Construction Cost Dictionary: Price / SF?


Here is a picture of our Preuss project. Each home (there are 4) is about 1,400 SF, 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, wood frame construction, fiber cement siding, built-up roof, aluminum windows and doors from Milgard, and have mid-range level of finishes.



How much do you think it cost us to build this project of 4 homes from the ground up? REMEMBER THIS IS L.A.

  1. $210 / SF
  2. $263 / SF
  3. $378 / SF
  4. $517 / SF

You probably figured out the answer even though I tried to be sneaky and not even include it on the list. The answer is: All of the above!

Now how can that be? There is a $300 price swing between the first number and the last. Well, this is one of the most frustrating things for me, and perhaps for you architects and clients as well. What the heck are you referring to when you say Price / SF?

Before I go on, a little background. For those that don't know, the lion's share of our work is the Architect As Developer kind. That means we don't have a client per se, and act as our own client. We have a fund that we use to acquire property, pay fees, hire subconsultants, etc. When it comes time to construct the project, I act as the General Contractor since I'm licensed as a CA contractor as well. So we do the whole thing start to finish with no one bothering us along the way (except for the occasional building official). I may discuss the Architect As Developer method of practice in another post, but for now I bring that up only to highlight that I deal with costs more than perhaps a typical architect does. I literally have to call suppliers, get quotes for this or that, take delivery, etc. That gives you an understanding of raw costs that is unique to GCs. That's good and bad for an architect. Again, that's another post.

So, getting back to our question of price / sf. All of the answers are correct because they are assuming different things. Here they are:

  1. Price of 'sticks and bricks' only. This is for actual materials and labor. Nothing else.
  2. Total hard costs. This is Item 1 + General Contractor Fee + Overhead. Paid to ourselves of course, but again, that's another topic as well.
  3. This is Item 1 + Item 2 + Soft Costs. Soft costs are permits, fees, engineering, etc. 
  4. This is Item 1 + Item 2 + Item 3 + Land Cost. Self Explanatory.

( By the way, if it cost us $517 / SF to build this, how much do you think we have to sell it for to make a profit? Exactly, don't try this at home kids. )

So, next time someone asks you or tells you how much something cost or will cost / sf, make sure you are both talking the same lingo. I've found that when people talk about their project they use Item #1, but when they talk about someone else's project they use Item #2...makes them look better right. In future posts, I will go into more details on cost of construction. In my short experience as an architect I've found this to be one of our larger weaknesses. Given that our clients are depending us very early on to give them an idea of what their dream project will cost, we should be better prepared to do so.

As always. Stand by to stand by.