Do You Buy a Car by the Pound? (Part1)

When people start to think about building a home, they immediately begin to calculate how much a particular home would cost. Unfortunately, there is a time-honored industry yardstick, called the “square foot method”. This determines, it is believed, the cost of a home. When you have a square-foot cost, it enables you to make a quick comparison not only between different-sized homes, but between builders, who quote you a price for your future home. Right? Wrong!

Comparing a cost of a home on the basis of the square foot area should be avoided. You do not purchase cars by the pound and you should not buy homes by the square foot. What square foot area do we consider? There is heated square footage, there are square footages for decks, garages, unfinished basements, all have different cost involved. If all the homes and builders would be alike, the theory would work. But all homes and builders are not the same, and considering the cost of a house based on the square footage does you and them both a disservice.

Retirement Home

Home built to universal design principals

There are several reasons why the cost analysis by the square foot is inappropriate:

Home styles vary. The square foot method is not helpful in comparing different styles – a contemporary to a traditional home, a brick home to a log home.

  • Home design. It can not be accurate in comparing a one story to a two story home.
  • Specifications. The square foot method really falls apart when you have the same home design and style but different specifications. It gives an inaccurate comparison of cost / value when one home was brick, hardwood floors, solid cherry cabinets and Kohler plumbing fixtures while the other home has  Masonite siding, carpeted floors, laminate cabinets and basic white plumbing fixtures. Does the square foot method include site work, well, septic, landscaping, basements, garages, fireplaces? Some quotes include all of those, some quotes include several and some include none. This is not helpful for comparison shopping.
  • Home size. The square foot approach is totally inadequate when one attempts to compare a 1000 sqft home with a 5000 sqft home.
  • Room definition. If the same size home has one floor plan with four bathrooms and the other plan with two bathrooms, it would create a skewed comparison.
  • Marketing considerations. Builders know that some people rely on the square foot value analysis and they tailor their bid to meet your requirements. In order to match your square foot cost number, they may knowingly or unknowingly downgrade the specifications to accommodate your square foot budget.

In summary, do not compare homes or builders based on square foot approach. It may have been a effective tool in the days of Abraham Lincoln and log home cabins, but it is totally inappropriate and in fact dangerously misleading in today’s housing market. In fact it is unfair to both parties, the builder and the prospective owner of the house.  At the very best it can give you a broad range what your house may cost after completion of the building process.

What is the solution? The Design Method! (coming soon)

About Wolfgang

I love to design residential homes, and for that matter, any building. Creating a structure, putting the thoughts on paper, generate a construction drawing any builder can work from, following the building process and seeing the finished physical product - that excites me over and over again. I did project work and site management for all sizes of industrial manufacturing plants, working with people of all backgrounds and languages in Europe, Africa and Asia. Now I am downsizing, working as a solo entrepreneur in an active resort community in western North Carolina, designing easy living homes for customers looking forward to their later years in life. See their many testimonials how they like my work.
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