Designing & Building your own home?

Wondering if anyone here has done it, and for what cost/SF? Thinking along lines of a 1800-2000 SF 3BR open concept 2-story w/ full unfinished basement. Very square, minimal angles. I'd probably hire out everything up to rough-in & drywall, do finishes & cabinetry myself.

I always hear that new construction is expensive, but judging from list price of your average new condo construction or gut & flip, I've got to think that a simply-designed box can come in under $200K.

Feb 18, 14 10:44 pm

Depends on location and the cost of labor in a particular area. Without drawings/supply schedules it's hard to guestimate how much something is going to cost.  Also the more involved you are in the process (act as own GC, ect) the more the price will come down. 

It's not really fair to compare condos to new custom construction.  That's like saying a basic sedan cost $20,000 so I'm going to build the Mediocrity, which conforms to the simplest car form, at that same cost. 

And why would you want to live in a cheaply assembled banal house? Might as well just purchase a developer house.  A lot less hassle and stress. Or renovate an existing house.

Feb 18, 14 11:12 pm
wurdan freo

costs are completely dependent on location. For example you could build a mid level house in wisconsin for about $125/sq foot, but in Texas you could could build for $75/sq foot. on a 2000/sf house that's a $100,000 swing. So you really need to get a handle on costs in your location. Being your own GC could save you money if you don't screw everything up. I encourage all Archie's to do it, but do not underestimate the attention, discipline and time commitment it requires. Cost of land is a huge factor not to mention if utilities are readily present. I have rehabbed several homes and am in the planning stages of my first new build. 

Feb 19, 14 12:22 am

Wurdan is right.  Im rehabbing a house right now.  Looks completely new.  Much cheaper than building from ground up.  The most limiting factor will be the land cost in you area. An lot can range from 20k to 20 million depending on the area.  For instance, in my area a bare lot will cost around 200k.  200k + another 200K to build a cheap framed house with builder grade materials will = 400k and will be worth about 250k.  That's just not worth it.  You would be at a 150k negative equity.  Meanwhile, I bought a house for 200k, put in 20k for renovations, did all work myself, and appraisal is around 250k.  Make sure you are in the green.  Its very hard to be in the green if you are building from ground up.  The land costs in most areas have not dropped in relation to the housing costs mostly due to the glut of built inventory from the crash.  You will never be able to match the cost of a developer built house.  They but up large areas of land and subdivide it to bring land premiums down.  Its not a good measure to estimate prices.  The only way to build and be in the green zone is to buy in areas where the housing values are less governed by comps.  Its tricky. 

Feb 19, 14 10:20 am
We're considering it mostly because we are having trouble finding the right house in the right location. We can buy a lot in our target area for $30K, and if we can get a decent house built for $200K or less, that's probably our best answer. I'm thinking fiber-cement siding, etc.

We bought our current place as a foreclosure in the dumps of the recession, updated it and it's appraised at 2x what we bought it for. Not particularly worried about losing value on the new place if it makes us happy and serves our needs for 10 years or so. We'd lose value buying a big enough house in the 'burbs anyways, at least we'd like our location.
Feb 19, 14 9:02 pm

The least expensive is a square box and it sounds like that is what you are after! Like the other posters it is really dependent on where you live plus who does the work and the materials. When you are getting quotes ensure you get some from contractors who live in a lower cost area..many often drive 30 or 40 minutes to a job so dont just interview contractors who work in your area. You can also get lower/different cost quotes by talking with design build firms and GC also try calling a company that just does foundations..have them quote then ask them for someone who does framing..then ask teh framing company if the can arrange the other trades for may get a lower price by hiring 2 companies instead of one..what flooring. roofing etc you choose makes a big difference..flooring can be $1 or $10 or more per square foot..the list goes on and on about how the decisions you make influence price. To get a rough estimate and based on your location the "whole house" remodeling cost calculator will give you a ballpark, while not intended for a new home construction project it gives pretty good rough estimates on projects and has some variables you can play with to see the impace

Mar 20, 14 4:18 pm

200k sounds really low for 2000sf, it might get you the shell, but you are going to bust your ass for months/years doing finishes and cabinetry on a house that size.  That number might even be low for the shell considering you want to do a basement and 2nd story.  Pick up a few dudes from the home depot parking lot!

Mar 20, 14 5:06 pm

I strongly agree that cost depends on location as well. I have my own experience to share here. My father was interested to go back to AUS after his retirement and had a plan to build a house in Australia, because Australia is the home land of my father. My father got built a house in Brisbane's expansive area and he bore double cost then any other part of Brisbane & its surroundings. When my father told me about the expanse then i was shocked once, because that was quite high than a regular expenditure. Our home builder Brisbane, who provided us services, told me that my father preferred to live on a place where charges to buy land are quite higher. Taxation, documentation and lawyer hiring charges were also touching sky. We got a house at a perfect location of  Brisbane, but we bore a huge price. So i strongly agree that material and other expenditures have almost fix charges, but location takes the price to sky.

May 22, 14 1:36 pm

My fiance and I are also trying to do this. As jla-x says, it is much easier to find an existing home and renovate, but it sounds like finances are not as tight for you...


For me, being able to build from scratch is about organization, massing, and circulation not whether or not the house "looks new." I am also intent on integrating a fair bit of technology into our home, something that is not so easy on a renovation. 


To the OP - the best thing you can do is make it energy-neutral. It will save you money in the long run and greatly increase resale value.

May 22, 14 2:31 pm

archanonymous :

I agree with you archanonymous . I have shared our own story where my paa's home builder Brisbane project took entire saving and money from my father :)

Location depends a lot.  

May 23, 14 2:27 pm

I would like to share my story on other site too. I already shared it on north home gallery.

Oct 17, 14 5:22 am

Just finished running the numbers on a small house/cottage for my family – totally DIY except rough framing labor - its $40.56 per square foot just to build the house. Add in the not DIY stuff like foundation, MEP, driveway etc. and it takes you to $90.00 per square foot, plus land. Add in the land and you’re over budget when you can buy existing for $100. per square foot. (Midwest).

Oct 17, 14 9:48 am

dont forget to have a place to live during construction

Oct 17, 14 1:04 pm

Hearing these construction prices blows my mind.  I'm in a mid-sized city in Canada and I just bought a 66-year old house for $225/ft.  And it needs basically everything but heating and cooling.  We were planning on building a condo, and even that was coming in at $150/ft + land ($60/ft) = $210/ft.

Location, location, location I guess.

Oct 17, 14 2:07 pm

Recently talked to a builder and he says he would build something around 2,000 square feet for $118./sf. + lot. Lots he has that are fully improved run $4.49 per square foot of land (60'X130') adding another $17./sf to the house cost, yielding a total of $135./sf for house with lot. Nothing cheaper than Midwest....Existing houses as I said are around $100./sf.

Oct 17, 14 2:28 pm

The midwest, where buildin' is cheap and life is boring.

Oct 17, 14 3:47 pm

Wonder about boring. Always felt that life in the Midwest was boring….everybody complains that there is nothing to do, but if you work 8 (if you’re lucky to do just 8), then sleep 8 (if you’re lucky to get 8) then that leaves 8 – for what exactly? When you subtract all the shopping, errands, out-to-eat, doctors’ appointments, family carting here and there, ball games, soccer – what’s left? If you are single then that is a different equation, but if you’re married with children and family in town there really isn’t much time left for anything else. All that is mentioned is boring, at least to me, but its unavoidable in any local….at least here it’s super easy to get around and we travel for the fun, have a cottage to go to and the quality of life for families really can’t be beat.

Oct 17, 14 7:39 pm

The midwest, where buildin' is boring and life is cheap.

Oct 17, 14 8:19 pm

It’s called “Midwest Mediocrity” Miles.

Oct 17, 14 8:33 pm

ha!  @ miles.

Carrera, where are you located?  

One of my goals is to build a rural cabin, off the grid as much as possible, maybe Northern California, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Eastern Oregon/Washington.  Some good places to be. Still can't build that cheap tho...Where is the midwestern divide where you can build custom @ $100/sf?  East of Colorado?  I'm gonna be like the Joads going in the opposite direction.  

Oct 17, 14 10:18 pm

Near Detroit.

Oct 17, 14 11:29 pm
go do it

I bid out an addition 4 months ago that was basically a new house slapped up against an existing. I came in at $138.00 a square foot. 

Oct 17, 14 11:52 pm

We have a penthouse project in the office that's $800/sf without land (and about 8,000 sf).  Insane.  We're in the midwest of Canada.

Oct 18, 14 2:44 am

^ Pffffft. There are houses here that "cost" <cough, cough>  $1500 to $3000 sq.ft. to build. That's without land, which in "better" locations is $6-10m an acre and up.

The 3/4 acre lot behind my studio with a 1920's gambrel in need of some work sold a year ago for $800k, was razed and replaced with a disposable 3600 sq.ft. PoS that is on the market for $3.8m. From a design point of view *everything* is wrong.

Assuming $400/ft. to build including site work the cost is $2.2m. The highest sale on the street was $1.4m two years ago. I'm hoping the developer chokes on it but no doubt some fucking genius will buy it for $3.2-3.4m and think he stole it. 

Oct 18, 14 9:38 am

Built a modest 1400sf home in 1998: my all-in cost was $69/sf.

I did ALL the work myself: clearing the lot, to C of O.  I paid some one to do the following: septic bed, drywall and finish plumbing. Anything I couldn't do, I had help from a friend or family


Land cost was $15k for 1 acre lot


Its not big, its not fancy but guess what? I'm 40 years old and mortgage free

Feb 29, 16 9:07 pm
wurdan freo

Are you still building houses JeromeS?

What I wouldn't give for a $15k 1 acre lot!  That, of course, wasn't still radioactive land in the desert next to cousin eddie. 

Feb 29, 16 11:40 pm
Location location. A commercial realtor I know has 30 city lots for sale near me. About $5k each. No one wants them-cost of construction is way too high compared to completed value.
Mar 3, 16 7:22 am

Funny thing- I was grousing about the $15k back then.  I bought it from my brother-in-law and felt he was asking too much.  I was looking at a 5 acre piece that the ask was $32k.  Wish I had that but I had $0 in my pocket back then...

Mar 3, 16 8:11 am
wurdan freo

Hmmm.... developer I'm talking to is paying 300-500k for a 50x125 lot...

Mar 3, 16 11:53 am

Open land in my area goes for 3500 per acre...  Sometimes more.  In town is a little different, though. 

Mar 3, 16 12:57 pm

Here in the Midwest land is escalating faster than existing homes…new builder subdivision lots run $50-100k, acreage around $5-7k/acre+ depending on location & utilities…land is a good business to be in, no warranty call-backs on dirt.

Mar 3, 16 1:27 pm

Interesting post, make sure to get low end products: toilets, sinks, and flooring try to save money everywhere you can.

Mar 3, 16 2:37 pm
We are in the initial planning/saving money phase with same goal as OP and for same reasons. In our case, we found a lot in our town with an existing small cottage on it that is still large enough for a second, main house to be built in the front part of the lot (and legally lot size is the minimum required to support two zoned dwelling units in our town.)

This is looking like it may be a good way to circumvent the issue of land cost that others are talking about-- we got the lot with the cottage on it for only 30k more than bare land cost in our town, but having the cottage on there means we are currently generating rental income, and can potentially continue to do so forever. Ultimately this will not only lower our costs but more importantly increase our assessment projections (for securing construction loan etc). We do want to, ideally, live in the new house for minimum 20 yrs though which helps a lot in projected value calculations. So, if you can find a lot with a similar set-up in your town, you kind the numbers work out really well.

I do residential arch in my town so am hyper familiar with costs. I've already spoken to two GCs and am planning for about $150/sf for vanilla box. I will say however--I'm not sure you'll be able to swing for things like fiber cement siding and keep to your budget (again, depending on location). I'm adding up numbers on my end and finding no room for stuff like rigid insulation even.
Oct 12, 17 7:43 am
Argh I just realized this is a zombie post. Oh well, it's an interesting subject at least...
Oct 12, 17 1:26 pm

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: