What Will It Cost?

  • By Gary Rosard Architect
  • 22 Mar, 2016

Budgeting for your dream home

Whenever a prospective client calls about a project they have in mind, one of their first questions is what to expect their dreams to cost. The answer is usually more than they had imagined. In these introductory phone calls, I listen carefully as they describe what they have in mind, whether for a new house, addition, or remodel. As they talk and I ask questions, I try to get a sense of the scope of the work, and I start to think about what this project budget needs to be. When I get around to asking them if they have a budget, too often the answer I hear is not even close to what I had estimated. Then I wonder if they had any advice before they bought the property that they just closed on. Or maybe some clients think it’s best not to divulge their real budget because they assume the architect will design something way over that anyway. Yes, that happens, but it makes things harder if we don’t start with some realistic parameters.

Just the other day, someone called saying they just closed on a house and wanted to re-do the kitchen, install larger windows in some areas, open up a wall between the kitchen and dining room. I’m thinking this is a $75,000 project, then hear their budget is $30,000. When I explain that this would be very difficult to achieve, they were surprised- “but it’s just one room!”. Not surprising, but kitchens are the most expensive room in the house. Plus new window openings means exterior siding patching, and taking down that wall potentially means some structural work, electrical, patching floors, walls and trim. This was their first house, and I’m sure they were excited by their vision of what it could be. Even using low cost cabinets such as IKEA (we've done many kitchens with their cabinets), they would have to select the least expensive appliances, fixtures, countertops, and finishes to come close to that budget. 

How do you start estimating costs?

When building a new house, people usually budget in terms of cost per square foot, which is a good starting point, but of course doesn’t take into account differences in land preparation, demolishing an existing house, etc. But for the house, there are some rules of thumb that are useful in planning the project. (Location also matters, it’s certainly more expensive to build here in northern NJ than it would be in the mid-west or south.) Most cost per square foot estimates include finished, conditioned space, so garages and unfinished portions of a basement or attic are usually not calculated in the area. A larger home would typically be less per square foot than a similar quality smaller home. Kitchens and master baths are the most expensive rooms in the house, and there’s typically one of each regardless of the size of the house.

Choice of finishes and fixtures can make a significant difference in the final cost of any construction project.

For example, wood flooring could run from about $8/ SF installed and finished, up to $30/ SF and more for specialty wood products with more customized finishes and patterns. Ceramic tile for $2/ SF vs. marble mosaic for $30/ SF. Make those kinds of choices throughout the house, and you can see how costs can escalate quite dramatically

For the following cost estimates, my reference is an individual architect designed house, not a builder’s cost who is doing a multi-home development. These are (NJ) construction costs, and don’t include land development costs such as bringing in utilities, removing existing structures, architectural or engineering fees, permit costs, landscaping. Make sure it’s clear when you are talking to your architect or builder whether your budget is for the total project costs, or for the construction costs only.

$150 per square foot

Our projects never really come out at this price point, but it’s not impossible. You’ll have to stick to a fairly simple plan, no complicated roof lines, not a single level house. Two story houses cost less per square foot than single story because there is less roof and foundation work for the same total area. You’d probably get vinyl siding on all sides except the front of the house, vinyl windows, modest kitchen and bathroom fixture and finish selections, hollow core doors and builder grade hardware.

$200 - $225 per square foot

This starts to get you into the realm of a more customized, higher quality home. You’d expect cement fiber siding, some brick or stone, clad wood windows, better insulation package, high efficiency mechanical systems, and a much broader range of attractive kitchen and bathroom options, higher quality interior doors and hardware.

$250 per square foot

At this price range, you would start to expect window, siding and roofing upgrades. Features such as custom entry and garage doors, custom designed stair, high end appliances, upgraded and finishes.

$300 + per square foot

These are the homes you see in the design magazines, where seemingly no expense is spared. The exterior may have substantial stone work, slate roofs, copper gutters and trim, sophisticated heating and cooling systems. Custom cabinetry and built-ins, spa like bathrooms, integrated lighting and technology systems. Expect superior workmanship from all the trades.

Remodeling costs are much harder to calculate on a square foot basis.  

There are so many variables in dealing with existing homes, and if you’re just renovating portions of the house, the square foot calculations don’t often hold up. For a full gut renovation, using the new house costs less about $50 - $75 per square foot is a safe bet. Additions run about the same as the new cost figures, but then there are added costs to make new and old come together. 

Here are a few common remodel types and cost ranges:

Kitchens range from $30,000 for something not too large or upscale, to over $100,000 for a large, center island kitchen, custom or high end manufactured cabinets, stone counters, full tile backsplash, top grade appliances. 

Basic size bathrooms with quality fixtures and upgraded tile on most walls can run $20,000 and up, master baths with separate tub and shower, double sink vanity, heated floors, more like $45 - 60,000.

New decks run $40 - $50 per square foot depending on configuration, material (synthetic decking, or hardwoods like Ipe or mahogany) and railing selections.  
On grade paver or stone patios actually usually cost less than decks (no framing or railings needed) and average from $10- 20 per square foot, with some types of stone and retaining walls adding to that cost.

Bigger isn't always better.

Thinking about how much space you really need, rather than working from pre-conceived notions on a total square footage is another way to keep costs down. I’d always prefer to see the size of a house reduced where possible, to allow for higher quality construction and finish. 

It is difficult to accurately estimate the cost of a project before there is an actual design and detailed scope of work. But a little advance research can go a long way to making sure you are embarking on your project with realistic expectations.
By Gary Rosard Architect 16 May, 2017
The Design Phase: Transforming Rustic Living to Contemporary Lifestyle

Our Harding Township project is in its design phase. For this home full of rich history in Morris County, New Jersey, we’re transforming rustic living into a contemporary atmosphere for the owners, who are from New York City coming with a sophisticated taste and appropriate budget.

Our common vision is a modern renovation, while paying tribute to the property’s artistic heritage. We are collaborating as well with a landscape architect right from the beginning in order to achieve a complete design for the property.

Modern renovation honoring Robert and Rowena MacPhail’s family history

Artists and educators Robert and Rowena MacPhail designed this unique mid-century modern style home during the 1950s. With the help of the stage tech crew from Millburn High School and from local craftsmen, Robert built the home during weekends and vacations over the course of eight years. It sits on a wooded, almost five-acre site in Harding Township. He and his students felled black walnut trees from the property and used the beautiful wood for the floors, cabinets, trim, and furniture.

Rowena continued to live in the house after Robert’s passing, and when she also passed, her children finally decided to put the house on the market. Initial interest was mostly from builders who wanted the property for the land value in this affluent community, and the family resisted. When a couple from New York showed interest in purchasing the home with the intent to preserve the character of the home, the MacPhail children Wendy and Peter welcomed the buyers who wished to preserve the home’s artistic integrity.
They created a scrapbook of their family history for the owners, providing wonderful insights into growing up in this home.
By Gary Rosard Architect 26 Feb, 2017
Recently I went to an Arm Balance Workshop at a yoga studio (that I happened to have designed). The 2 1/2 hour workshop was geared toward a fairly advanced level of practice and there were quite a few instructors taking the workshop. Arm balances are some of my favorite poses to do, so I was particularly interested to see how a full class would be devoted to them. You don’t just start a class with advanced poses; there is a process of getting both your body and your mindset ready for the exertion. A good teacher has the final goal in mind as he or she takes the class through a sequence of poses that stretch and strengthen the right muscles, highlight specific body alignments, and prepare a mental focus for that ultimate challenging pose.
By Gary Rosard Architect 10 Jan, 2017
One of the most intriguing and thrilling new developments that could have a big impact on house design is Tesla and Elon Musk's newest project to produce solar roof tiles. These tiles are designed to look like more conventional roof tiles that will cover the roof rather than panels sitting on the roof. Different tiles for different style homes. This means no unsightly solar panels  compromising the design of an elegant home. This is sure to appeal to a homeowner who would welcome the benefit of a solar powered home, but might not have wanted to live with the aesthetic compromise. 

Given that solar panels don't work on all exposures, dummy tiles are made to create the seamless appearance of the roof. "I think there's a radical difference between having solar panels on your roof that actually makes your house look better versus ones that do not, I think it's going to be a night- and -day difference" said Musk in a statement before the product's official launch. This past October, unveiling a demonstration project created to showcase this seamless design, an entire audience of press had to be persuaded that they were in fact looking at a solar roof. 
By Gary Rosard Architect 16 Nov, 2016
      If you saw my last newsletter, you know I was quite young when I was first inspired to be an architect, crossing the Verrazano Bridge shortly after it opened. By 9th grade I started finding work after school and summers in various architectural offices, mostly small firms where I ran prints, did errands, some simple drafting. After my junior year of high school, I was all set with a summer job in a firm in downtown Philadelphia, but as it was about to begin, they called to say they'd lost a big project and wouldn’t be able to take me on. Swallowing my disappointment I decided to try my luck by knocking on doors of a few firms in town. I figured I’d start with the best, and took the elevator up to the office of Louis I. Kahn. He was a major icon of modern design at the time, building masterpieces around the world. He was a teacher, poet, and artist. My lucky day, I was hired on the spot.
By Gary Rosard Architect 04 Oct, 2016
A question I am often asked is when I knew I wanted to be an architect. Unlike many other professions or businesses, I suppose people see architects as having a calling to do what they love. So it’s often interesting to hear how that spark was first ignited, and I’ve heard great stories from some of my colleagues. For me it started on a bridge.

I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, my mom was from Forest Hills, Queens, and her whole family was still in that area. So we often went to visit my grandparents, and other relatives for weekends. I always loved those trips, it was a pretty raucous New York Jewish family, and I was also dazzled by our trips into the city to see the sights and the big buildings. To get to Queens from Pennsylvania in the early 60’s you drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, across town, and through the Midtown Tunnel into Queens.

When I was 9 years old, my parents left me to spend a week with my grandparents, and they were to bring be back home the following week. Instead of the usual route, my grandfather took us over a new bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island that had just opened, the Verrazano Bridge. I was in the back seat and awed by the scale and simple grandeur of this new bridge. It was then that I first recalled thinking I wanted to be an architect. OK, I was 9, I didn’t know that most bridges aren’t designed by architects, but there must have been the realization that designing structures was something I wanted to do.

To this day, I’m inspired and get a special pleasure driving over that mighty bridge.
By Gary Rosard Architect 06 Sep, 2016
Mention mid-century modern houses, and images of sleek, open plan, currently trendy homes come to mind. The classic examples grace the pages of Dwell Magazine and design blogs. There are a few good examples in northern New Jersey. However, more common in this area are the ranches and split levels built at the same time that alluded to a more modern taste, but rarely reached the level of design that is associated with the more desirable versions. These late 50’s through mid 60’s houses have become something of a pariah in the housing market, often never renovated since being built, and they often languish on the market when they come up for sale.

For a buyer who wants to create a modern home, these present a great opportunity- the price is usually lower than comparable homes in the neighborhood, and they lend themselves to modern make-overs. My clients who bought this split level house wanted to stay in their neighborhood, loved the location and the property, and saw a chance to create their dream home.
By Gary Rosard Architect 06 Aug, 2016
On our annual vacation at the tip of Cape Cod, we lucked out with timing to be able to go on a tour of 3 modernist houses in Wellfleet. Wellfleet became a hub for artists and creative types in the late 1930’s- land in the mosquito infested woods was cheap, and people started experimenting with building simple modern summer houses by the ponds. Most were built without architects, owners and tradespeople collaborated in developing ideas that reflected the modernist trends that were just starting to come over from the Europe. They were mostly built inexpensively. Curtains close off closets, kitchens are inexpensively built with open shelving- no luxury cabinets or granite here. Everything has an ad hoc feel, but what was achieved were homes that truly expressed a new modern idea of what a house could be, and felt appropriate to the rustic natural setting.

Many of these homes now sit within the Cape Cod National Seashore, created in 1961, and were designated for demolition and/ or neglect by the Park Service after a 25 year least back to the original property owners had expired. Thanks to the work of some local preservationists, the Cape Cod Modern House Trust acquired long term leases on three homes within the park area. They have been restored and are now rented out on a weekly basis.
By Gary Rosard Architect 20 Jun, 2016

It’s my responsibility to walk the dogs every morning, something I’ve been doing for years. Other than keeping an eye out for other dogs that might create a ruckus, and picking up the poop, it tends to be a time when I’m thinking about what’s ahead for the day, or else my mind just wanders. Some days it’s a pleasant way to start the day, and sometimes it just seems like a necessary chore. Awhile ago, I decided that it would be a nice habit to notice something about nature each day. It might be the light or cloud formations in the sky, how the low morning light shines through leaves or makes the dew on the grass glisten, or the sharp shadows on cloudless days. It could be an interesting bird taking flight, or a ladybug on a leaf. Sometimes it’s the smell of flowering trees (the scent of lilac carried on the breeze is one of my favorites.) The changing seasons shows in the cycle of trees: budding, flowering, full green, fall color, bare branches. Even though I take the same route most days, there’s always something changing or new to notice.

By Gary Rosard Architect 22 May, 2016
Architects need to keep current with new developments in technology and products that could be incorporated into their projects. I’m bombarded all the time with email and print brochures from companies promoting their wares. Internet research opens up a huge inventory of selections to consider. But sometimes I need to touch and see things in person. A couple of weeks ago I was in a large stone yard with a client looking at material for a project. You just can’t get the same impression looking at samples inside the office. One of the venues where I’ve made a habit of doing the in person perusal is the ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) at the Javits Center each May. In it’s 28th year, it’s known as North America’s premier showcase for contemporary design. Exhibitors from around the world show not only furniture, but a wide array of materials and products that can be used in residential and commercial interiors. It’s attended by thousands of architects and designers over a 4 day period. I tend to breeze through much of it, but there are always new things to see and be inspired by.

Lighting is something I take pretty seriously on my projects, and I help clients not only with built in lighting, but also selection of decorative fixtures. So I’m always focused on finding new fixtures that I might be able to use on projects. The switch to LED technology has permeated the industry, and new advances are being made constantly.
By Gary Rosard Architect 28 Apr, 2016

I was recently in Sarasota, FL for a brief get away. Besides the renowned balmy weather, sugar white sand beaches and clear, warm Gulf sea, Sarasota is also notable for it’s wealth of mid-century modern architecture, and even a few contemporary gems worth a visit. During the 1950’s, Sarasota was a center of creative energy for modernist architects testing out new ideas. Paul Rudolph, one of the masters of American modernism, got his start there. His expansion of Sarasota Senior High is an iconic example of the period. While the design was critically acclaimed, it was not well received by faculty and staff at the school who complained that the design was not well-suited for an educational complex. Recently renovated, it provides a reminder of the idealistic vision of the time.

Currently on display on the Ringling Museum grounds (a worthwhile destination in it’s own right), is a replica by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation of the 1952 Walker Guest House, designed by Paul Rudolph early in his notable career. Conceived specifically for the subtropical Florida climate on Sanibel Island, the original is still used as a guest house. The residence was named one of the most important houses of the twentieth century in a 1957 survey of "Architectural Record" readers, along with Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson's Glass House.

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