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Cost of Addition/General Costs for Contracting

14 replies [Last post]
Joined: May 6 2003

Anyone add on to their Eichler lately, as in expanding the size of the house without any plumbing? We'd really appreciate what your cost per square foot worked out to be. We have just spent several thou on architectural plans to add-on to our Eichler. (Don't worry, we hired really good architects and the house will be better, not worse! I swear on the graves of Jones, Oakland, Anshen, Lautner, Neutra, Schindler...) In effect, we are building a separate building in our courtyard that butts up against our house. The upshot being a smaller courtyard and a more atrium like entry/facade. The new structure is pretty simple as it has no plumbing and only basic electrical and heating. Think nice garage! Total sq ftg is about 200.

Getting bids has been a big challenge, requiring our architects' help. Only 1 contractor has responded thus far, another is presenting tonight. 1st bid came in at $300 a sqaure foot. I'm in the insurance business so I have quite a bit of experience with the cost of building, repairing and replacing conventional and custom homes. Yes...I know the cost per sq ft is higher for small jobs...but puhleeeeze! $300 a sq ft?

We have also been amazed at the quotes we have received for mini-split air conditioning. We've done the math, and the equipment mark ups are between 40 and 50%. The labor costs are $70 an hour. A simple 2 zone installation for $6,500-$8,000? The equipment is $2,400. Hello? We're getting one more bid before throwing in the towel....

We're not cheapskates, we just don't want to be stupid with our money. Are we being unfair to these contractors? Are these bids typical? Or is it a case of supply and demand? Are the contractors so busy, thanks to the growth in homeowners' equity coupled with low interest rates, that they can just name their price right now? Or is it just really expensive to be a contractor these days, eg really high overhead. More power to them if they're taking advantage of a contractor's market, but we'll wait for the tide to turn rather than get soaked.

Joined: Aug 28 2003

I have also found the bids from contractors very high. I was accustomed to L.A. where costs for remodeling/construction were 1/2 of what they are here. So many people are remodeling in the Bay Area that contractors have all the business they need and then some.
We have found free-lance tradesmen/women who have specialties in plumbing, electrical, cabinetry etc. and who are very good at what they do as well as reasonably priced because they don't have high overhead costs. In essence we have been acting as our own general contractor.
I think that general contractors can be worth every penny of 300.00 a sq. ft. but only if they can forsee problems and know how to solve them before they become too expensive as well as know how to coordinate their subs and find materials at a more affordable price than you could.
Some of the contractors I have interviewed were not very Eichler savvy and did not seem very organized and wanted me to do alot of the foot work that I would expect them to do. They also did not have a great knowledge of materials--I had more information than they did--and I am a novice.

Joined: May 20 2004


I've done several remodels on our previous two houses. Being fairly good at
1. budgeting
2. careful limitation of scope creep
3. flexibility on when/how smaller jobs are done,

my experience in this geographic area is that non-plumbing work tends to cost out around $125-150 per square foot, heavily dependant on choice of finishings. With plumbing is around double that.

FYI I've totally redone a bathroom for $11K and a kitchen for around 60K, with careful selection of materials. Recouped both on resale.

These were not eichlers....

Joined: May 6 2003

Thx for the replies. The second contractor came in at $340 per sq ft but felt he could probably get down to $289. #2 almost exclusively works on Eichlers. Contractor #3 is working on his bid, but we're not optimistic at this point. The job is essentially a garage with a tile floor and a slider. These bids are ridiculous. We are quite certain adding 200 sq ft to our Eichler at a cost of $60K plus $6K in design fees would not translate to $66K in additional value; hence, this is a poor use of capital.

What's really annoying is that we thought we had vetted this out before spending money on architectural plans. We talked to several architects, all with heavy Eichler experience, and we were told $150-$200 a sq ft would be very do-able. We haven't changed the scope of the project, we are talking with contractors recommended by our we're a bit perplexed. I could have had a nice Knoll womb chair and ottoman for what we've spent design work so far. Make that worthless design work, since we won't be building anything at these prices. With the headache this exercise has given me, that chair would be quite handy right about now!

Looks like it's goodbye guest room...hello hubby's get-away-from-the wife-baby-cat space! Or maybe I'll look into a nice pre-fab yurt from Oregon Yurtworks! Not to worry neighbors, we'll put it in the backyard, not the courtyard.

Joined: Mar 24 2003

We spoke to several architects and contractors in the Bay area about a major remodel, including some who had worked extensively with Eichlers and all them warned us to expect at least $300/sq ft, more for very high end finishes. It does seem ridiculous, but so do all costs associated with housing here.


Joined: Mar 20 2003

invest in an Eichler-friendly architect and be your own general contractor.

Take your time and hire contractors who do good work. $300/sqft is crazy and should not be acceptable. Do as much as you can yourself. The architect will give you construction documents and specifications. You then use these documents to make sure the work you and others do is correct and to code.

I know this seems a bit crazy, but these are the lessons I am learning while restoring my home.

Joined: Jan 4 2004

I am a General/electrical contractor. I have been working in the Peninsula/SF/South Bay for about 15 years, and I have to comment on some of these replies. Living in the Bay Area involves a standard of living that rivals New York City in cost. Everything costs more here. Gas, Insurance, Local taxes, building permits, (permit fees are about $6-$20 a sqaure foot) not to mention labor costs, (let's face it every worker on the food chain at a job site has to deal with the high costs associated with living here as well, so average wage is higher as well; this standard adjusts similiarly nation wide. The benefit that everyone seems to be overlooking is the fact that housing costs are a lot more than $300/sq/ft (and if any one knows of a fixer in central SM County going for $400 a sq/ft, I am currently looking...).
That being said, there is absolutely no way that any one can offer an opinion as to what your building costs should be with out looking at your drawings. I've been estimating for years, and certainly a rough guideline can be assigned for building costs and for insurance (as I've posted a couple of months ago), but there will be specs, details, and engineering issues specific to your project that will impact job cost directly. These are all issues that you are aware of related to the problem you are having, maybe I have a solution.
If you hire a contactor to build the "shell", (foundation, framing, siding) and schedule subs to finish, I am sure the costs can be reduced quite a bit.
As a contractor, I would not officially suggest hiring guys who work out of the back of their trucks that pretend to be contractors, with out having to bother with all that hassle of being licensed or insured or be accountable/liable for any risk or problems, Such as one of their "helpers" losing a finger or hand, or falling off of the roof.
Also, if you hire a "shell" contractor, see if he/she can consult with you on the linear sequence of the rest of the job. Project management on your project involves the following trades: foundation, framing, electrical, roofing, HVAC, millworks (finish carpentry),insulation, drywall, painting,
and flooring, in that order. It requires being proactive and a bit tenacious, and any intelligent person can accomplish it, if given a little guidance from an experienced person.
I'm sure if you are not in a rush, you can save some money as well, but like I implied earlier, check your comps in the area. If your choice is purely economic, and not for use and comfort, that can be a safe guide to determine if this project is worth it (will appraise out higher than you spend) when it is finished. Good luck


Joined: Mar 22 2003

It sounds like your grievance should be with the architects--not the contractors--for misleading you. If you told the architect that you had a budget of $150-$200 and they confirmed that this was "doable" and then drew your plans and charged you $6,000, maybe you are owed a refund.

I also find it interesting that that each of the quotes you got were all cosistent and right around the $300 range--further supporting the fact that it is the architect that screwed up. Not the contractors. You were given inaccurate information and I can sure see why you would be upset, after having paid for something that you cannot afford to have built.


Joined: Mar 20 2003

Brook: I totally understand your frustration. I waisted $7000 on plans for an addition where the bids came in twice as much as our budget. Needless to say we fired the architect. Instead, we put our money into restoring our 1200 sqft house and redid our patios and landscape for better outdoor living.

Despite what renman says, all contractors are evil (and I don't need to look at drawings to know that)!

But please, don't clutter your property up with a yurt. Instead, if you are considering a prefab alternative for your house guests, look at Edgar Blazona's prefab designs. They are closer to the style of an Eichler at about half the cost of your planned addition. I believe he is out of the Bay Area as well. Check out his new project:

also checkout this new project not on his site yet

Consider using Eichler siding and cork flooring to match your siding and create a nice prefab "addition". Heck you could even put mahogany panelling inside!

Something to think about. You could still get that womb chair! Good luck!

Joined: Mar 2 2004

Cathye has a great point. An architect's business is designing work to be built by others. They must have experience with 'finished job' costs. Please don't overlook the problems caused by the small size of the project. If this project had been added to a large project, it would have been on the low end of the cost scale.

Joined: Aug 28 2003

Regarding the comments on materials posted earlier;

Eichler siding is well worth the cost and effort of driving up to Marin County to get it. (Our original siding was pretty worn out and we replaced most of it and it made the house look new again.) As you can imagine it will visually tie the addition into the pre-existing house.
Cork flooring was also mentioned: be aware that it fades significantly in the sun and is expensive--unless someone knows of a brand that is fade proof. We installed solida cork which faded --although we are used to the color variations.

Joined: Jan 4 2004

Comment to Joe B about a generalization you made about "all contractors are evil" that tells me that you:
A. Have not have good experiences in hiring contractors
B. Seem to have repeated this mistake more than once
It seems that the last person that should be dispensing advise on how to secure help on a home improvement project is an individual that makes the same mistakes over and over.
I have been writing contracts for years. We have never had BBB complaints, legal issues, and far and away, most of my clients and I am on very friendly terms and still keep in touch, as I treat others I would prefer to be treated (the karmic wheel spins in spite of financial insecurity..)
Unfortunately, this type manner that we've been conducting business for the last several years is inconsistent with the definition of evil (q.v. morally wrong or bad). Perhaps it is fair to say that you've had poor experiences with contractors. It might be safe to say that an advanced screening method is suggested (refer to my article for tips...). If you have had friends or neighbors refer contractors you still have experienced trouble, maybe you are unlucky (or is there another common denominator?).
If the contractor comment was meant to be entertaining or provocative, you have succeeded; if you are serious, I really am sorry about all your experiences, perhaps you could consult a witch doctor or priest to have these contractors exorcised.
In any event, this response to your comment is providing me entertainment, and might even be provocative (extra bonus).


Joined: Mar 20 2003

renman: thanks for the tip about the witch doctors and priests. I'll check into it.

Actually, I think I have found a contractor whose is not too bad (splash holy water) for small jobs. Heck, he showed up on time today. That's a good start, right?

Joined: Mar 2 2004

When I say that "All contractors are evil", I am serious, but I am excluding myself. (and maybe Renman) Last month we did a couple of roofs for Joe Ehrlich, a now retired architect that I regard as famous. He told me that a developer friend of his once said that "All contractors really want to do a good job...except roofers" This didn't offend me at all. In fact, I was really surprised at the man's positive outlook.

Joined: Mar 31 2004

So far I am very happy with my contractor at way less than $300 sq ft.


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