Cost Per Square Foot, Part 2: Semi-Custom Home Builder

The Crassatella Front Door

Let’s take a look at  the semi-custom home builder and how it differs from the tract builder. When looking at these smaller, often independent builders, the possibilities for design and feature choices start to open up. You can expect the pricing to be higher. Semi-custom builders may offer model homes, but they are more likely to change plans to suit your needs.

You may already own the property on which you want to build, or the builder may help you find it. Their model homes may or may not be found within a gated community. Within a master-planned community, the semi-custom builder will likely be authorized to build in more than one neighborhood or it may be easy for them to qualify to do so.

Many communities have restrictive architectural and project requirements that make home building more expensive. These communities may have a higher cost of entry. Home owner association (HOA) fees may be required just to review a project plan. They may also have rules of builder compliance that cost the builder more to operate as it builds the home.

The builder will offer a larger array of exterior and interior features, and can work within HOA dictates. For example, some subdivisions have a set “theme” for a home’s “look” (elevation).

A semi-custom plan may include a larger kitchen, incorporate generous bath spaces, and utilize a variety of interior design framing features. These may include archways, higher and/or trey ceilings, plant shelves, art niches, etc. The windows and doors may be larger and more plentiful. Materials tend to be of better quality, and the labor force used may be more talented and/or experienced.

Design creativity becomes more tangible, and interaction between client and builder will be more localized and personal. Often, these homes are placed on larger lot parcels, and are less likely to be builder ready.

A semi-custom home builder usually does not have an “in house” plan designer, nor a comprehensive design center. The builder may have relationships with a drafting team and an architect with whom they prefer to collaborate. They will have satellite suppliers and may offer hundreds or thousands of choices for tile, flooring, cabinetry, appliances and finishes. This requires the client to browse through an almost endless supply of options as they shop online or in person, traveling to various vendors.

Choices made by the buyer can drive up cost per square foot. One roofing material may cost as much as 100% more than another. There may be twice as many windows, more doors, a more complex roof line option, and each side and the rear of the home may be enhanced to show more detail. The kitchen size may double the cost for cabinetry and tops, the flooring may be higher in cost, and the price may differ from room to room. Opting for floor tile throughout, for instance, can cost three or four times as much as pre-negotiated carpet. The systems in the home are usually more comprehensive and more expensive (HVAC, electrical, plumbing). Focus on energy and maintenance saving features is more likely.

Because of the variables offered in semi-custom home decisions, it is not unusual to find pricing that starts as much as 30% higher than that of a tract builder.