Building a new home is a huge endeavor, and the cost per square foot varies greatly depending on the region and the type of finishes chosen. Popular home construction styles of Thumbtack clients include ranch, colonial, split-level, bungalow and Victorian. Opus One Design Build in Dallas, Texas, does new construction on a national and global scale. The company’s geographic range takes their crews all over the country to build new homes.
R.J. Nassar, the national director of Opus One Design Build, explains the differences and similarities for home-building costs in three sample regions: Dallas, Atlanta and Southern Florida.
Regional labor costs
Geographic region and what workers are paid in that region is a key component of the cost per square foot of constructing a new home. What carpenters, concrete pros and painters are paid in Los Angeles or New York is higher than what they’re paid in rural areas or small towns.
Construction costs vary state by state, says Nassar of Opus One Design Build, as do state building requirements. In southern Florida, the majority of homes are built completely out of concrete block, while homes in Texas and Georgia are generally built on a concrete foundation and have wooden frames. These differences in building requirements result in big price differences because of the variations in materials costs as well as the difference in the cost of paying a carpenter versus a mason.
Always hire the builder before the designer or architect, says Nassar of Opus One Design Build. It’s not the designer’s job to deliver the built house—it’s his or her job to be creative and help clients envision their dream. Clients’ eyes and imaginations are often bigger than their budgets, though. So they get the drawings, send them out for bids to builders and then receive bids that are too high. Then they have to pay the designer to revise the plans (not to mention feel deflated in the process). Professional builders help people look at their projects realistically, from a cost perspective, before engaging with a designer.
Cost of base construction
The base cost of new home construction includes the foundation, structure and basic shell of the dwelling. This cost doesn’t include any of the finish work or bells and whistles. After the base construction, the house will not yet be a space that’s ready to be lived in. Here are base construction costs per square foot for building a 3,000-square foot home in three different states from Opus One Design Build:
Southern Florida: $108 per square foot for new construction, including concrete foundation, concrete block structure and shell of home
- The primary laborer is a mason for concrete work. Prices are higher for this labor and this type of construction because the material is so much harder to work with and manage.
Dallas: $93 per square foot for new construction, including concrete foundation, wood studs and wood shell
- The primary laborer is a framer—someone who specializes in carpentry and framing houses. Wood frame studs are easier to carry and work with than concrete blocks, hence the lower price.
Atlanta: $90 per square foot for new construction, including concrete foundation, wood studs and wood shell
- The primary laborer is a framer—costs for labor are lower in this region than in Dallas, hence the lower price for this region
Finishing the house
The biggest factor affecting the total cost per square foot for constructing a new home is the level of luxury in the finish details of the house. According to Nassar of Opus One Design Build, a frame is a frame, but the finish is where costs have a much broader range. Bathroom fixtures, flooring type, paint brand, windows, steam rooms, wraparound porches, high-end or entry-level appliances, custom touches—all of the choice that make a house more personal contribute to the cost per square foot. Here are sample costs from Opus One Design Build to illustrate how a home’s finishes affect the overall cost of construction. All of the examples are for a 3,000-square-foot home—one that is standard or basic, one that is midrange and one that is high-end.
A standard house is a modest and comfortable home with nice but not luxurious finishes. Finishes might include a granite countertop in the kitchen, carpet in the bedrooms, standard fixtures in the bathrooms, tile floors in the entryway, hardwood on the dining room floor, center ceiling light fixtures throughout, and stucco or HardiePlank siding.
Southern Florida: $190+ per square foot
The cost to build (what the construction company pays for materials and labor) is $135–$140 per square foot. The additional $50+ charged to the customer helps cover the company’s corporate tax, business overhead and related company costs. Opus One Design Build nets an 8.5 percent profit on projects of this scale. The bigger the house, the better the economies of scale.
- Add 25 percent to 38 percent to the above costs for homes built in the Northeast United States or an additional 28 percent to 33 percent for homes built in California and New York.
Atlanta: $175 per square foot
The cost to build is $135–$140 per square foot.
- Pricing is similar in the midwest.
Dallas: $175 per square foot
- The cost to build is $135 per square foot.
Most people would find these homes very nice. Midrange homes have higher-end, energy-efficient windows; recessed lighting; nicer flooring choices; upgraded bathroom fixtures and finishes; nicer kitchens with higher-end appliances; and stone accents on the front exterior instead of stucco or HardiePlank. The frame costs are the same, but the cost per square foot is higher than the standard house as a result of the finish choices.
For upgraded features, customers pay $100–$120 more per square foot over the cost of a standard home.
Southern Florida: $290–$310 per square foot
Atlanta (and midwest): $275–$295 per square foot
- Dallas: $275–$295 per square foot
The high-end house example has the same 3,000-square-foot structure as the other two examples, but the finishes make this a top-of-the-line—and top dollar—abode. For a significant increase in cost per square foot, the high-end house features finishing touches such as wired-in automation features (blinds, speakers, etc.), heated driveways, heated flooring throughout the house, marble or chiseled stone bathrooms, stone exterior, lots of high-end glass, custom baseboards and crown molding, and upscale landscaping.
For high-end features, customers pay $250–$800 more per square foot over the cost of a midrange home.
Southern Florida: $540–$1,110 per square foot
Atlanta (and midwest): $525–$1,095 per square foot
- Dallas: $525–$1,095 per square foot
- One luxury customization that Opus One Design Build constructed was a 20x20 foyer and lobby in a custom-built, featuring a massive fish tank as the floor of the lobby. It was built from tempered glass, so when people enter the home, they walk over the fish. Total cost for the entrance: $300,000.