Cost to Build a House

Cost to Build a House

This would have to be one of the things I get asked about most often.

As always, the answer is ‘it depends’.  Every project is different and there are literally hundreds of choices and factors that can affect cost.  Be aware also that builder’s prices you get for comparison won’t always include the same things – and some building companies will deliberately under quote to get your attention, knowing that you will almost certainly need ‘extras’ and changes later that they will make up their profits from.  The devil is in the detail!

To answer with confidence for your specific build requires a good set of plans and a quantity surveyor.

However as a starting point, here are some scenarios to give you a ballpark idea of the cost to build a detached family house at today’s (2018) prices, and what you could get for your money. These figures nominally include paying for the builder and other trades, materials,  typically required professional and council fees, and include the costs for both the house and some basic landscaping and paving, but assume you buy the land separately.

Scenario 1: $2000/m2

This budget might get you a generic building company catalogue type house, pitched at customers who care about newness and size more than than quality.

Most likely this will be found in a sterile commuter subdivision full of other cookie cutter houses.  Your building company’s draftsman (aka ‘architectural designer’) likely does not have the soul of an artist, and your house will likely deploy the cheapest building forms, materials and fittings the builder can get away with, preferably on a typical flat site with no planning or environmental constraints.

Superficial interchangeable ‘design features’ may adorn the front exterior in a ham fisted attempt to impress (and the sides and back will be seem all the more neglected as a result), but the bathrooms and kitchen will be all new and shiny.

The design return on investment outcomes for ‘wow factor’ & appearance, context sensitivity, functionality, environmental performance and resale value are all likely to be quite poor.  Some very minor customisation is likely possible in the planning stages (colours and finishes mostly) but design fees are the first corner that was cut, and it shows.

A fairly low risk, low return scenario.  Being ‘bog standard’ the design is put together much like every other low cost house the builder has ever done, and so requires relatively little thought to execute, meaning there is probably not much to go wrong during construction (other than the builder going bust of course).  A few years down the track, once the ‘newness’ has worn off, buyers may well realise they could have achieved a much better outcome by applying the same budget to renovating a pre-owned but more interesting character house in well established suburb, much closer to town,  in a walk-able neighborhood with mature trees and gardens, good schools, and a wide range of other amenities close by.

Scenario 2: $3000/m2

This budget can get you a simple but well considered new home that is custom designed for you .

Likely single story, simple but elegant in form, inexpensive but well chosen materials, and fittings, on a flat or gently sloping site.

There there is usually scope to tailor your design to suit your specific site from about this budget level.  While designs from a builder’s catalog address generic subdivision sites in a generic way, some of the more interesting sites and development opportunities are not found in cookie cutter subdivisions, and may involve involve overcoming council planning issues, and optimising for site specific opportunities, challenges and existing features.

The design return on investment outcomes for ‘wow factor’ & appearance, context sensitivity, functionality, environmental performance and resale value are all likely to be noticeably better than for the majority of Kiwi homes (depending on your choice of designer, and design brief) .

Scenario 3: $5000/m2 +

This budget can easily get you a well designed and distinctive home, with some carefully judged complexity of form. The house need not be huge  –  in fact, the smaller the floor area, the higher the design and build quality (and overall impact) a given budget can often achieve.

You might expect two or more levels,  high quality materials, and fittings, and yet still be able to address  a sloping site and planning or environmental constraints, while exploiting all the opportunities presented by the site, with sensitivity and flair.

The design return on investment outcomes for ‘wow factor’ & appearance, context sensitivity, functionality, durability, environmental performance and resale value are all likely to be very good (depending of course on your choice of designer, and design brief) – far better than the vast majority of Kiwi homes. A particularly innovative or sensitive design could feature in local architectural magazines or TV shows.

 Scenario 4: $15000/m2+

Definitely for the 1% ers among us.

Budgets of this order harnessed to great design can get you an exquisitely well considered and crafted home: an impeccably sculptural building form, multiple levels,  top end materials, fittings, and features, and can easily address a steeply sloping or otherwise complex site.

The design return on investment outcomes for ‘wow factor’ and appearance, context sensitivity, functionality, durability, environmental performance and resale value are all likely to be outstanding (depending absolutely on your choice of designer, and design brief).

With a design to match, a house with this kind of budget could well attract international interest at the highest levels, and would be a candidate to feature in international architectural publications.

Final Thoughts

Of course every situation is different, and it can be very tempting to do and plan as much as you can yourself – but before you commit too much time, energy (and future expense) to pursuing a specific idea or delivery process for your potential building site, it can pay to get the right strategic advice to set you on your way; to discover which approach is most likely achieve your objectives and within your budget on that site, discover strategies for avoiding the more common pitfalls, and to identify other constraints (and opportunities) that you may not even be aware of but that could make all the difference to the final cost and value of your investment.

You never know – all it may take are one or two key insights and a bit of lateral thinking from an expert to reveal a far better way entirely!