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

Dayne Thornicroft
5 days ago
last modified: 5 days ago

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 (171)

  • Seabornman

    This is the $1.35 million house for sale in same development. BTW you don't see kids when you drive through these areas. The only people you see are the help.

  • A S

    There are many kids who live in homes well over a million dollars and they definitely play outside. The house above isn’t ideal for kids play but sure shows the love of concrete! The cost of this house is somewhat irrelevant as different houses have different price points depending on where they are. Since a lot in Vancouver can’t be bought for under one million, for example, it makes all homes appear quite pricey. Without context the number seems huge but it’s simply the norm here

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    I apologize in advance for the long post, but hopefully something that I say will be helpful for you. In my experience, the best first step to building a custom home (before finding a builder or architect or interior designer) is determining your budget. If you already have the cash, great! Otherwise, talk to a few construction lenders and and ask them to pre-qualify you for a loan. This will tell you how much they are willing to lend to you, but make sure that the monthly payment is not more than you can comfortably afford. Armed with this information, I would then suggest that you talk with a few reputable builders in your area and ask them to give you a ballpark estimate of the price per square foot to build based on the size of the house and the quality of finishes that you want. This will help you to determine whether it is feasible to build the house you want within your budget. If those numbers match up, you are now ready to select your team! I say "team", because you need to find a group of professionals that have the common goal of helping you design and build a house you love within the budget you have set. You can start by looking for either an architect or a builder. It does not really matter which you find first, because you are going to quickly identify the other before pressing forward with your project. But I agree with what BLDG Workshop said, after making sure that they are reputable and well qualified, choose people that you like and get along with. If your personalities clash in your initial interviews, find someone else. Typically a good architect will be able to recommend good builders and vice versa. The reason that you want both on your team upfront is so that everyone can consult with each other to value engineer the home. For example, on one of our recent projects (as the builder) we suggested a design change to the architect that used girder trusses instead of beams to support the roof. This change looked better and saved the client thousands of dollars! In our experience, people who work exclusively with an architect first often end up with a beautifully designed home that they love but can't afford to build. They run into similar problems starting with an interior designer. However, when they start with a reasonable budget and then select a team of professionals whose goals are to work together to give them the best value for their dollar, the projects run smoother and generally everyone is happier in the end! I recognize that this is not how most people approach the process of building a custom home, at least not in my area. And it does take more work upfront to find the right people for your team. But I think that you will have a much more enjoyable experience building your home and be happier with the results in the end if you follow these steps. Good luck with your project!
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  • Mrs Pete

    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.

    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.

    ~$150k pool budget in year two and plans to finish out of the basement further down the line.

    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.

    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.

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

    - 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.

    - 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.

    - 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.

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

    We plan to have my wife raise the kids until they are pre-k age. After that we will likely hire an au-pair so she can work again.

    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".

    We like our privacy in the master suite but enjoy an open layout everywhere else.

    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.

    Pantry - we eat a lot of fresh food and get grocery deliveries every other day so we don’t really store much food.

    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 don’t anticipate using the current dining space that often so being near the kitchen isn’t a high priority

    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.

    Yes downhill slope off the back.

    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.

    An "L" shaped home

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

    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.

    What is the downside to having three bedrooms separated from one another? Wouldn't it give each kid more privacy as they got older?

    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

    - you're putting kids to bed /doing bedtime reading -- we used to pile the kids into one bed, read to everyone together, and we rotated rooms -- but you don't want them to have to walk across the house once the bedtime routine is done.

    - you're getting the kids up in the morning -- you don't want to walk across the house multiple times to wake the kids, then to verify that they're actually up and getting dressed.

    - you're putting away clean clothes -- you don't want to walk back and forth between rooms because you've put Child 1's tee-shirt in with her older brother's clothes. Sure, you're saying, "But they'll put away their own clothes" -- and they will. When they're about seven, so that's a lot of years for you to haul things around.

    - you want to be able to clean bedrooms (or bathrooms) all together. You don't want to clean one bathroom, then tote your basket of cleaning supplies across the whole house.

    - you're taking care of sick kids.

    - you want to store the kids' extra linens, sleeping bags, etc. near their rooms -- which is harder when they're spread out across the house.

    - you're moving outgrown clothes to another kid's closet (this is a constant chore).

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Yes, excellent idea.

  • J Williams

    I wonder if that turf will survive?

  • J Williams

    Yes here, 1 million buys a house like mine. My house is 15’ wide by whatever. It does have a good depth though, considering the area. There are no luxury finishes here or view.

  • A S

    Yep a house on our street that is a tear down but on a 13,000 square foot lot sold for $1.695. Huge lot for in the city, well north shore but still

  • misecretary

    I wouldn't think you would have to keep that horrific slope if you don't want it. Hire an experienced bull dozer operator / earth mover / whatever and have the company prep the land before you pour any cement. Once there is a flat area, pour 4 cement walls and invite the company back to re-arrange the earth around your place again. Has got to be more appealing than pouring a 15' to 20 ft high slab of cement.

    You could put the pool in front of the house behind a very tasteful fence.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    You have a house designed for a flat lot placed on a strongly sloped site.


  • katinparadise


  • suezbell

    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.

    Would building restrictions permit you to move your home back on the lot so that the "flat' front part of the lot is your front yard and all of your home is behind that with a full basement/downstairs that you go ahead and finish as your primary living area open to your pool on something much closer to being on the same level?

  • suezbell

    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. They share a tub /shower -- water pressure issues likely means having only one shower going at a time anyway -- but the occupants of the two rooms don't share a powder room.

  • suezbell

    Something else worth considering: There are different ways to build a split level -- which might be more practical than a half basement if the home were moved farther back on the lot.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

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

    You have to redesign to USE the slope as inspiration for the design, and have that ground level be your family room and kitchen where you monitor kid activity. This means a multi level home, with a large part of that on a lower level on the lower part of the slope. That’s not a traditional “basement”. Its more like a traditional tri-level. 15’ of a concrete platform is just another deal breaker. Are you working with the firm’s junior or something?

  • J Williams

    The pool could maybe go in the front or at the side.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    Most want a private pool experience. The only front yard pools that I’ve seen were in resort areas where they were on the beach and located between the house and beach. Or, the above grounds that had to get the closest to the water spigot out in the country, down the dirt road where there was no real traffic or other houses.

    Even if placed on the side, and it splits the 15’ difference, that’s still 7’ of stairs to access up and down to get there. That’s not going to be the pool party house if the indoor outdoor connection is so poor. And I think that is part of what’s bothering me so much about the plans.

    The house is disconnected from the site. It isn’t designed for it. It’s like your architects recycled a plan and just plopped it down, To get from inside to out will be a chore. An unpleasant chore, if it’s 15’ in the air. Humans are adaptable, but they take the easiest path. They will just stay indoors rather than use the expensive pool. Because it will be difficult to get to and use. Unless the house is designed to connect to the site, and foster than indoor outdoor connection.

  • One Devoted Dame

    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!

    [Side note: My husband and I ran across a rental several years ago, where the backyard was over 10' down -- solid concrete pad (if you can even call it a 'pad'), and we were like, "Dang, no way. The kids would fall off the first floor deck and kill themselves in the backyard on the first day." This was also in town, on a small lot, with clay soil to boot! Not even gonna try to imagine how much that block of concrete had shifted/cracked over the 15-20 years the house was sitting there. :-O ]

  • J Williams

    The garage could go at front to act as a buffer or the living areas could be at the side, you could do spilt levels, the casita could be a separate building by the pool, the house could be courtyard style.....doesn’t seem like all ideas have been explored.

  • partim

    Some of the most beautiful (and expensive) homes in Toronto are built down a slope into a ravine. They don't look like much from the street - a 3 car garage, pathway to the front door, and not a lot else. But from the ravine side - wow. 3 or 4 levels with huge windows onto the view.

  • suezbell

    If you're going to wait to build the pool, at least create a terrace for it now as you do the grading for your home -- a level space beyond the flat yard directly behind your home.

  • jo_in_tx

    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. It's just not convenient. I sincerely hope you have plans for a large deck off of the living area of your house, because you'll need it for indoor/outdoor entertaining.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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