Guest Post: When Site Work Costs Go Wrong

How much will my site work cost? I get this question a lot and it isn’t always easy to answer. Many of the sites we manage for our clients and most of the sites managed by our clients are fairly typical. While you are always going to have unexpected things come up, most can be easily managed by good problem solving (enter qualified and competent builder here) and a small contingency fund.

But sometimes, things happen on a site no one could have expected. Our client Steven is back today with part 2 of his Doing Your Own Site Management series.

Thank you, Steven!

When Jennifer asked me to write a blog about site work, I got a little carried away and wrote far too much. It happens a lot; just ask Dawn about my long emails throughout construction! Jennifer graciously allowed me to split my saga into two posts, though, so you all get to hear from me again! While my last post was about the process in general, this one is about the dreaded cost of site work. Estimating the cost beforehand can be extremely difficult; numerous factors can and will increase the price. Sometimes, you’re fortunate enough to find a site that turns out to be simple and has no issues at all, but sometimes my wife and I decide to build a house…

We were lucky enough to acquire some undeveloped land in an otherwise mostly developed area. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a very unique and complex site. It’s a narrow-but-deep five acre plot, and we knew the soil wasn’t septic-worthy in the front, but far in the back, it was great. I learned of some alternative septic options and their prices, so I knew our site work would be a bit more than average. Little did I know, that was only the beginning. I’m not trying to scare you away from home building; I merely want to show you that there is an average site, and there are exceptions. We were an exception. In hindsight, things could’ve been done differently to keep costs down, but as I said in my last post, experience can make all the difference in this part of the process.

At the beginning of my research, I found a breakdown of costs (that NDI agreed were reasonable) and I will share those numbers with you now. When I told NDI how much I spent in the end, they were amazed! Here’s a breakdown of the different aspects of site work, their estimated costs, and our expenses:

– Engineering (site plan, geo tech report, infiltration report, arborist report, stakeout, cut sheet, wall check, final survey, etc.)
o Assume $18k (add $3k-$5k for septic)
o We spent $12k (including septic)

– County Permitting fees
o Assume $5k (add $15k for Arlington and $2k for septic)
o We spent $5k (including septic) plus a $3k Conservation Deposit (as part of the property was in a conservation zone)

– Site clearing (tree removal, sewer cap off, house demolition, etc.)
o Assume $16k
o We spent $30k (because of the septic location, we had to clear 1+ acre of trees – plus the engineering issue mentioned in my last post meant they had to come back and do it multiple times)

– Construction driveway, silt fence, grading
o Assume $4k for the initial install
o We spent $5k on the entrance (had to be redone multiple times because of miscommunications and other issues), $14k on fence (because of the conservation zone, we had to use “super silt fence” which is over 3x the price and we needed about ½ mile of it), and $5k on grading (wanted to make the yards more level)

– Utility installation
o Assume $6k for already tapped water/sewer lines (add $7k for well, $10k-$25k for septic, or $7k-$10k for connecting new system to the main lines in the street – not including city/county tap and availability fees which can be around $20k)
o We spent $13k for well (drilling and system installation but not filtration) and $23k for septic (a bit pricier because of the location – going with an alternative system closer to the house would have been more expensive but saved lots of money on all the other related items like clearing and fence. There’s that hindsight!)

– Final driveway
o Assume $5k (add $2k-$5k for larger lots)
o We spent $17k (splurged for a turnaround loop and additional parking area – total area over 5000 ft2 of asphalt; concrete was almost double the cost)

– Misc. (storm management if required, dirt hauling, poor soil)
o Assume $15-$25k
o We spent $5k (poor soil at the garage required taller footer walls)

– Landscaping (planting trees, grass, bushes, etc.)
o Assume $4k
o We spent $5k for grass only (ALL disturbed soil must be “stabilized”)

– Subtotal
o Assume $80k (typical range is $75k-$85k for public water/sewer or $80k-$95k for well/septic)
o We spent $134k (ouch)

We were a definite exception and there were things that could’ve been done differently. Live and learn I guess, but either way, I couldn’t be happier with the end result… just so long as I don’t look at these costs ever again.

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