Cost per Square Foot: Is this the right question to ask your builder?

“What’s the cost per square foot?”

If we had a penny for every time a potential client asked this, we’d have filled a whole lot of piggy banks by now. And while we’re always happy to answer this question, it’s not always a simple figure. Below, we walk you through the considerations behind “cost per square foot” and some of the most important factors behind the numbers. We hope this helps you make more confident decisions for your new home!

You Asked, Trilogy Answered!

Q: How do you calculate the price per square foot to build a home?

A: A lot of things play into price per square foot. First off, the price per square foot is based on the conditioned square footage of the house. When you hear stats about a 1500-square-foot house, 1500 is the conditioned square footage. If you add a two-car garage, the house is still considered 1500 square feet, but now it comes with additional costs for concrete, walls, drywall, electrical, roofing, etc. on top of the 1500 square feet of the actual house. So suddenly your price per square foot just increased because you're including a two-car garage and/or a covered porch.

Q: Does the location play a role in the price?

A: Absolutely. Price per square foot is also dependent on the terrain of the property—if it slopes quite a bit, for example, it’ll affect the foundation and how much it costs to lay it. Ditto if you’re putting in a septic system and a well. All of these factors can influence the cost.

Q: How about amenities? 

A: It’s equally important to factor amenities into the price. For example, a lot of people want the back patio to be covered so they can barbecue and sit outside. Some folks want a waterfall, custom high-end kitchen cabinets, or other selections that can widely vary in price. If you want a fancy built-in pantry or marble shower, for example, that would raise the cost per square foot.

Q: How does Trilogy determine costs?

A: It’s no secret material and labor costs have gone up not just in the Ridge, but all over California and the country. So when people ask us about the price per square foot, we want to make sure we’re honest with them. Then when the job is completely done with the house, the client can look back at us and say we were fair and told them upfront about what the process will look like, any potential issues we might run into, and what we have to do to get to completion. Our True Quote process, which gives our clients a firm number they can count on. It gives a level of detail not all contractors do.

Q: It sounds like “cost per square foot” might not be the most comprehensive question to ask if I want to build a home. What should I ask instead?

A: While price per square foot is a common starting question in the construction industry, it’s vague, inconsistent across contractors, and most likely won’t get you the exact answer you need. A better question is: “can you build [your dream house] for [this budget]?" Share your wishlist and your entire building budget with your contractor. If you need to stay within that budget, be sure your contractor can build you a home that sticks to it—without any surprises.

Q: So how can I find a contractor who will build within my budget and style? 

A: Consider what kind of builder you want to work with in the coming years. Make sure you choose somebody you’re going to be happily married to for a minimum of 10 years. Especially right out of the gate, you might have questions or structural issues you’ll need to work with them on. 

Q: What questions should you ask when interviewing contractors?

A: Start with, “What’s your relationship like with your subcontractors and vendors?” A good contractor has stable, reliable subcontractors and vendors they trust—not a list of whoever’s available at the moment. Then ask, “How do you communicate?” This is key to the whole project, so make sure they communicate the same way you do. Some people prefer to communicate in a phone call, email, or just job site visits. Know what your preferences are and be upfront about them.

Q: Any final advice?

A: It’s really important to talk about scheduling with both your builder and contractor. Construction loans are typically a higher rate than regular loans, so make sure you understand the terms and if it works with the schedule for the build. If you're going to get a construction loan, the last thing you want to be doing is paying interest on it longer than necessary because of a lax schedule.

At Trilogy, we value the relationships we have with our clients. It’s why we’re always honest about the building process from start to finish. Transparency and trustworthiness are key in our business, and they’re just some of the reasons we’re not just good builders, but good neighbors. Contact us to find out how we can help with your new home!

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