If I can be honest, there is one question I get over and over (no matter the location) that I really don’t like to answer: How much do you charge per square foot?

I would like to suggest that this is the wrong question to ask if you are thinking about building a custom home. The question is always well-intentioned, but nevertheless, it is a frustrating question to try to answer, probably because there isn’t a straightforward answer and it’s wildly subjective.

If you were shopping for a car, would you ask a dealer, What is the cost per pound for this car? Probably not, right? We all know that the brand, model, and features of any given vehicle will dramatically affect the cost of a car—while how much the car weighs has very little to do with the overall price. 

Yet the most common question I get pertains to the cost per square foot, so I will attempt to answer it as best I can! 

The “Cost Per Square Foot” Question

Any home builder should be able to go through their past projects, determine the final cost of every home, and then average out what the eventual price per square foot came to. But you would be making a mistake if you used that average number to make assumptions about how much it might cost to build the home you want to build.

Why? Because every property is different, every home build is different, and every homeowner is different. You might like a Tudor style of house with lots of wood and loads of natural stone accents throughout. Or perhaps you’d like to go with a modern look, where everything is very minimal where build materials are hidden away in exchange for more open lighting and larger windows. These are very different kinds of builds, which will have very different final costs. The cost per square foot to build one house won’t be even close to the other. On top of this, the land itself will require different permits, grading, utility installation, etc. On top of that, material and labor costs are constantly changing, so using pricing from a month ago may be out of date.

What Question Should You Ask Instead?

During an initial consultation with a custom home builder, you should ask for a good faith estimate. At Gowler Homes, we call this a Budget Proposal.

You should ask the builder to provide a good faith estimate to build a home in the style, size, and finish level that you envision, on the specific lot that you intend to build on. The cost of homes built last year or even a few months ago should have no bearing on what it will cost to build your home, especially if you are designing a completely custom plan. Instead, during the consultation, you should go over your specific needs and wants, as well as the specific design criteria, restrictions, and requirements of your particular lot.  This includes the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, garage size, etc., and also your expectation in terms of the level of finishes and kinds of materials you desire (exterior materials, outdoor living, HVAC system, trim, doors, windows, flooring, lighting, etc).

A builder won’t be able to give you an on-the-nose price at this stage of the process, but with these insights you provide, they should be able to offer you a good faith estimate of what your budget expectations should be.

Now you can see why using cost per square foot can be a misleading metric when considering building a custom home. Asking for a builder’s cost per square foot is the wrong question. A better question is, ‘What is an appropriate budget for the kind of home I want, and what are the expected finishes and inclusions in that budget?’

You wouldn’t buy a car based on its price per pound, and you shouldn’t select a custom home builder based on price per square foot. 

It’s Not All About Price

It is important for you to hire a builder who will steward your money and provide maximum value when building a custom home. However, your decision should not be based on price. It’s about trust, communication, quality, the process, the team, and ensuring that there is compatibility in terms of design style, vision, and ability to execute the vision. 

If you are considering building a custom home, we’d like to meet with you and hear about your needs. We’d also like to tell you about our process and see if we might be the right home builder for your project. To learn more and to discover if building a custom home with Gowler Homes is the right fit for you, give us a call. We look forward to learning about your needs and wants!

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