Appreciate some feedback

JoePodestaMarch 25, 2013

I am looking for some feedback from someone with perhaps some more experience than I in terms of building a home. I have a refundable deposit on a property in Rockland County, NY. It is a lovely development, in which a few homes were build pre-crisis and then development stopped for a number of years and is now starting again. The way the build works is the sell you the lot, in this case the lot is 350k. There is a builder who is partnering with a real estate agent and will likely build most of the homes in the development and has built most of the homes that were developed pre-crisis. The arrangement is you pay the builder 50k to be manage the construction process and then you take pay all the costs.

I really like the builder, however, I get concerned that the quote he is giving me for the construction of the home is a very low. For instance, I gave him floor plans and we discussed an evelation based on something he's already built for a 3800 sq foot home and he roughly quoted it as 350k plus his 50k. That is barely over $100 a sq foot. Just from reading the board that seems very low. When I question him on it, I always get the response, "you have to realize these are wholesale prices and so long as you don't go crazy upgrading things you will be fine."

While this is certainly not a luxury build, I can't imagine Rockland county is an inexpensive area to build. It's not a low end home, it will have some stone, hardi plank siding, 3 car garage, basement, wood floors throughout. Does this rough quote seem way off to people with more experience? It seems if I google that $200-250 sq ft seems more reasonable. That would double the cost of the home and at that price I can't afford it.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. Further work on the plans would cost me money and I don't want to spend it if the quote is way off.

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Subdivision builds like you are describing aren't custom builds. The builder offers only a limited number of floor plans and a limited number of choices for items within those floor plans. That is how costs are kept under control. If you deviate from those floor plans or those finishes, then your price rises.

What are the specs for the amenities that come with that price? Vinyl floors in the kitchen, carpet everywhere else? No moldings, vinyl windows? What is your money buying?

And beyond the cosmetics, what are the construction specs? I'm assuming 2x6 construction because it would be difficult to get the required amount of insulation any other way, but what type of HVAC does it spec and what efficiency?

The cost being quoted is low, but if it only covers a builder grade build with a slightly modern more appealing curb appeal type of plan, then you're not getting either a custom build, or an upgraded build. Which could be fine, if this is a starter home and that is what you want and can afford for your starter home. If you have other expectations, that's when problems will start to arise.

I suspect that you need to do more research here. Both on what is being offered, and to know what it is you want. In many cases, people who want to build don't know what it is they don't know, and that's the biggest source of regret at the end of the build: missed opportunities to do it "better" because they didn't know what better was, or how to get it.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:43AM
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I believe you are partially correct in your description. I was able to pick any floor plan I wanted and there was a draftswomen who helps modify it for our needs. That said it's certainly not custom because there is no outside architect, but I am not limited by floor plans. As you suggested, I imagine to the extent I start putting anything in the home that isn't in their line up it will cost more, but they would build anything I wanted.

He suggested the windows would be Anderson 200 series, it's Hardwood oak #3 flooring throughout with tile in the kitchen and foyer. Again, I imagine the basic tile would be not be great stuff. Nine ft ceilings on each floor. 1 gas fireplace, 30k kitchen, we didn't discuss HVAC or 2x4 or 2x6 construction. Other than all homes in Rockland County built must be energy star compliant. I'm not sure exactly what that means.

I am obviously still doing more research. It is our first home, we are moving out of a 2 bedroom apartment rental outside of NYC, so no matter what it will be a huge step forward for us. However, I would love some feedback as far as what to expect.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 5:59PM
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Avoid Andersen 200 windows whether they are the Narrowline or the Tilt-Wash model. The Tilt-Wash doesn't have a slope or overhang to the sill so it is difficult to install so it won't leak unless you add a sub-sill (like the one Advanced Trimwright offers). The wood window sash is painted with PPG's Flexicron epoxy coating which is not a "cladding" as they claim but it is tough. The Narrowline is only painted wood and completely unacceptable. Both models only offer fake interior snap-in grilles or fake between the glass mullions. They both have a low performance rating for air infiltration but can meet the Energy Star requirement because that is a function of the glass used not the construction of the window.

This is a pretty good indication of how the builder can build for such a low price. Ask the builder what the cost would be to upgrade to an Andersen 400 Tilt-Wash or Woodwright.

The HVAC system will probably be a hot air furnace with flex-ducts. There will be no variable speed fan or computer controls and the ducts will be reduced in size where they turn or pass though tight spaces. There will be few return air ducts but large undercuts at the bedroom doors. They will probably pass though unheated attic spaces which is a bad practice. Any recessed lights will probably be 6" diam. 6 ft apart with huge R lamps if they can still be sold in your area. All plumbing will be plastic of some kind. The fireplace will be through-the-wall vented or possibly even unvented. The siding will be vinyl. The ceilings will be sprayed with a textured "popcorn" finish. Doors will be pressed hollow hardboard and the hardware a plated brass "tulip" design.

Without a full specification (which you will probably never receive) I can't tell you more.

Energy Star for your area means the windows must have LowE glass that has a u-value of .35 or less.

Insulation will be dictated by whether you must meet the IECC or the Energy Star Builder Option Package. I suspect it is the lower standard of the IECC but I recommend the higher standard.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:23PM
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It sounds like what a couple of GC's do here. They charge a flat fee up to 6000sf and the customer brings him their plans. The customer pays all the subs at GC's price so basically the customer gets the house at cost plus the GC flat fee. It's a hellava deal for the customer! There's not so much BS thrown around this way.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:32PM
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Renovator -

This is exactly the feedback I was looking for and I believe you are spot on. What should I watch out for, where does it really make sense to upgrade?

In the homes he built, the things that bother me are the plastic tubs, hollow doors, and some of the fixtures. The lighting seemed fine to me. The ceilings were not popcorn ceilings, but I will definitely put that on my list of things to ask.

Are cast iron tubs really expensive, what does a quality door go for?What is the issue with the HVAC you described, will I hate being in the home? Does plastic plumbing cause problems? Will my energy bills be out of control?

He told me each LED recessed light only costs like 65 bucks. Does that sound like what you are describing?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 9:30PM
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I read through some old emails. Here is some further detail about the specs.

⢠Insulation ��" Energy Star rated walls R-21 and upper ceiling R-38
⢠Windows: Pella Low-E glass with screens or equal value

The hardwood floors are Hardwood #1 white oak finished with two coats poly urethane; satin or gloss, customers choice. The fireplace is Direct vent gas fireplace

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 10:16PM
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I refuse to allow Pella on my projects. Ask about alternatives like Andersen 400 Woodwright or 400 Tilt-Wash. But only if you want white or green windows.

Don't use gloss poly on wood floors.

Insulation sounds good

Ask if the light fixture unit cost includes installation and switching.

Plastic waste pipes are OK if you keep horizontal runs out of living space ceilings.

You need a detailed description of the HVAC system including ducting materials return ducting, how the system will be sized and the efficiency of the heating and cooling equipment. this is a big cost issue.

Ask about the size and material of trim at the doors, windows, wall base and ceilings; they make a big difference in the feeling of quality.

You should be offered a complete spec broken down by trade categories not just a list of features in ransom order as so many builders like to do for reasons I have never understood.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 10:16PM
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That would seem to be not enough insulation in your zone. Plug your zipcode into the government calculator below to see the requirements. Remember that the requirements are just the minimum, and often in colder zones, adding more than the minimum can offer better payback if coupled with more efficient HVAC systems. However, there comes a point that the payback period is so long that upgrading doesn't make sense so beware the "more is always better" syndrome for all of that.

Here is a link that might be useful: Insulation Requirements by Zip Code

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 7:37AM
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The zip code site doesn't work but the insulation specified is what is required by the state energy code which is essentially the same as the Energy Star Builder's Option Package. Additional insulation is great but an additional inch will not save as much energy as the inch that precedes it. It will also probably require foam board under the siding or spray foam. That will get you above $100/s.f. pretty fast.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 9:11AM
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Those prices are right on with similar builders in my area and, in particular, the builder we're going with. To be sure, these are not custom homes, and corners are cut in places. For us, we're comfortable with that--thin moldings, entry-level fixtures, consumer grade appliances, etc. But I'll say there are a surprising list of features we're still getting. Further, I'm thrilled to get plastic tubs--when my 15 month old son stands up in the bath and slips, the fall is not nearly as scary in a plastic bath as a cast iron.

Now, I will ask, have you considered a smaller house and using the difference to get those upgrades that make sense? If they had a plan that was 500 sf smaller and cost $50k less, that might make room in your budget for the upgraded windows and the like. Only you can make the decision about whether the space is worth more than the features, but just a thought.

Finally, at least with my builder and similar builders in our area, they are quite open to changes, so you might as well ask if you have them in mind. It does not cost much to move a wall here or there, and for the things that do cost more (extra cabinets, etc) I've been given very reasonable prices.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 11:05AM
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Base model/base price. You are wise to consider all the specs and potential upgrades now. Upgrades can increase the cost exponentially.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 4:01PM
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I hope you don't mind if I ask Renovator for further detail on his plumbing comment. Good luck with your build.


Can you clarify your comment: "plastic pipes are OK, if you keep horizontal runs out of living space ceilings". Should those building upgrade to cast iron pipes for those horizontal runs? We asked for cast iron pipes for a couple of vertical drops, but we will have a horizontal run in our finished basement that currently was planned as plastic. What do you suggest?



    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 8:41PM
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Plastic waste pipes are noisy when in a ceiling above a living space so cast iron would be better and the ceiling should be on resilient channels and well insulated but the better approach would be to keep the pipes out of those ceiling.

Also there are enclosures sold for plastic pipes that help to reduce noise transmission.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 11:29AM
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Thanks for the plumbing info, Renovator.


    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 9:15PM
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