For new homes, the process is typically Design, then Construction (though I have known a few who have tried the reverse...) When it comes to design, here are the basic options:
- Draw the plans yourself
- Home Plan Websites
- Pre-fabricated or Modular homes
- Hire a builder and let him or her design it (this is known as Design/Build)
- Hire a professional designer or architect
Depending on your location, local building departments will actually accept house plans as little more than "napkin sketches". This is not advisable, and fewer building departments are accepting such basic plans.
Home Plan websites are the bane of the professional designers' existence. The future pie-eyed homeowner selects one of a gazillion pre-drawn house plans, then purchases the "plans". Typically the plans are little more than floor plans, exterior elevations and a few wall sections showing typical construction. Changes, or "modifications" can be had through the company for a fee (usually $75-100/hour at the time of this writing). The upside is that there are number of quality designers and even architects who are now putting their designs on such websites in order to make a residual income. One of the downsides is that you may have quite a bit of costs added in due to modifications just to have the home meet local building codes. But, okay, you still have "saved" a bit of money. Pricing for the plans themselves is usually dependent on the number of square feet.
Pre-fabricated or Modular homes are somewhat similar to purchasing pre-drawn plans, but you're purchasing a pre-constructed home as well. The upside is that these companies typically operate on scales of economy and efficiency. The homes are constructed in "controlled environments" and with materials that have been purchased, usually, in great quantity in order to pass the "savings" onto the new homeowner. The downside is that the homes are built with cost at the forefront of design - meaning the designs are well, usually ho-hum, tough there are a few exceptions that use trained professionals to come up with designs.
Design/Build. Many builders will offer this, and sometimes they will state the design is free-of-charge. Usually, the design fee is hidden in the cost of the construction. Some homebuilders are true craftsman and may design a truly quality home. However, many are not. Buyer beware.
The above "services" have regulated the home building experience to a mere commodity - a marketable item produced to satisfy a need or want. However, the design and building of a new home has traditionally been a service, with an experience attached to it, rather than a mere product. The design of a new home is not the same as going to the supermarket and picking items off the shelf. It's the difference between the experience of eating a carefully prepared meal versus going through the drive-thru of the local fast food chain. It doesn't have to be "expensive", but it should be purposeful and exciting.
Last but not least: hiring a professional to design a truly unique, one-of-a-kind home to your specifications. This affords the homeowner the utmost control of design. There is a common misconception that hiring a designer or an architect is expensive. (My hourly fees are less than my plumber!)
But how does all this translate to cost? Any designer and builder will tell you that price-per-square-foot "rules of thumb" are not good indicators of what a home will cost. There are, after all, MANY factors that go into building a home. However, they are a good place to start. Your standard builder "Spec" house will average around $75-$100 per square foot. Some "custom home builders" may state the same prices, but these are rarely true custom DESIGNED homes.
A quality home, similar to pictures splashed around in all the glossy magazines, is closer to $175-$225. For lower-end "luxury", plan on $400-$500/s.f. And for high-end luxury, expect some rooms to be as much, or more, than $1000 per square foot.
When we receive a new client, we pull out this Construction Budget Matrix that we designed in-house. (Construction Budget is on the left; Cost per square foot is across the top; and the maximum square footage of the home is populated in the matrix.) Seeing all the numbers and how they generally correspond to a price per square foot is extremely helpful in keeping the project within budget. Of course, we like to err on the side of caution. This matrix is not a one-size fits all, but it is a great place to start a discussion about budget, real-world numbers and how they will ultimately effect the design of your new home.
Like everything, you get what you pay for and the lowest "bidder" is not always the best practitioner. What's important to note here is that you can get not only "design" services, but a host of other services that include solicitation of bids from builders, construction administration to ensure the builder you have selected is doing the work according to the plans, and perhaps most importantly, someone to call to deal with the headaches "in the field" when they arise.
Working with a design professional can not only save you money in the long run, thorough project planning and oversight, but can also be a wonderful rewarding experience in the designing a home of your dreams.