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Thinking PreFab

by Jason Butka last modified May 08, 2006 04:44 PM
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Thinking PreFab

Posted by Jason Butka at April 16. 2006

I have looked at architects and they want 30% of the total house costs (not counting the extra 15-20% the builder wants) to design a home. That means I would pay about 50% over the actual value of the home.

I have tried Residential Designers but the ones local to me in Michigan are scam artists! They draw a house plan worse than I could and I have NO experience doing it. Builders laugh at the child-like designes these people make.

Builders also tell me that even if I did have a design, the type of work that goes into the these custom designs warrant a cost of at least 225/sq ft but most likely much higher. These are trusted builders whom I have contact with through family and friends in construction so I do trust what they say.

As much as I wanted to design my own home I am beginning to come around to the prefab world. The FlatPak is a nice design but I do have some concerns. Anyone have any ideas on other companies to research (no lami-designs thanks :disgust:).

I live in Michigan, so I am concerned about the elements.

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by Dan Semar at April 16. 2006

Have you checked out

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by Mark Meyer at April 16. 2006

I don't know what kind of architects or residential designers that you are talking to, but clearly you are talking to the wrong people (builders included.) To my knowledge, architects don't charge 30% of construction budget. Lake/Flato charge a whopping 25%, but they are an exception, as they provide extensive construction supervision, as well as detail every last thing that goes into the house. I think that you'd find most architects in the 10-12% range, and residential designers (such as myself) in the 8-10% range (depending on services).

Also custom work does not MEAN that things have to cost more, PERIOD. One can fine tune a custom design to actually make the builder's job EASIER.

It sounds to me like you've been fed quite a few lines of crap from differing points along the spectrum, and if that is what you are up against in your locale, then you might be right. Off the shelf pre-fab would start to sound pretty damn good.

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by Splatgirl at April 17. 2006

Having just completed my own 100% custom home for much less than $100sq/ft, I have to laugh. Any builder willing to make a blanket statment that custom design costs $225sq/ft++ is not worthy of your construction dollar.
There is simply no valid way to make that call when one knows nothing about the house, the design, or the materials going into it.
Case in point: before we started our project, I requested a quote for the construction of just our building envelope from a builder. He knew absolutely ZERO about our plans for materials for any other part of the house, yet took it upon himself to bid the entire home anyway. His figure: $850K. Just to clarify, our project is ~3600 sqft. Now that I think about it, that does work out to about $235sq/ft. Apparently this is just their default, I smell money figure. To be fair, however, this does seem to be the most often referred to price point anytime I read or hear anything about custom homes.

I think there's an existing stereotype that those who venture into the custom home category have lots and lots of $$ to spend. Perhaps this is vaild to a large extent, but we and others here are proof that it doesn't have to be.
Again, i think it's at least partly the I smell money thing.

Trust whomever you trust, but keep in mind that probably 95% of builders out there have no experience with anything even remotely outside the box. I have no doubt that the figure you're hearing could be accurate for a custom Mcmansion with six panel oak doors, acres of crown moulding, marble, granite, blahblahblah, and that your sources are qualified to make that generalization because that is what makes most homes custom, but we're not exactly the crown moulding and corbeled cabinet sect here, are we?

The way I see it, there are two ways to get a completely custom, site-built home. Option A: throw a lot of money at it and say gimme (the majority), or work twice as hard to find alternatives to A. Half the battle is realizing there are alternatives in the first place.

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by Bob at April 18. 2006

30% architects fee is absolutely CRAZY! I agree with eamesdaedelus.

I also agree with your comment about many residential designers not drawing a decent set of plans...and that's not even considering the constructability of their stuff.

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by Hendry at April 18. 2006

I too am in Michigan, but I am not having a $225/sqft experience. We are well into our build and it has been tolerable thus far - costs included.
Each builder we interviewed would have liked us to pick one of their stock plans, but they were all far from what we wanted - but that is only a design issue. What we did do, however, was to find a builder that built traditional homes at a suare-foot price that we were comfortable with and that offered other things we wanted like SIPs and room in their schedule that matched our desired timeline. We then drew our own plans and then presented it to them. They used their own staff to ensure that the plan was buildable and then redrew it. presto. After this point, I belive they gave the prints to a residential designer to produce the final/detail drawings. The designer did not participate in the actual design process.

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by David at April 18. 2006

30% is not correct. unless you are hiring Frank Ghery or some HUGE name that commands that TOP TOP dollar, because the name alone will add 30% more value to your house.
Any number of excellent architects with a solid name a reputation will charge 10-15% of construction costs. or by the hour, usually 100-150 for principal and 70-100 for staff. check out and use the find an architect feature, you will certainly find someone good.

Re: Thinking PreFab

Posted by Steven Comisso at May 08. 2006

I think fees very much depend on the scale and scope of the project. I have smaller projects where I've spent 4 times as much effort as on a large home. There are many variables, uniqueness of design, level of detailing required, site constraints etc. I would say for a building 10-15% is not unreasonable including some structural and HVAC work.

On psf pricing, we are telling clients of both traditional and contemporary work who are interested in a quality project $200/psf and up not including kitchen or bath fit outs as prices can vary wildly.

Drop me a line at if you want to chat further about your project and look at 3rd LEVEL urban in the blog area to see what we're up to; we may be able to help. We're doing a small project in Michigan right now.

Steven Comisso
Lynch + Comisso Architects

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