is a great site for people that have a lot more experience than you in so many areas.

  • smitrovich

    Another cost consideration is property tax, which is very high in Austin. You'll be looking at paying ~$30,000 per year on this property.

  • J Williams

    Wow. I thought our taxes were high.

  • A S

    Really taxes that high??? Seems extreme

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    A large portion of our property tax bill in Texas is for local school districts. Austin is about highest in state.

  • smitrovich

    A S - Yeah, the rates are that high here. I have friends who's tax bill would be >$70,000 per year if it weren't for exemptions (over 65, etc). Even then, they still pay over $50,000 per year.

  • A S

    Insane! We don’t live in the US so I fully admit to not getting it

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @J Williams "Wouldn’t it make sense to use the basement as finished space, in that case?"

    We plan to make the space directly under the Living, Kitchen, Dining and Casita finished space in phase 2 of our build. The plan is to leave this space unfinished during the initial build however put rough ins for plumbing and also put in windows, doors and a slider. Our architect estimates the space to be around 1,000 sq ft.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    No state income tax so this method puts more control at local level.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    For the record, we aren't offended by any of the "criticism", we see it as honest feedback that folks are taking time out of their day to provide, it is very much appreciated.

    We have no problem hearing the harsh truth of the masses and have adjusted accordingly in a few places however there are things that my wife and I enjoy about the house that most may not agree with like the corner fireplace that we're keeping in place.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @A Fox

    We plan to discuss the pool build with our builder and architect during the next meeting. We were concerned with how they would get machinery out there if they don't construct it during the initial build. FYI, We plan to have the pool on the main level, aka 15' in the air. We understand this is more expensive however building the pool down below loses the enjoyment of the views we purchased this lot for.

    Deed restrictions require the 3 car garage to be non-front facing unfortunately.

    We are going to try not to bring in too much fill, the driveway and septic field will be the two areas that require it.

    @Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor You are correct on this being a $1M+ build with the pool. We already had plans to put the covered deck space out by the living room and 366 Low E windows so we're not too concerned with the sun light. If we do find it uncomfortable, we will add motorized blinds.

    @Ronny We've played around on but have decided to just hand draw to communicate with the architect.

    Good catch on the missing coat closet, we had it in the previous version and didn't realize it got pulled out in this latest version. We'll ask the architect to work it back in.

    We understand the risks of a pool, we've both grown up with them.

    You are correct about the long walk from the garage to the master bedroom, however we are okay with that. Our previous home had two flights of stairs to get up to our master from the garage.

    We are reworking the flex space, I think the more we read here, the more we realize that containing the mess of kids toys will require a different solution to the current flex space we have.

    The corner fire place is a personal choice, my wife doesn't want a see-through fireplace.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @Seabornman The neighborhood is actually very mixed from a socioeconomic status which we see as a positive for the kids being exposed to many different people and backgrounds. There is everything from a trailer park to multi-million dollar homes within a 3 mile radius of the home.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @Mrs Pete

    What size house do you live in now? I see you're considering the financial /resale aspect of this build, but have you considered the time and money required for the maintenance of a house this size? While raising 3-4 kids? Don't fall into the "bigger is better" trap.

    Our previous home within the Boston MSA was just over 3,000 sq and 4 bd/3.5ba. We were fine with the maintenance and upkeep of our previous home. It was also a new build so that helped.

    I'd hold off on the pool 'til the youngest child is old enough to swim well. AND plan to install alarms on the doors. So much can go wrong so quickly with a pool and small children.

    We plan to put a temporary fence around the pool until the kids are old enough to swim and will try to teach them float on their backs as soon as possible. I like the idea about the alarms on the doors. Our previous home had a door chime for all exterior doors that we'll put in place here.

    Thoughts on the plan:

    I agree with those who say the bedrooms are arranged oddly. Personally, I'd like to keep the master near the garage entrance. This means you come home /have "your stuff" close. Let the kids walk to the far side of the house. The laundry fits in well near the garage too. Also, when the kids are teens, you'll be able to hear them coming in /will know whether they're on time.

    The best lake views are off the left side of the house, that is the major driving factor for having the master over there.

    I'd group the kids' bedrooms together in the area where you currently have the master ... but maybe lose the odd little bridge.

    This was already addressed in an earlier post of mine. We plan to move all bedrooms except the Casita to the left of the house. The "bridge" aka Gallery is actually one of our favorite unique features of the home that will allow guests to see the pool overlooking the lake immediately upon entry of the home.

    Working at home 50% of the time, I wouldn't want to move the office so often. Build it nice now and be done with it. I'd consider placing it in the basement away from the main living spaces.

    This was already addressed in an earlier post of mine. We are making the "study/nursery" my permanent office. I know this may be an issue with noise during the day when the kids are playing outside however I like the idea of being able to watch my kids while I'm working.

    I like how you connected the laundry to the master closet, but dryers are best when they're placed on an exterior wall. This allows the dryer to vent directly to the outside, which is cheaper to build, easier to keep clean, and more fire-safe.

    Our previous home didn't have it on an exterior wall and it was fine. I cleaned out the dryer vent with my electric leaf blower once a year and even then, there was minimal build up of lint in the vent.

    A nursery doesn't need a bathroom, and by the time the children are using the bathroom, you'd probably rather place their bedrooms a little farther away from your room.

    This was somewhat addressed in an earlier post of mine. This is now my permanent office. That bathroom also operates as a "pool bath" for folks to come in and dry off before entering the house.

    Do you grill out often? If so, you might want the kitchen to be closer to the back of the house.

    Yes, this is something I've been discussing with my wife. Potentially swapping the current kitchen and dining room, then placing an outdoor kitchen out under the covered patio.

    You and your wife will be raising the kids full-time. That's just the way it works, even if you hire someone to do the diaper changing and other such things. You two will always be the primary "raisers".

    Agreed, however an au-pair or grandparents can help lighten the load.

    What do you consider private? You've designed a place where the kids will be right on top of your bedroom. Or do you mean private from the main living area? The better you define what you want, the better your chances of getting it.

    Private from the main living area. The kids bedrooms either have a utility closet or bathroom separating our walls, that's enough for us.

    Yes, for several reasons: 1) Your habits aren't typical, and lack of a good pantry will hurt you on resale. 2) Your habits may change once you have children. 3) Pantries aren't just for food storage; they also store big crock pots, etc. And pantry storage is exponentially cheaper storing things in cabinets + countertops -- plus it's easier to see "all your stuff" when it's neatly set out on floor-to-ceiling shelves. I am in the camp of "small kitchen + large attached pantry". It's also easier to keep clean.
    We are heeding the advice of the forum and making room for a walk-in pantry mainly for resale. Personally, I don't mind having machines out on my countertops. We have a Nespresso Machine, Vitamix, Sandwich Press, Toaster Oven and Kettle constantly out on the counter. We use all of these items daily so I'd prefer not to constantly have to pull them out and put them away or walk into a pantry to use them everyday.

    Don't build anything that isn't going to be convenient. Don't build anything that isn't going to be used on a regular basis.

    Although it won't be used daily, a semi-dedicated dining area is required for resale purposes.

    So the pool will eventually be "below" the first-floor's view? With small children, I think you'd want a good view of the pool.

    No, the pool will be at the same level as the living areas elevated 15' feet in the air. My office will have full view of the pool.

    An "L" would work well for the rooms the OP wants.

    An "L" would increase our concrete slab costs by $50k to $100k because instead of needing 15' of slab, we would require 20' to 25'.

    Just think about whether your wife wants to be a slave to this massive size house.

    Yes, that's what I meant earlier when I said you should think long and hard about whether this is how you want to spend your resources ... and think about whether you'll still want to do it in 10, 20 years.

    This house in phase one will only be 500 to 700 sqft more than we had previously. We've had a maid service clean our home for the last 5 years and will continue to do the same in this home. We keep the place tidy between the bi-weekly cleanings.

    Kids aren't big fans of privacy -- not 'til they reach 14 or 15, and then closing a door is plenty of privacy. Small kids will want to be on top of you. Literally. Elementary-aged kids will want to play together /share toys. Grouping bedrooms together allows you to consolidate your plumbing (cheaper, more efficient, less opportunity for leaks). Later on, grouped bedrooms make less work when

    All rooms are now grouped together except for the Casita aka "the in-law suite".

    You don't have children and you are trying to plan for children. That is a hard one.

    Agree. You'll learn fast once the kids arrive, but -- at the moment -- you're kinda out in left field concerning what actually works with kids. This house says "all adults" to me.

    What are the areas that make it "all adults" given my responses above?

    I like the idea of making the mudroom a little more hidden. Our previous home had a mud room and it stayed clean no more than a day until it was overrun with shoes, bags, coats, gloves and dog stuff.

    Yes, hidden is good. Imagine how much faster it'll become cluttered once you add in diaper bags, car seats and little shoes.

    We are going to make it a larger mudroom than what we had previously as well as add cabinet doors, not just cubbies

    a) kids grow quickly and some become large individuals who tend to travel in packs.

    Yes, and consider that storage matters just as much as bedroom location. Don't focus on tiny babies -- consider years from now that your yet-unconceived children might need to store musical instruments, football shoulder pads, sleeping bags, prom dresses, etc.

    We'll use a portion of the basement space for this.

    c) design kid’s rooms so that you can eventually put in build-ins.

    But don't do built-ins with small children. Built-ins are very expensive, and small children are not great respecters of nice things.

    We're not fans of built-ins in general. It forces a furniture plan, they're expensive, they end up looking dated..numerous reasons we won't go with built-ins...

    This may also apply when you have teens as you will want to know when they come and go

    And you want to know who is coming /going in through your basement doors. I don't mean thieves -- I mean boyfriends or girlfriends.

    I'll have the security system wired to chime when doors are opened as well as security cameras at entrances to tell me that.

    f) when you have a pool you’ll have wet kids and pool towels to deal with so really think out usage. One of the most functional houses I have ever seen has a mud/laundry/powder room that opens onto the garage/pool for kids and then a separate pool entrance from “dry” living space.

    We have the powder room next to the Study/Nursery for exactly this purpose.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Do a 1/4” scale drawing of the main living area with corner fireplace. Then put furniture in to scale. After years of experience this is the toughest fireplace to place furniture with successfully. If you have TV then you will have 3 focal points. The “view”, the TV and the fireplace. You need to plan for 3’-4’ walk ways between dining area and living to get to deck and across the space When you do that it shrinks the living space. Start doing some scale layouts. You should see the many issues.

  • live_wire_oak

    When this ends up being twice as expensive as you hope, what’s going to be the first thing on the chopping block? The absolutely critical architectural sin of 15’ of concrete? And the engineering required to float a pool in mid air? You might as well be planning to put it on the roof.

    This isn’t a 1M build. It will be lucky to be a 2M build. The insistence to use money as the club to try to beat this lot to make a flatland designed house work is mind boggling to anyone familiar with construction. Even if that extra 1M is nothing to your financial well being, it’s still a foolish expense to try to mold the universe around you.

    You need a different lot for that house. A flat lot.

    Or you need a different design response to the lot than try to fill the slope with dollar bills.

  • David Cary

    I want to acknowledge that you are allowed to build whatever you want. But I hope you listen to the comment about people who buy view houses and then sell in 1-2 years. I also think you should acknowledge your naivety about this type of project and house.

    What is the largest house that you have lived in?

    Have you lived in a house with 18 foot ceilings? I will tell you that I built one when I was young and foolish. It was in a good area so I was able to sell and make some money (or break even).

    There is a feature house in my area. We call it the castle. I have known 2 of the owners. It was built for $5M and sold in foreclosure for $1.2M. Then $800k was put into it - and of course unoccupied for a year during that $800k. It was purchased for $2.2M - so basically a break even after the foreclosure/reno/realtor. The rest of the local market is comfortably up from the build time and this house is still valued at well below 50% of initial build cost - roughly 2004.

    The house is truly amazing in many ways. My wife and I often talk about it - we would not sacrifice our "modest" house to live there. Not just because it is ostentatious - although that is a factor. It is just impractical. Me and my partners were at a meeting there in the basement and every single one of us was looking to sell and buy smaller houses. Big (and fancy) houses are really great until they aren't. And to me - this isn't big so I am not really being critical of the size.

    I remember learning about the property tax issue in Austin. Really keeps prices modest. Have you looked into how they calculate values for something like this?

    It would seem to me that the tax issue does nothing to drive down building costs but it sure holds down resale prices. The wise financial decision would favor a small house everywhere but especially Austin. The net property tax just increased 47% for those with an income 2 years ago and I would argue the market hasn't factored it in yet. (That is losing deduction and 32% being typical marginal for a house like this). Also every marginal dollar has lost its mortgage deduction.

    Lastly - just poking - but will 2020 be hotter? Will people want to live in Austin when it is even hotter? I am personally glad I decided against Austin back in 2005. Listen to Larry Fink.

  • misecretary

    Does Texas tax square footage below grade? If not, I would investigate the minimum amount of sq. ft. that is required to be above grade. Seriously consider plopping the garage and the casita above grade and everything else built into the slope similar to a walk-out basement.

  • J Williams

    15’ though, isn’t exactly a basement, it is a full extra level for this potential house. I think one of the studios we rented once was 15’, loved it. I don’t think heating is much of a factor in Texas, but if it is, that whole lower level will still have to be heated even when not in use. On the up side, 1000 sq ft with potential high ceilings = a cool raw space for a gang of kids to fool around in.

  • just_janni

    I've done a LOT of structural concrete in my build and I expect my area's costs (Raleigh NC) are in line with Austin. If you add the pool now, and if you really engineer it correctly for the long haul and do the things you are talking about - like really good windows, I agree with LWO - this is a $2M bid. I did a bunch of retaining wall work (engineered) to retain 11'-12' of earth in the deepest area and it was $185K 5 years ago. Costs are WAY UP now and if the "usual" is a 15' slab, there's a reason for that - if you then turn that solid chuck into something that has to have deeper footings and retain a bunch of earth in the front - the basement costs will likely be more than the slab - by quite a bit - because of the labor and engineering required. (And if this is not "normally" done - be extra cautious with the builder and the subs to execute the specifications). Do you have a builder sitting in with you on these meetings and reviewing these things as you go to ensure he can contract to build you a house in a fixed price contract for your expectations? If not - and even if so - I am concerned about when you go to put pen to paper and TRULY quote this out.

    I also really can't understand why folks are determined to put a flat lot house on a highly sloped lot - regardless of how it's done "all the time". You will have to little connection with the outside. :-(

    I would also consider that Austin isn't as laid back as you might think it is. It's a high tech hub and work expectations are more in line with Silicon Valley than Podunk, AR.

  • J Williams

    Maybe the land was cheaper, ie, they could get a whole acre vs a small building lot?

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I have found in my practice that it is better to build with the land than against it, at many different levels.

  • Seabornman

    It's amazing. Developers turn stony ex-ranch land a goat can't survive on into gated communities for the one percent. All for the "views".

    The buyers don't have to worry about taxes, efficiency, electric bills, upkeep, where their furniture goes, or resale value. So giving helpful hints (or long diatribes) concerning any of that is a waste of time.

  • jslazart

    I know you've explored a lot of options. Did you exhaust the option of tucking the garage under the house? It feels like that would open up so many other possibilities, in terms of layout, not to mention getting better light inside the main level of the house.

    I know you said you aren't worried about not having southern light in your climate, so one more argument and then I'll shut up: My climate is not far off (hello from Tucson), and I have a house with the same orientation you are planning (front faces east, back faces west, 14' ceilings, east and west porches, garage on the south side). The only southern window I have is in the powder room off the garage, which makes that the most pleasant room in the house (until you remember it's a tiny room consisting mainly of a toilet). It's very unfortunate.

    I AM going to dissent on others' opinions of the corner fireplace. We have two. They are fine. In the southwest, there are a lot of cozy corner fireplaces (think kivas) and I never thought anything of it until I arrived here.

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    Too many words; not enough drawings.

  • J Williams

    Omg the goat comment lol. There must be some wildlife that exists there? I was curious, can the water actually be used for recreation? Like swimming, boating? Looks like a series of canals dug into some hilly land.

  • A S

    Let’s all remember that this post is less than a week old and has 100+ comments. I doubt none of the homeowners or architects on this thread work quickly enough to elicit change in that short of a time period. OP has already said they appreciate the comments. Perhaps they need tome to digest them and discuss with the professional they are paying.

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    Castles are almost always on the high ground.

    2018-19 El Dorado Hills Ridgeview Village · More Info

    Pool level is about 18' below the main level. This one has only about 500 sf of walk out finished but it could of accomodated 2000-2500 sf below. The views on clear winter days are hundreds of miles.

  • cpartist

    We plan to discuss the pool build with our builder and architect during the next meeting. We were concerned with how they would get machinery out there if they don't construct it during the initial build. FYI, We plan to have the pool on the main level, aka 15' in the air. We understand this is more expensive however building the pool down below loses the enjoyment of the views we purchased this lot for.

    You should be concerned. Whereas now your pool might be a $200,000 - $300,000 build, once the house is built for them to even attempt building a pool would double or triple the cost.

    Deed restrictions require the 3 car garage to be non-front facing unfortunately.

    @Jeff Grenz You are correct on this being a $1M+ build with the pool.

    No, the house itself without the pool will be well over $1M.

    We already had plans to put the covered deck space out by the living room and 366 Low E windows so we're not too concerned with the sun light. If we do find it uncomfortable, we will add motorized blinds.

    I have a friend who built in FL for the west views. Only problem is when the sun is setting she can't use her lanai at all and needs to put shades down or it's too hot and too blinding. Sort of defeats the purpose of having the views doesn't it? And yes, she has 366 Low E windows.

    Unfortunately you seem very set in that you want what you want and you're really not willing to listen to all the excellent advice that has been given. Have you even read the Sarah Susanka book that was recommended upthread? The Not So Big House? She calls it that, but what she emphasizes is building a right sized house.

    You are correct about the long walk from the garage to the master bedroom, however we are okay with that. Our previous home had two flights of stairs to get up to our master from the garage.

    The idea of building a custom house is not to just be OK with things because it was worse in your last home. The idea is to have everything be as great as possible. When building custom, the house should work for you, not the other way around. Otherwise if you're "settling" you might as well just buy an already built house.

    The corner fire place is a personal choice, my wife doesn't want a see-through fireplace.

    Have you ever had a corner fireplace? Tried to arrange furniture around one?

    And why not do a solution like I did. I put the TV over the fireplace but used a Mantel Mount. And if you are really creative, you can even design it so it's enclosed behind some sort of "cabinet" with stained glass or painted panels, etc so it becomes artwork over the fireplace when not in use.

    Here's pics of my mantel mount both raised and down. I'm eventually going to figure out some sort of cover for it like I described above.

    TV Up on fireplace wall.

    TV pulled down to watch on fireplace wall.

  • A S

    CP just because a poster replies with their reasons about why they are or are not following the public forums advise doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Yes they likely are set on many things. As most people are when building. People take what the want from the comments and leave the rest.

  • cpartist

    CP just because a poster replies with their reasons about why they are or are not following the public forums advise doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Yes they likely are set on many things. As most people are when building. People take what the want from the comments and leave the rest.

    I agree we all do take what we want and leave the rest, but when pros and those with lots of building experience tell the OP over and over they might want to rethink something, and yet the OP doesn't seem to be hearing it, I felt I needed to point it out.

    In this case I was referring the the height of the wall, the pool and the window placement.

  • A S

    Yes people on the internet are always a reliable source of information to be taken seriously vs discuss with your real life architect and partner/wife who have specific personal preferences.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @misecretary If we cut and fill, it would be more expensive than pouring concrete slab. Most of the area we are in is limestone and bedrock, so there is not much good fill to be had.

  • misecretary

    I tried ! ; ) Thanks for 'filling' me in. haha

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Morning folks! A couple points. The building ground conditions of Raleigh, NC and Austin are quite different. Austin, around Lake Travis is primarily limestone. The cost will be higher in Austin. So, “cutting into” that slope will most likely involve blasting rock. I could be wrong, but a “soil analysis” will confirm what you have on this site. Mark’s point about embracing the site is well taken. I am restraining myself and I suspect others here are too, from putting pencil to paper and redesigning this home. One thing is certain, this location will support almost any amount of dollars you put in. And low e windows in Texas are helpful but that summer sun is brutal. You will need remote controlled sun shades. I just installed them for a client in a new build on a telescoping glass wall 15’ wide and 8’ high. Not cheap! I highly recommend thinking that through now. Window treatments of any kind are a substantial cost. If you plan them at this stage, you will save a lot of money and get the function and look you desire. I offer my new building checklist again to you. Just email me at I believe it would be very helpful to you and your wife.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    Quite frankly this thread has garnered more comments that I could have imagined and its tough to keep up with responding to everyone.

    We are listening to everyones comments and see a couple themes that I'll address here instead of individually.

    Building Against the Land vs. With the Land

    Yes you are all correct, we are making a conscious decision to spend an extra $100k or so to prop the house up 15' in the air on concrete vs. accepting that the house should form with the land. Many builders have told us the same thing when we were doing our due diligence on the land. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to fork up the cash to prop the house up instead of building an upside down house where the upstairs is 1,000 sqft and downstairs is 2,000 sq ft. The major reason driving this is the lake view. Our property is not on the water and by building upside down you lower the house down to the point that you only get partial lake views with other homes obstructing the view below. See photos below.

    Facing East (Left side of lot)

    Facing SouthEast (Right side of lot)

    Facing North (Left side of lot)

    Alternative Layouts

    We have explored more options than discussed in this thread so I'll explain why we're not doing some of the major ones:

    Upside down house - cheaper yes, but almost entirely eliminates the view

    "L" shaped house (with the row of garges in the short part of the "L") - pushes the house too far down the lot increasing slab costs to $150k+

    "H" shaped house (with two garages in front on one side and one on the other) - pushes the house too far down the lot increasing slab costs to $135k+

    Tuck garages underneath house Only allows for a 2 car garage or a 4 car tandem garage (we don't want to have to play musical cars especially on a heavily sloped driveway.


    Yes, property taxes are very high in Austin (2.2% of the assessed value in this neighborhood). We fully anticipate a bill of $25k to $30k and have budgeted for it accordingly. The upside of the tax structure is that we get excellent schools (Lake Travis ISD is rated one of the top in TX) and no state income tax.

    Outdoor Living

    We fully understand that we will not have a yard in the back and are okay with that. The covered patios and pool are fine for us. We will have a 25' set back from the street on which we will have all the grass we need. I understand the downside is that we cannot let the kids play in the front or back yard unsupervised for a number of years and we've accepted that.

    The Architect and Builder

    We have only had two in person meetings and exchanged a few emails thus far. We are at the VERY EARLY stages of designing this home. The architect and builder were present in both meetings and are on all emails. Some of the decisions on this build are driven by the direction of the views and others by our personal preferences. In each and every case we ask "how much would this have been if we did it the 'conventional' way?" and either accept or modify our choice depending on the dollar figure and complexity. This thread has been up less than a week and so they have not yet provided us with a version 4.


    We know our taste is unconventional here. We know it forces our furniture into a certain configuration and made the same conscious decision in our previous home and picked our previous apartment because of the corner fireplace. We angle our sectional in such a way that both the TV and fireplace can be enjoyed at the same time.


    We plan to produce a mock-up of the plans with furniture placement however it is changing too much at the moment to do so.

    Jack n' Jill Bathrooms

    In most cases, these will be used by kids not adults. I like the idea of Powder Room + Shower/Tub + Powder Room as an option. We will explore all bathroom options depending on sq/ft / cost and decide from there. We are not sold on JnJ bathrooms yet, it was a simple measure to cut down on plumbing fixtures and sq ft.


    We are good friends with someone at a major building supply company that has already arranged to get us cost + a very minor markup on windows and doors. This will allow us to get very high end windows while staying on budget. Please keep in mind that there are several windows missing in the current design that we've already asked the architect to add in.


    We fully understand that the bids that come back may make the plans a $1.5M+ home. If this is the case, we have already come up with a prioritized list of things to modify. 1. Eliminate the basement and make it all 15' slab. 2. Shrink the house a bit in the living, dining and kitchen areas. 3. Eliminate the pool 4. Cut our losses and sell the land. We hope it doesn't get to 4 however if it does, we can turn around and sell the land for what we bought it for minus the 5% real estate fee and architect fees. The Austin real estate market is very strong. We keep 2+ years of expenses worth in a high-yield savings account at all times so if we have to hold onto the home during a recession in which I experience job loss, we should be okay.

    House Size

    We have owned and lived in houses of this size our whole lives. This house will be in the 25th percentile in terms of size on the street and at the 50th percentile once the basement is finished. We are very conscious of NOT building a "Castle", "McMansion" or whatever coined phrase is used this days for an oversized house with many idle rooms. Almost every space in this house will be used daily other than the Casita which is reserved for long-term guest or an au-pair.


    We are in our 30s and just starting a family, not anywhere close to retired. We moved to Austin to slow down our pace of life with everything not related to work. Austin is a young vibrant city that serves many demographics and we really enjoy it here thus far. We could have immediately bought a home but decided to rent and feel it out first at which point we came across this land a few months ago once we realized we are here to stay. Our rental is 5 mins from the lot and 45 mins from the airport. I choose what time of day I want to fly and so therefore commuting/traffic is not an issue for me at all.

    General Feedback

    We read, listen and weigh every single comment into our decisions. I may not comment on it specifically, however that doesn't mean I haven't listened to what you've posted. Some are duplicative, some we've explored prior to posting here and some are based on opinion (e.g. fireplace) however each and every comment is greatly appreciated. We hope to be able to share an updated plan with everyone soon and get comments and reactions to that.

    I hope this helps clarify a few reasons behind our decisions.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Great info. Thanks for taking the time to summarize. It will also help others to "catch" up. One of the reasons you have garnered so many comments is because the "project" is interesting and challenging! We love that! A word on the taxes. The property will be "assessed" based on "appraised value" in the market at time of completion. Unfinished areas are generally not considered in the "appraised value" so leaving a basement unfinished (aside from typical infrastructure items such as plumbing and some limited HVAC planning, won't typically be counted. What you put into the cost of the build is not relevant. That's where the rub comes in. So, being careful now will help with that initial tax assessment. You have a good handle on finances so far, so keep in mind, deductions for homes on the National front are going to disappear in the next 10 years with larger blanket deductions. So factor that into your longer range thinking. I got your email and have sent the "checklist". I think you will find it helpful.

  • cpartist

    Yes thank you for summarizing.

  • lindacottonwood

    Well I certainly appreciated Flo's checklist. It was very informative and valuable. I had built custom homes before and her list provided things that are often overlooked. She always generously shares information to all. Not spam in my opinion.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Thanks Lindacottomwood.

  • PRO
    Edmond Kitchen & Bath LLC

    You should talk to a designer. They do things differently than architects - and have different training, experience, and ideas. Rather than egress, loads, and codes, designers look at the living aspects of the home. Functionality and designs you will be living with for years to come. I would never consider building a home without one....but of course I am married to one and see the things she does.

  • J Williams

    Nice to be the overlooker not looked upon. I guess you have considered building up, to capitalize on the views?

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @J Williams Ha, I guess you can put it that way. Our preference would be to be on the edge of the water however the land alone would have been $600k to $1M so we "settled" for lake views from the highest point for several miles instead.

    Yes, we're building up to capitalize on views and have accepted that it comes at the cost of having a real backyard and higher cost of construction associated with building against the land instead of with the land.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Did you get a "perk" test for septic before you purchased the lot? This area is tricky in that regard.

  • smitrovich

    You’re smart not to pay the money for lakefront in that area as many of us remember the drought that lasted several years. Lake levels in that portion of the Colorado are not maintained (as they are in other areas in Austin) so the lake looked like a dried up puddle for quite a while (years). Lakefront property owners house values plummeted. Local businesses closed. You could get lake front lots for <$100k. Also, in that area, I think the views are nicer from the hilltops anyways. Your views are very nice.

  • Dayne Thornicroft

    @Flo Mangan We did not conduct the perculation test for septic. We were quoted a slightly higher amount for septic on this lot as we will need to cut and fill to create a flat drainage field below the home. We spoke to the builder that built the $1.35M home in this development and he said they had no problems with soil drainage.

  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    Great. Probably up high enough.

  • scout

    Great looking lot. I just wanted to add that you stated the master bedroom was situated for the best views. I live in a large glass home with views. While the master has great views, I am rarely in there except to sleep, when it it dark. IMO the best views should be from the great room area, where the family and guests will spend the most time. Also, as CP artist says, be careful with west facing windows. When the sun sets, the living area of my house gets very hot and you cannot sit in part of it due to the blinding sun. I am in the process of order solar motor shades (not cheap - be sure to budget for window coverings!).

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268