Why you shouldn’t focus on cost per square foot…

Finding the right builder for your residential or commercial building project is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. You have a vision of what you want in your new home or office and you’ll be spending a lot of time discussing your plans, choosing your options and making tough decisions with your builder. Of course you need to make sure you can get what you want within your budget – that goes without saying. However, you also want to make sure the builder you choose will listen to your ideas, work with you to find the best solutions, and ultimately deliver the home, renovation or commercial space of your dreams.

rebuild after a fire - outside back   rebuild After a Fire - kitchen   Rebuild after a fire - finished lower level   Rebuild after a fire - bathroom

With all this in mind, perhaps the least important question you can ask a prospective builder is, “What will be the cost per square foot?” Yet, that’s the question many clients ask us when they first contact Scholl Construction about their project. Unfortunately, square foot measurements can be extremely confusing, especially if you are trying to compare the cost per square foot of building new to the price per square foot of a pre-owned property you might see on real estate sites like Zillow. In the pre-owned real estate marketplace, the price per square foot of two identical homes could vary if one of the homes has unfinished space. Real estate listings do not include garages and unfinished space in the overall square feet of a house. Therefore, a home with a finished basement will have a lower price per square foot than the same home with an unfinished basement because the home with the finished basement will have more finished square feet to spread out the home cost.

  Open Concept Living Room with View into Kitchen   Upstairs Full Bathroom   Master Bedroom

So, putting aside any comparison to a pre-owned home or commercial building, why is the cost per square foot a poor way to compare contractors when looking to build or renovate your home or office? The answer is that every project is completely different and the cost per square foot is going to depend on a wide range of factors. Also keep in mind, we’re not just talking about the finish materials that will obviously affect the cost per square foot. Clearly, if you choose a $4.50 per square foot flooring option vs. an option priced at $2.50 per square foot, you have just increased your cost by $2 per square foot for that area of your project. As we hope you’ll see as you continue reading, the cost per square foot will also vary greatly depending on what you want in the basic structure of your home or commercial space.

Let’s break it down
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you want to construct a 1,600 square foot space. Consider the following scenarios and imagine how the cost per square foot would be affected in each case.

  • We construct a square 40-foot x 40-foot building and put a roof on it. Even the cost per square foot for this very simple 1,600 square foot box could vary widely depending on whether you are building a house using lumber or a commercial structure out of steel and also what kind of siding and roofing you choose.
  • But wait, do you want a kitchen or bathrooms in the building? How about windows? How many, and would the windows be vinyl, aluminum clad or wood? These elements require additional materials and construction time. Although you still have 1,600 square feet, the cost per square foot increases with construction of each wall, door or window within the original space.
  • How many bedrooms and closets or, in the case of a commercial space, how many offices? Again, square footage remains the same, but construction materials, effort and, therefore, cost per square foot increase.
  • Maybe you want a fireplace. Will it be a traditional (and costly) full masonry fireplace or a newer-style metal fireplace? Either way, a fireplace increases the cost without adding to the square feet of the building, so the cost per square foot goes up again.
  • Do you want a full basement, a half basement with a crawl space or a slab foundation? Each of these options has a different effect on the cost per square foot.
  • Is this building going to be single- or multi-story? The cost per square foot will be higher for a single story structure.
  • Perhaps you don’t want a square building and envision an L-shape, a bumped-out sunroom, or other configuration to give you 1,600 square feet on your available land. Every additional turn or corner built into the foundation and external structure will increase the cost per square foot, as will architecturally interesting roof lines with dormers or other features.

Front Door Entrance   Open Concept Kitchen with Large Island   Master Bathroom Tub and Shower   View into the Living Area from Porch

Look beyond the cost per square foot
As you can see, asking for an average or ballpark cost per square foot in order to compare builders is a useless endeavor unless you take the time to discuss the details about your project. Even then, using cost per square foot quotes from the builders you are considering will never provide you with enough information to make the right choice for you. While it’s true, the builders in your area are probably paying the same for the materials they purchase to build the structure of your home, addition or commercial building, many other factors should go into selecting the right builder for your individual project needs.

A much more important factor to consider is whether the builder has the skills and experience to complete your project to your specifications. Look at project galleries on the builder’s website and social sites like Facebook and Pinterest to find projects similar to what you are considering. Read customer reviews and testimonials and check the website for memberships, awards and links to independent review sites like Guild Quality and Houzz.

Lower level and upper deck view in winter   1 of 2 islands with built in microwave   Master Bedroom with Masonry Heater   Sliding Barn doors - master bedroom and bath

Once you narrow down the candidates, arrange face-to-face meetings with the builders you are considering to discuss your ideas and get their feedback. The meetings and initial proposals are usually free of charge and are essential to help you learn how well you communicate and whether you will feel comfortable working together. Ask about project management style, how the construction team communicates with clients, who will be your primary contact during the project, how often the project manager will be physically onsite, how long they have been in business, how many projects they may handle at any one time, and any other questions about the construction process that are important to you.

With your research complete and proposals in hand, you should be able to select the perfect builder for your project without resorting to that basically irrelevant cost per square foot comparison.

Let’s discuss your new home, addition or commercial building project, either virtually or in-person following safe, social distancing practices. Call Scholl Construction today at 815-479-0910, or contact us online to get started.