On this snow-stormy Sunday, I turn my attention to the ‘B’ word – no, not blizzard… budget. Michael and I are still in a daze after Wednesday’s budget meeting with Architect Vincent and Builder Nick. Last night was our first opportunity to talk openly with friends about our budget, plans, goals and compromises to our dream home to-date. It was truly helpful to discuss it all openly. Everyone was supportive and ideas were helpful and will be considered.
I’ve realized over these past few days that it’s all well and good to share goals and plans, but rarely, it seems, do people talk about the real dollars – what things cost and what they can afford. I realize in hind-sight that Michael and I have been discussing the money aspect with our design/build team, but not with our friends and family. And, quite frankly, that’s rather silly. I think that once we start hiding numbers, it’s akin to keeping secrets and that alienates us from the very people who can be supportive, understanding and helpful.
Since beginning this journally of our build adventure, people have been telling us they’re keen on following this blog, as it may guide them to decisions around if and how they would build a home one day. I’m feeling a sense of responsiblity so will endeavour to report truths and that includes talking about dollars.
So, back to the budget… to say the least, Wednesday’s meeting was a real shocker. With Vincent’s expertise over these past months, we had reined in our expectations, reduced the square footage, selected the least costly materials and created an efficient design that minimized use of materials and time; all the while maintaining an efficient, tight, functional and attractive design.
The amount we wanted to spend on the entire build, not including the land, was $150,000. We were told by some that you can’t build anything in the Valley for less than $250,000. But we like a challenge and Vincent agreed with us that clever design could bring that number down. Plus, through our good friend, Angie Campbell, we found Nick Bentley, who had built her home this past summer for $125,000. That, in itself, was highly encouraging. Check out Angie’s house here on Tiny House Talk.
Vincent calculated $193,000 for our whole build, including photovoltaic panels, the screen porch and the built-on outdoor storage shed. Higher than $150,000, but a number we could live with, considering we’d have a super-efficient, very nice home, custom designed just for us. It’s also more than Angie’s $125,000, but our exterior dimensions will be 1,344 square feet compared to her 1080 square feet. Certainly much more reasonable than the mystical starting point of $250,000.
Then Nick laid out his budget… $257,000. To arrive at this number, Nick dropped our screen porch, our photovoltaic panels, our exterior storage and ALL of our built-ins. If he were to add those items back in, we’d be looking at $280,000! To Nick’s credit, he budgets real numbers, based on quotes from his suppliers and recent projects he’s done. He tells you what he really feels it will cost. Some builders will bid low and then bill for all the over-budget costs later.
But, why the $87,000 difference between Vincent’s and Nick’s numbers? That’s what we’re still trying to come to grips with. We understand that our place is a little larger than Angie’s but it is by no means extravagant. But we also understand that we are building smaller and simpler than most.
By breaking the amounts down to dollars per square foot, we can compare apples to apples:
Angie’s 18′ x 20′ = 1,080 sq ft @ total cost of $125,000 = $116 per sq ft
Ours (Vincent’s budget) 22′ x 28′ = 1,344 sq ft @ total cost of $193,000 = $144 per sq ft
Ours (Nick’s budget) 22′ x 28′ = 1,344 sq ft @ total cost of $280,000 = $208 per sq ft
So, here we are… snowy Sunday, spending much of the day brainstorming ways to further reduce costs, which we’ll be discussing with Vincent this week. And, planning strategies: Do we change building construction? For instance, would a straw bale or cord wood house be cheaper, as was suggested last night? Do we consider a three story build to make our foot print smaller? If we seek quotes from other builders, do we show them our numbers to see if they can do it for our price? How can we trust them? How can we trust anyone? Do we consider being our own general contractors, hiring our trades and overseeing the project? Would that really save us money or will our inexperience cost us more?
There are so many variables to consider, so many decisions and so many questions – most pressing of those being why a $64 per square foot price discrepancy between architect and builder? …I think we’ll go outside and sit in a snow drift.