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Building a home in PA

Original post made by Raphael, Crescent Park, on Nov 1, 2007

Hi all,

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Comments (14)

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Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2007 at 4:33 pm

Judging from our experience and others that have shared their stories, you will want to budget around $250-300/sf for a nice but not wildly extravagant house. The dollar amount on permits is misleading.

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Posted by Raphael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2007 at 4:37 pm

Thanks for the feedback! I've heard the ~250 figure as well, hence my confusion. Can you tell me why the dollar amounts on permits tend to be misleading?

I would also love to hear anyone else's experiences with this matter as well.

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Posted by Adam
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 1, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Estimate $200/sq.ft. This is an approximate cost and will vary up or down depending on the details. A contractor can give you a ball park figure if you give him a rough estimate depending on the number and size of the rooms, one or two car garage, one or two story, and amenities.

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Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2007 at 4:44 pm

The permit doesn't include all the costs - for example architect fees, structural engineer fees, out of pocket costs (say you are spending $35K for kitchen cabinets and not billing it through the GC; landscaping etc.) And the dollar amount on the permit is set long before a price is worked out with a contractor. Everything seems to cost a lot more when you get down to actually signing on the dotted line.

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Posted by KCM
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 1, 2007 at 4:45 pm

The permit fee amounts paid to the city are based on the estimated construction costs. That tends to lower the reported estimate.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2007 at 4:46 pm

Don't forget the school impact cost which is paid to the school district. This is worked on percentages and I know it has gone up recently. It is worth checking with PAUSD to find out the latest figures.

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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Nov 1, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Many of the permit fees are based on the minimum allowable square foot costs that the Building Department will accept. I think this is currently around $160 per sqft. I don't think it has been updated in a while. It will probably be changed soon.

Saavy builders know to submit this minimum as the construction cost in order to lower their permit fee.

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Posted by Raphael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2007 at 5:10 pm if we were thinking of a 2500 s/f, 4 bedroom 2-story house with no garage that wasn't too overly ornate, would 500k be unrealistic or potentially doable? I realize that there is a great deal of range, but I'd appreciate any feedback. Anyone know approximate costs either in their own experience or people they know?

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Posted by Jerry
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 1, 2007 at 5:28 pm


How do you get away with no garage? Even with my small little shack, I am required to have a garage.

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Posted by Built
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2007 at 5:31 pm

I'm not sure you can build a new house with no garage - we built from scratch in PA, and I do believe a 2 car garage was required. In fact, we had to change around a closet to to get the minimum required floorspace for the garage.
I do think your figure of 500K could be low. We did ours for about 600, and its a 1 story, 4/2, and its nice but not fancy. No matter how you try to squeeze it, and we tried as much as we could, it was hard to go any lower. We did roof trusses instead of framing a roof - that saved about 30K, but reduces some of your attic flexibility. I'd be happy to give you any more input, I enjoy talking about building the house.

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Posted by Raphael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Sorry if I was not clear...the no garage thing is based on the fact that the land already has a garage in the back of a pre-existing cottage that would be knocked down. So I meant that no additional garage would be needed. Sorry again for the confusion.

Sounds like overall we'd be looking at 600k for our plans then. That's around what we had initially figured but I got excited seeing all these building permits for 400k homes...guess I should have known it was too good to be true!

On a related note, can anyone recommend any good contractors in the area who might be able to keep costs down? Finally, do architects tend to have a good sense of roughly how much a design might come to cost? E.G., if we said we wanted to keep total costs at or below 600, and gave some overall parameters of what we would like, is that something that people ever do?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2007 at 7:25 pm

A two car garage is required if there is a complete scrape of the previous building. If you keep one main wall you can built with the size of garage that is presently on the lot. Check all this out with the planning department - codes change.

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Posted by Chris
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2007 at 12:10 pm

An architect can definitely work within parameters of your budget...if you say you don't want to go over 600,000, he won't design a massive house that would cost 1 million or more to construct. I would recommend being flexible in terms of what you want, and prioritize what you really want in your home vs. what you'd merely like to have. That way, you can cut out certain things when the time comes in order to stay within budget. You can definitely build a great home for 500 or so, but it may not be excessively elegant or whatever. Just be clear regarding your upper limit from the get-go with both the architect and whatever contractor you end up going with.

4 years ago I built a 4 bed/3 bath single story home for around 450,000. Construction costs have increased since then, but not by THAT much. Just be flexible and creative and it can be done.

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Posted by BeenThere
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2007 at 12:34 pm

Figure out if your house is in the flood zone (rules could have changed).About 5yrs ago, if you were in the flood zone and if the city determined that the cost of your construction was more than 50% they made you bring the house 'upto code' - which was, incase of flood zone, a complete rebuild.

The cost of construction - what the city determines - is really way off from what a real contractor will charge. I have no clue how the city comes up with those low numbers. $300 per sq feet for a decent house (going with upgraded insulations, windows - but no fancy roofs or fireplaces or bathrooms)

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