Charlotte is listed as one of the best places to live due to its balanced cost of living, low cost of utilities, low property tax, and good school system. The growth of employment opportunities from the increasing number of company headquarters draws many people to the city. Additionally, its strong market has given it a boost in economic recovery after the hold in operations last April-May 2020.
The Cost of Building a Custom Home in Charlotte
Charlotte is listed as one of the best places to live due to its balanced cost of living, low cost of utilities, low property tax, and good school system. The growth of employment opportunities from the increasing number of company headquarters draws many people to the city. Additionally, its strong market has given it a boost in economic recovery after the hold in operations last April-May 2020.Charlotte’s strong performance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way to an increase in inward migration. As an economic hotspot, the city is expected to experience sustained population growth and an upward trend in its housing demand. The mix of both high-income and blue-collar jobs will result in more residents with different types of housing needs. In turn, this will keep prices relatively more affordable despite the high demand.
Consequently, Charlotte is currently experiencing a low housing supply, with a 1.2-month supply compared to the typical 4-5-month supply. This can be attributed to the low-interest rates and lack of inventory. Additionally, Charlotte residents seem to be opting to rent or buy instead of beginning new construction projects. Given these circumstances, how is Charlotte’s construction industry faring in a market that favors renting and buying?
The national cost for new home construction ranges between $100 and $155 per square foot. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s average total cost for construction is $160 to $225 per square foot. Moreover, in 2020, Charlotte priced its standard construction at $140 to $150 per square foot while the historic district decided on $200 to $225 per square foot. The prices will differ across neighborhoods, with historic districts typically costing more. Homeowners may also face different pricing based on how construction firms are handling different nationwide obstacles like material and labor shortages. Some firms are choosing to have higher prices to make up for the shortages and loss of income from delayed project completion.
Figure 1. Typical cost breakdown of a single-family home constructed using the conventional method, according to Home Builder Digest.
Outside of those factors, new home construction pricing is also dependent on hard and soft costs. Anything related to building the physical structure of the house itself, such as framing, foundation, plumbing, roofing, and flooring are categorized as hard costs. Everything else such as land, architecture, design, builder fees, and permits fall under soft costs. It is important to understand how hard and soft costs affect the overall expenditure so that homeowners are ready for unforeseen fluctuations.
Hard costs cover the facets that are physically part of the house itself. These include flooring, roofing, foundation, and the like. Duane Johns, regional partner with Alair Homes and co-owner of Alair Homes Charlotte, shares that based on his experience, value-conscious or production-style homes tend to be priced from $150 to $200 per square foot, while mid-ranged homes go from $200 to $300 per square foot. A fully customized home is $300 per square foot and up.
Evan Weiss, owner and general contractor of Carolina Classic Builders provides mid-range to higher-end pricing points. For the firm, projects can start from about $175 per square foot and can go over $300 per square foot.
Ted Thompson, president of Thompson Custom Building Group, gives similar estimates for high-end projects at $300 to $450 per square foot. High-end projects typically feature more sophisticated and detailed designs with lots of glass, increasing the windows and door packages, as well as wood or slate roofing. It also usually has higher-end finishes all around.
One of the contributing factors of construction pricing is the material and labor that goes into the work. Due to high demand but low supply, more money is being required to complete projects. Construction firms are experiencing a delay in lead, because of the material and supply acquisition. A material delivery that might have taken eight weeks in 2019 now takes around 24 weeks.
Firms are also currently struggling to source lumber, steel, and roofing materials. Lumber prices have gone up since the spring of 2020. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the cost of lumber increased by more than 180%. This means that the cost of a single-family home has increased by an estimated $24,000 nationwide. As of October of 2021, lumber costs are up 300% while steel prices are up 150% for home construction. Unfortunately, while lumber prices have fallen in the spot market, home builders remain unaffected.
Roofing prices have also gone up by 50%. A 1,500-square-foot asphalt shingle roof could cost homeowners about $6,750. The average cost per square foot for asphalt shingles is from $0.90 to $1.80. Composition shingles start a little lower at $0.80 to $1.80. Wooden shingles, meanwhile, cost more at $1.80 to $3.15 per square foot.
For foundation work, homeowners are advised to budget $25,000 with an additional $1,000 for some wiggle room.
Soft costs are all the other expenses beyond those that go into the physical structure. These can include the cost of purchasing a lot, the fees the city or county will impose on building, and the fees paid to architects and contractors working on the home.
Cost of the Land
Charlotte continues to be a fast-growing city, even coming out of the pandemic. It is home to about 900,000 people, and more inward migration is expected as the job market remains strong across the many corporate headquarters set up in Uptown.
The resulting increase in demand for homes in the city is likely to continue the upward trend in land costs, which the UNC Charlotte Childress Klein Center for Real Estate (CKCRE) has observed over the last few years. A report published by the institute in 2020 shows that the average price of residential lots in Mecklenburg County jumped from $164,500 per acre in 2012 to $252,600 per acre in 2018.
The CKCRE study also showed that the rapid rise in land prices has driven the market toward high-density housing, which explains the dramatic growth in the apartment market over the last two decades. However, permits from this year include a larger share of single-family homes than they did five years ago, and the number of multifamily building permits has dropped.
Listings on Landwatch, Zillow, and Redfin show that prices start at $20,000 for 8,276 square feet of land. Prices can go up to $7,500,000 for larger lots closer to Uptown and in the historic districts in the West End and Biddleville. The city also has some property for sale, starting at $15,000 to $83,150 for lots from 8,276 square feet to over two acres.
Permits and Other Fees
Building permits for Mecklenburg County can be applied for at its Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) page. Permit fees are reflected on the Fee Ordinance as follows:
- Conceptual/sketch plan review (commercial and residential): $2,200.00
- Single-family Residential Permits: $20.00
North Carolina-based real estate company Raleigh Realty also estimates sewer and water inspections to cost about $5,000. Impact fees will also cost about $2,000 covering public services like water treatment, road usage, and parks. The firm recommends a $2,000 contingency budget in case these fees run higher.
Architecture and Design Fees
Raleigh Realty also estimates the cost of engineering and architecture plans to be about $3,000, depending on the project specifications. The firm recommends having builders and architects collaborate on them to ensure form and function are in sync.
For architectural fees charged as a percentage of total construction cost, Charlotte-based design-build firm Distinctive Design Build estimates the cost to be at around 10 to 15%, with additional charging of about 1.5 to 2% for specifications like interior elevations and finishes. The firm itself charges a total of 5% covering the feasibility study and all plans from initial to final. Other design-build firms can also charge a flat fee for design.
How do custom home building trends in Charlotte compare to nearby cities?
Permits from the last five years gathered from online contractor marketplace BuildZoom (BZ) show that the average cost to build a house in nearby areas tends to be lower than in Charlotte. One neighborhood that has been experiencing expansion is suburban Huntersville, where the average permit cost is $220,307, going as low as $48,254 and as high as $511,500.
In the city of Mount Holly in Gaston County, the average cost to build a single-family detached house is $278,834, with a low of $179,834 and a high of $427,342.
Straddling the southeastern Mecklenburg and northwestern Union counties, the town of Mint Hill has an average permit cost of $217,001, starting as low as $65,000 and going up to $435,714.
Located along Lake Norman, the town of Cornelius has an average permit cost of $216,293, starting at $68,326 and going as high as $714,331.
The average home in Gastonia stands at 1,644 square feet, starting at 1,121 square feet to as large as 2,147 square feet. Its average cost is $237,406, starting at $81,231 for a one-bedroom single-family detached home and going to as high as $466,765, with most homes having three to five bedrooms and an attached garage.
A little farther away in Concord, the average cost of a single-family detached home goes down to $137,595, with a low of $59,799 and a high of $300,000.
Major Custom Home Building Cost Trends Across the Web for Charlotte
Nationally-acclaimed veteran homebuilder Carl Heldmann of Build Your Own House estimates the cost to build in the Charlotte area at $395,840. Bringing in a general contractor would add a markup of about $51,000, bringing the total cost up to $446,840.
Online knowledge bank MVOrganizing adds that it would cost between $817 and $2,682 to have a draftsperson come up with a blueprint or house plan, as hourly fees would be anywhere from $50 to $130, and it takes about ten hours to complete a set of plans for a three-bedroom house. Hiring an architect to design house plans would cost between $5,000 to $60,000, with hourly rates of $100 to $250. Total architect fees would be at about 5% to 20% of the construction cost.
What Leading Custom Home Builders and Architects that Serve the Charlotte Area Say
Thompson Custom Building Group prices its work for high-end homes between $300 to $450 per square foot. Firm president Ted Thompson shared that the pricing is based on supply and demand. “This is a huge cost factor in the material and labor that goes into building a home. Right now the demand is very high and there is only so much skilled labor out there. Trades are having to pay more for the labor,” Thompson said.
The cost of new construction is also affected by the intricate work given to architects. Most of the designs are taking a more sophisticated and detailed turn, which calls for both more specialized attention and generally higher-end finishes all around. This ties in with the need for other material types like specialty roofing materials with wood and slate.
Evan I. Weiss, the owner of Carolina Classic Builders, said that the cost of building a house is dependent on the details that go into it. He gives the example of buying a refrigerator: “You can buy a GE, Samsung, LG, Whirlpool, etc. refrigerator for under $2,500, then you could buy a SubZero for $25,000. This means essentially, a refrigerator can be between $1 per square foot up to $10 per square foot. That is a major difference.”
For Carolina Classic Builders, the firm offers mid-range to higher-end pricing points. It starts from about $175 per square foot and can go over $300 per square foot.
Weiss also said that a decrease in prices is difficult to foresee, considering the limited pool of skilled workers available. Younger generations tend to lack either the background, knowledge, or ability to work in the field, while the older generation with the experience and expertise required are aging out. Price reductions in specific areas can be expected, but overall costs are more likely to increase over time. Weiss attributed this to supply and demand, inflation, and the labor shortage. He concluded with, “Supply chains will improve over time, but this ‘climate’ is going to be our new norm for several more years.”
The Future of the Charlotte Residential Construction Industry
New construction in Charlotte is currently experiencing a combination of high demand, increasing costs and shortage of building supplies, and lack of skilled labor. With the mass layoffs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming tough for most firms to keep up with the demand for housing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey, however, stated that there are more construction jobs available compared to the period between 2008 and 2017. About 300,000 jobs remain unfilled based on a report dated July 2021. These positions include specialized trade workers, project managers, and construction laborers.
While demand for new construction is not as prominent in Charlotte compared to the demand for rental or buying, the single-family detached permits are at five-year highs. March 2021 saw 1,907 new housing starts.
The city is redeveloping its transit corridors such as Rozzelles Ferry Road and Beatties Ford Road, with special grants and privileges being made available in these areas. North Charlotte is slated to follow suit. The North Tryon Vision Plan covers a 60-acre, 50-block area envisioned to be a car-free city center converting old buildings into a “work, make, learn, live, play, engage” environment.
Mobile Home Market
Mobile homes remain one of the more affordable housing options in Charlotte, especially with its milder climate. They cost around $40,000 a year and are pretty low maintenance. Mobile homes make up 17% of the homes in North Carolina. However, they are not situated in mobile home parks but are often perched on private rural land.
Hub-and-Spoke Development in Surrounding Cities
Even before the pandemic hit, the city had also been seeing a lot of movement toward the suburbs as part of a “hub-and-spoke” model of development following news of the Amtrak station moving to Uptown in the coming years. Realtors are seeing the traditional post-war ranch home on half-acre lots getting less attention in favor of new subdivisions in relatively less expensive towns and communities such as Indian Land and Fort Mill in South Carolina, and nearby Indian Trail and the city of Belmont. The unique character of cities like Kannapolis, as well as Rock Hill in South Carolina, has also been drawing in more residents who seek a change of scenery with the benefit of still staying close to Queen City.