architect’s estimate v. builder’s estimate: showdown in the Is-the-project-budget-OK Corral

We’ve enjoyed going through the design process (again...), but we’ve had a growing sense of foreboding. It’s not Architect 2d’s fault. Chalk it up to post-traumatic stress syndrome from Design Process 1.0 where the project crashed-and-burned once it (twice) came in fatally above budget (ultimately fatal to that design and to the relationship with Architect 1.0). The house Architect 2d and the Usonian Expert put together is fabulous nice. And fabulous nice costs money. As the bride put it “I love the house, but I’m worried.” As Design Process 2.0 reached the 95 percent completion point, Architect 2d worked up his in-house budget for the house. And it came in at the goal. Whew! However, given our experience with Architect 1.0 (and after reading Malone’s book), we wanted the builder to take a look at the house and give us an estimate from his point of view at this point.

And the builder’s estimate came in at (drum roll please [cough, cough]) just about the same as the architect’s! Yay, yay, double yay!!! We yipped, we yollered, and we clinked champagne glasses filled with champagne (and drank the contents).

It’s remarkable how close the two estimates are (calling Alex Jones...). When we passed this (good) news on to the architects, Architect 2d replied (and I’m paraphrasing) ”But of course!” Architect 2d has (nearly) reinstated our faith in the architectural profession (we say "nearly" because we haven't seen him dance yet; we withhold full reinstatement until we see him dance).

Back when I threw my hissy fit over Architect 1.0, I said we wanted an architect who did design-build because that meant he would know how much it cost to build. Ultimately that didn’t work out. The economic downturn seemed to dry up the ”low end” design-build firms. However, Architect 2d used to do design-build, so he’s clearly used that experience to properly price out projects.

I can’t tell you how happy we are! 

[photo by mwah!]


  1. Whew, indeed. When will the plans be final-final? What's the square footage? When do you expect construction to begin?

    Exciting times!

  2. Not sure when the plans will be final-final, but hopefully soon (depends on the back and forth, and I need to talk to the architects about thermal bridging...). Square footage (at this point) is 1,592 sq-ft on the ground floor plus 668 sq-ft on the up floor for a total of 2,260. We think that's reasonable, especially considering that our previous house was 1,100 and we currently in 740.

    Three to four months for construction to start?

  3. Reviving an old post here, but I'm curious. Would you try to do design-build if you started another house? I thought we worked out a lot of details with our architect, but now working with the builder I see there are so many more details to worry about. Although (very) expensive, DB would be a lot less stressful I think.

    1. A post is only as old as it feels...

      Setting aside how fond we are of our current architects, we would go design-build. Theoretically it should be less expensive, but I suspect it depends on how the design build firm is set up. I think the main benefit is having the builder an intimate part of the discussions from the get go, which can help in the design and costing of the project.

      I hear you on the details. If you have big-big bucks, the architect can be involved in all those details through the build and make appropriate design choices. But that costs money. I imagine the same applies to the design build. You pay the architects for a certain level of detail up front and the rest gets taken care of during the build.