Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Building the Modern House Design of Your Dreams, or Not?

You may find that you are one of those people that wants something more in a home than the 4000 sq ft builder special that is so prevalent in subdivisions everywhere. You like modern architecture; You want a modern style home; But there are just not any available for purchase, new or old! What are your choices?

Your only real option is to build a modern home that meets your desires. But the bigger question is: Should you build a modern style home? And, is doing so a reasonable investment?

It seems there are a number of things that concern people who consider building a modern style home, among them are: a perceived smaller potential resale market, higher building costs, unforeseen problems perceived by the contractor, more expensive building materials and higher design costs. These are just a few things that come to mind.

So, yes, many things should cost the same and some things may cost more. But, the cost can be balanced out by making compromises here and there. Maybe reducing the size of the home slightly will offset some other costs. Or possibly choosing some less expensive finishes might be an option. Regardless, there are ways to deal with costs.

One option is to find a contractor who will work on a cost-plus basis. With cost-plus, your contractor is guaranteed to make a certain percentage on the total cost of the home but still gives you to power to make choices regarding finishes and fixtures.

I do not agree with the perception that there is a smaller resale market for modern homes. In reality, there are fewer people who will be interested in purchasing a modern design, but this group may only be looking at modern and not at other styles. So, yes the group is smaller, but it is more specific. I do not have any numbers to backup my position, but I have talked with so many people that like modern design that I am convinced a demand does exist. I believe a strong demand exists for no other reason than a desire to live in something special as well as different from the norm.

I know people that are so concerned about resale value that they would never buy a modern home. I do not agree with this logic. My thinking is, buy what you want and what you will enjoy. If you will be happier living in a house you love for the next 20 years as opposed to living in just another house, don't be too concerned about resale value. Quality of life is so much more important than getting a little more money when the home is sold. Life is short, buy or build what you want if it will improve your long term happiness.

I think there are a large number of people who would like to own a modern design, but when they start looking at the project’s building cost and consider costs published in many magazines, it seems out of their reach. I do not believe this is completely accurate, but it is what many people perceive, both consumer and builder.

As far as a building cost, why should a modern design cost much more than a conventional design to build. They both utilize roughly the same materials to create the structure and many of the same materials and fixtures for the interior and exterior. Modern design homes can also use exactly the same mechanical systems. Two areas of increased cost: a modern home may use different and more expensive windows and the roof system may also be more expensive depending on the configuration.

Another issue that limits the number of modern designs being built is fear of the unknown. Developers and builders need to make money on their projects. So, anything that is different from what they know will be perceived as costing more. A developer may charge more for a modern because he thinks it will cost more to build. The builder may also charge more for a modern home because he thinks there may be problems with building something that uses unusual materials or has an unconventional design. I believe both of these positions are wrong.

The siding used on a modern design may or may not be more expensive than materials used on a conventional home. The typical siding options for a modern home are wood panels such as T-111, fiber cement panels, stucco, wood siding, or even galvalume metal siding if that is the look you want. Most of these have about the same cost as other inexpensive siding materials, wood being the exception.

Modern home designs do typically have more windows than a conventional home. So, yes, this does increase the base cost, but by how much? All homes have windows. So, a modern design will have more windows and maybe there is an increased cost of $5K. That is fine, it will increase the cost of the home but not substantially. You can spend $50K on windows, but that is a more extreme example and not what I am talking about.

Depending on the roof configuration, this may also incrementally increase the total cost of the home. But again by how much? If the materials required for the roof add an additional $10K to the home, it increases the total cost $10K. The extra $10K is 4% of a $250K house.

What I am trying to say is that a modern style home does have to cost significantly more than a comparable contemporary home. You may just have to work a little or a lot harder to find a builder that agrees with this. Depending on your budget, you may also have to compromise about the finishes you utilize both inside and outside the home.

When you build any home, it is most important to get the bones of the house right the first time. This means the structure and layout that you want. You want to build a good, strong, well insulated, energy efficient home regardless of the style. To keep within your budget, you can compromise and use some less expensive finishes and fixtures initially. These can always be upgraded at a later date. You may even find that if you use some materials in an unconventional way, you get a unique modern look and save money. And no, you may not be able to have quite the same look at the super slick designs you see in Dwell, but you can still have a nice, unique modernist home for a reasonable price.

It is all relative. Here in the Kansas City area, you can have a contractor built home for around $120 per sq ft including the lot. I know that is much cheaper than in some parts of the country, but cost is all relative to where you live. If you are willing to work hard and do a substantial amount of the building labor yourself, you could even get a modernist style home for less than $100 sq ft (or even possibly less).

My point is, if you really want a modernist home, you can have one for a reasonable price, it just may require more work and tenacity on your part.

1 comment:

  1. It's a basic supply and demand situation, there may not be big demand, but there's also not a lot of supply. If I had a selection of modern homes to choose from, I wouldn't be building! How do you think the passing of the housing bubble will impact modern home building? It seems that builders may put more thought into unique designs now bringing an end to the cookie cutter McMansion era.