What Will My Site Development Cost Me?

Last year I wrote about Site Development in our Spec Home Series.  Specifically, I wrote about a common question we get from prospective clients which is what is site development?  As a follow up to that post, I’m going to answer the question we always get next which is how much will my site development cost me?

But first, what is site development? Simply stated, site development is anything that needs to be done to the lot in order to build a new house.  These things include but are not limited to the following:

Pre-Construction Phase:
Site Engineering (grading plan)
City/County Permitting
Utility Disconnect
County Site Inspection Prior to Site Prep
Site Prep (site clearing, install of construction driveway, and silt fence)
Engineering (house stake out and cut sheet)

Construction Phase:
Dirt Removal
Utility Line Installation (water, sewer, power, and gas)
Engineering (wall check)
Maintaining Construction Driveway and Silt Fence

Finish Phase:
Permanent Driveway
Storm Water Management
County Required Landscaping
Engineering (final survey, height certification, and setback certification)

In most northern Virginia counties, we suggest a site budget of $85,000 (budget more for Arlington).  This estimate is for the things a builder “knows” will happen on most projects (see above list). The unknown is the degree to which site costs are impacted by the lot. For example, most site subcontractors will budget utility install based on reusing the existing utility lateral. But sometimes the existing lateral can’t be used and must be replaced. This site condition was unforeseen and couldn’t be realized (by anyone) until the project was underway.

So how do you protect yourself from a runaway site budget? Here are some tips on maximizing your budget and limiting your exposure when it comes to site development.

  1. Use the site subcontractors your builder recommends. There are a lot of site subs out there but they aren’t all good. In northern Virginia, there are just a handful of site companies I can personally recommend. You will always be able to find someone who can do the work for a little cheaper but inevitably, you will “get what you pay for”.  There are ways to save during construction (blog post idea!) but hiring a fly-by-night contractor to work on your lot is not one of them.
  2. Budget for the unknown. You can and should include a contingency fund for the things that are unknown.  I always advise clients to do this because if you need extra money for an unforeseen site issue it’s there for you. If you don’t need it, you can choose to not use the contingency or you can put that money back in the house. We’ve had a number of clients who have budgeted more for their site development “just in case” and when they didn’t need it, they put it back in the house.  I even had one client decide to finish her basement after her site costs came in lower.  This is one of the reasons we don’t charge our clients change order fees.
  3. The most important piece of advice I can give you on site development is to choose a builder you trust because no matter which builder you choose, something is going to come up during the course of the project. Partnering with someone who has your back can make the difference between a good build experience and a bad (and potentially costly) build experience.  I think NDI is great for a lot of reasons but it’s our integrity that makes us different.

Dream Big. Build Smart.

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