What does the average Home Builder charge per square meter to build a New House?

Many investors, landowners, and homeowners’ question what the average price per square meter rate is to build a house. This is much like asking ‘how long is a piece of string’. While some houses will cost R6000 per square meter, others can cost up to R20 000. There are a variety of elements that influence the cost of a house. 

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In this article we discuss this question and provide an answer that will hopefully assist in estimating your home building budget. 

If we go back to many years ago many buildings were very uniform in design. (Imagine suburbia in Desperate Housewives). The only difference between house A and house B was layout and colour of the walls. It would have been quite possible for a home builder to give an accurate estimate on the price per square meter to build. However, over the last 2 decades, architecture and design boundaries have been pushed. Coupled with the vast differences in finishes and choices in interior decor, the price per square meter rule becomes a lot more complicated. Like estimating the cost of a bag of groceries, one would need to know which shop it is from and what was bought. The same principle needs to be applied to pricing a house.

Building a new home could possibly be one of your biggest investments in life, so planning it around an estimate per square meter will throw your design and finish budget off. You need to first establish what your budget is. Consider the size and house design you like as well as the internal finishes you would like to have. Do you want a single storey home that suits your needs with decent finishes or a home that is elaborate and luxurious? Let us say you have a budget of R6 million for example. You would not want to spend R5 million for an elaborate structure design and then only have R1 million left to try and finish the house. You will end up with a fancy shell with inferior quality finishes.

At the same time, you do not want to compromise and build a cheaper, less preferred style, and then have over-the-top finishes. And this is where the challenge comes in – finding a balance of style and finish that suits your budget. You may have a particular budget in mind, and a certain style that you will have an affinity to. You now need find an architect and home builder who can marry these 2 as best as possible.

Elements that influence the price per square meter that you need to take into consideration:

- Layout of the Land:

Take a look at the layout of the piece of land you have bought. If the land is sloped, do not shy away from designing different levels into your home. A home that follows the slope of the land will be more cost effective and have less hassles. When you start “cutting” into the ground, you find you need to accommodate water ingression with fancy cut off drains and waterproofing. When you raise levels, you find that you need to incorporate retaining walls to support the structure. All adding to the cost. Where practically possible, try follow the natural layout of the land.

- Design of the House:

Believe it or not, but an “open plan” house is far more expensive than a house with more internal walls. This is because you have less support to hold up the second floor or roof. Thus, the support that you do have will need to be substantially stronger. Instead of a brick wall, you might end up needing a concrete wall, or concrete pillars designed into the space. Steel posts are used if you do not want large structural columns, and these all add on to the cost. When you have exceptionally large openings (larger than 4m), or very wide spans between support, the need for concrete beams or structural steel beams then become necessary. I-beams, used to support slabs, come in various sizes and thicknesses. The “smaller” profiled beams can be used aesthetically if your design lends itself to that, however, the moment you start needing the thicker beams for support reason, the price jumps exponentially.

There are also structural components to be considered. Cantilever slabs, and “eyebrow slabs” over windows and doors are often aesthetically required. Beams that span across large voids to give design elements, or to create shade/covering are also used in designs nowadays, however these all increase the structural element as they need to be supported.

- Kitchens and Bathrooms:

In addition to the design aspect, bathrooms and the kitchen are two of the most expensive areas of a home.

The Kitchen is the heart of any home, and the bathrooms are functional “high wear” areas of the home. We always advise our clients to go for the best kitchen that they can afford, even if it means they may sacrifice in other small areas. A cheap kitchen deteriorates fast, whereas a quality kitchen will last through the ages. We have seen many a good quality, perfectly fine kitchen get replaced purely because the kitchen has dated, not because it has deteriorated. Design the kitchen to suit the size house. When designing, consider:

  • Do you want appliances built in (more expensive) or free standing?
  • Do you need a complete room as a pantry, or will a pantry cupboard suffice?
  • The scullery is one of the most used areas of the kitchen, try not to skimp on size.
  • Cupboard space and functionality is far more important than fancy cupboards fronts that pull out with inner workings, baskets etc.

If you can afford the best of both, then go for it but taking these small things into consideration will have a huge impact on your project cost.

Bathrooms are also an aspect to think about.

  • Does every bedroom have to have an en-suite, or can a few bedrooms share a bathroom?
  • Do the bathrooms all have to be full bathrooms with shower and a bath?
  • When selecting vanities, do you want to have custom made, fit for purpose vanities, or would a good looking “off the shelf” vanity suffice?
  • Perhaps a custom vanity for the main bathroom only?
  • Concealed toilet cisterns (like the Giberit system) and free-standing baths are all the rage at the moment, but they cost up to 4 times the price of standard units.

Consider the purpose and aesthetics before you choose purely based on the current fashion.

- Staircases:

Free standing staircases look amazing and create an inviting, open atmosphere. However, they are very pricy due to their structural requirements. They also take up space. Sometimes a staircase that is more “closed up” can double up as a storeroom, or you could add guest loo below to maximise on space.

- Windows and Doors:

Believe it or not, but glass can be more expensive than a brick wall. Large windows and doors cause several knock-on effects. Firstly, due to the size of the opening (window or door), there is a structural requirement that is involved.

  • Would there be a concrete beam or a steel I-beam above the opening to support the structure above?
  • Is there a steel post somewhere that is built into the design?

The price of glass actually increases exponentially as it gets bigger. A small piece of glass may only be 4mm thick, costing a couple hundred rand per square. Compared to a large piece of glass that is 16mm thick (for safety reasons), which can cost thousands per square.

Glass also contributes to the energy efficiency factor of a house. All new houses built in South Africa need to comply with the new energy efficiency regulations. Your architect will talk about the “XA-calculations”. This basically says that the house needs to be able to maintain temperature better during both summer and winter months. So, when you start going with exceptionally large openings, the glazing may need to have a Low-E coating added to it, or even increased to double glazing. If that does not give the correct calculations, then the architect will start introducing those eyebrow slabs we mentioned, or design elements that create shade over the windows. All of these contribute to the price.

- The Finishes:

It goes without saying that the finishes also play a large part of the price. Tiles, carpets, laminate vs engineered wood, imported sanitaryware vs local. Skirting, architraves, and cornice can become a high-cost item based on what you select. Our suggestion is to only select these high-end items if they are a feature to the home. Skirting and cornice are typically functional items and not a feature, so do you need solid wood? Choose your lighting wisely, and shop around for finishes.

For example, a house built in Melrose which sold at R19 Million did exactly this. It was a very modern house with large and high, open windows and open plan spaces. While a lot of money was spent on the structural elements, the finishes budget was managed wisely. The floor tiles were an entry level tile from a reputable tile supplier – they were however a good quality tile that ensures longevity. The internal doors were plain, there was no cornice, and the skirting was plain – painted the same colour as the wall. Lighting was very minimal, and there were actually no feature lights (pendant / chandeliers). This allowed the developers to put more focus onto features like a marble tiled fireplace wall, a glass balustrade, and an ultra-modern kitchen.

Can a home builder give an accurate building estimate without plans?

Unfortunately, no. As a home builder there is truly little that we can do in terms of assisting with price per square meter on the structure. This is largely dictated by the architect’s design, and the engineer who provides the specification for the structure. The price of concrete, bricks, steel cement and the like are pretty much the same for all home builders. When you receive various quotes from contractors, you will generally find that when it comes to the structure price, the lower the contractor is, the less he has taken into consideration. Perhaps he quoted on the thinnest slab, or the smallest foundations. And the more expensive contractor has quoted on more realistic figures. i.e., The plan may show the opening at 6m wide with lintels plus brickwork above, but the contractor already knows it will be a concrete beam instead of lintels for structural reasons.

At Jukka Construction, we prefer to provide accurate quotes based on architectural plans to avoid under budgeting and disappointing your expectations. We can also assist greatly throughout the project with cost saving when it comes to finishes. We have a vast network of reputable suppliers and are able to advise which are better suited to engage with based on your budget. We will direct you where we feel a saving can be enjoyed. With features you prefer not to compromise on, we find ways to get the best price. 

Hopefully the above has given you a little bit of guidance and some things to think about as you venture into this exciting project. Do not hesitate to contact us should you have any concerns or need further assistance.