My motivation for writing this article is to address one of the largest concerns I have as a professional custom home designer and master builder with close to 30 years in the residential construction industry. Anyone thinking about or preparing to build a new home should fully understand the concept of “A good house plan doesn’t cost you money, it saves you money” They need to completely understand the difference between a cheap house plan, a stock house plan and a professional custom designed house plan. I see cheap poorly done house plans all the time or outdated old stock home plans that are so inadequate they are nothing more than a plan to build a disaster, not a plan to build a good quality home. Some of the plans that I do are for people that already purchased a cheap plan or older outdated stock plan only to have a builder or permit official throw them back and tell them to go get a better detailed, code compliant set of plans. My concern is that if a person is about to build their dream home or any project why would they want to start the process with a cheap plan. As your home is one of the largest investments you make in life why would you accept anything less than a detailed, professionally created set of plans prepared by a dedicated experienced service and designer?
I recently spent several hours over four days working on a proposal for a couple seeking a custom designed plan to build their final nest, their dream home for over 20 years. They provided me some rough sketches and a half page of typed text and a few sample images and layouts they had found on the internet. A roughly 2,800 square foot, typical wood framed, 3 bedroom 3.5 bath home on a full unfinished basement with a two car garage. To be built on a lot they have owned for 15 years in North Metro Atlanta, Georgia. Right down the middle of the average home demographics for that area of Atlanta. A very pleasant couple to work with, serious about building the house, ready to start as soon as possible and highly educated professional empty nesters. In that area the average cost to build will run around $110.00 per square foot, with average middle of the road specifications. That is average current numbers for a total estimated cost for construction of $310,000.00 hard cost using a local reputable licensed general contractor.
After the initial phone consultation I determined that this would need to be a fairly detailed plans packages with a number of additional add on details to meet local permitting requirements. As I am heading into the slowest season of the year for my business and because the project was less than 100 miles from my office I cut the price down a little and added in a couple of freebies to make for a very nice highly detailed set of plans. The bottom line for the entire design package based on the information provided I estimated a final cost of $1,400.00 or $0.50 per square foot. This type of plan will be approximately 10 pages 24” by 36” Arch D Sheets at ¼” scale.
I sent the proposal to them via email and followed it up a day later with a phone call to see if they had any questions. After a few minutes he informed me that he thought the plans were too expensive and he had found someone that could do them for half of my price. After a bit more conversation he told me that a friend of his from work had some design software he bought at the local office supply store and was going to do the plans for him. When I asked if the friend had experience in the construction business he said he had worked construction part time for a couple of years in college and had built a room addition on his house a few years back. I ended the conversation soon after wishing them the best of luck and thanked them for the chance to bid on their plans.
The fact they did not purchase my service is no big deal. I would have liked to have the job but not every inquiry converts to a design contract. The thing that got to me is I hear this type of thing allot. The internet is full of the horror stories of good people getting in trouble trying to build their dream home. The majority of these cases are because they had an outdated or inadequate set of house plans and the lack of details and specific information plus their lack of knowledge in construction ran their build costs through the roof. From a legal standpoint the same lack of vital information in the contract documentation left them no grounds to recover from so they lose. I really understand the concept of trying to save money and get the best deal but I have a serious issue trying to do that on the most important piece of the puzzle that is building a house or any project for that matter. I’ve tried time and again to get potential clients to understand this but in many cases the cheap plan wins out. This is normally the choice of the prospect that has little or no construction experience thus they simply do not understand just how vital a professional construction plan is. A stark contrast to this is that when I design plans for a good contractor in almost every job their plans for a similar house will run around 15 to 20 pages and their final cost for the design will run closer to $1.00 per foot and they are thrilled to get them done that cheap. The difference is easy to see, an experienced builder knows without a doubt that a real good detailed plan will not just save him allot of time, effort and energy it will make him more money because it saves him money. This is why my business motto is “A good house plan doesn’t cost you money, it saves you money”
Speaking as a former General Contractor with over 20 years experience building custom homes to a present day Custom Home Designer with 9 years experience designing custom homes I assure you the most important tool you have in the box when building a new house are the house plans. A good quality well detailed house plan is vital to every aspect of a successful construction project. It not only provides the information needed to determine quantities of materials, labor, overall cost to build, documentation for contracting, sub-contracting, permitting, and what to build where and how, it can also save you allot of time effort and most of all money because it leaves little to guess or assume. The better the quality of the plan the easier the whole project will be to complete at every step.
You can get a great value and a great set of plans so the concept of saving money on house plans is realistic just be smart about it and do your homework. The fact that a person has some software and can draw a pretty picture with it doesn’t mean the end result will be anything more than a pretty picture. A good plan requires allot of time and experience to create. On a plan as described above I will spend on average over 60 hours of actual time. On average I spend about 15 hours drawing the floor plans and elevations and about 40-45 hours on the consultation with the clients, researching design criteria and creating the construction details, notes and specifications that go into the design. I check and recheck everything and dig deep into the clients head to make sure what they envision is transferred to paper as accurately as possible.
Bottom line is when it comes to a house plan you always get what you pay for. If you do your shoping around do the research then pick a good, highly skilled home designer designer you will see why I say “A good house plan doesn’t cost you money, it saves you money”
Just remember that what is on those pieces of paper translates to you dream home which is directly connected to your wallet. There is no exception to using good “Plans Sense” in making your choice.
By: Frank Dollar
Owner GFD Architectural Design