How Much Does It Cost to Build?

The price per square foot is one of the most asked questions in the construction industry. Although in other areas this indicator is successfully used to perceive value or to build budgets, it may not apply as well in the Hawaiian Islands, without further clarification.

Although it is simple math, one needs to start by defining or determining the square footage. In the real estate industry, for statistical purposes, square footage most times refers to the living area, thus excluding lanais, covered porches or garages. In the construction industry, the most common term is “ under roof square footage”, which is a more inclusive term. Often enough, some may focus only on the area of the building, but not consider its volume. Cathedral ceilings make a home feel more spacious and help with ventilation, but the height of the building is not taken into consideration when calculating price per square footage.

In determining the total cost of construction, there are several factors that are unique for Hawaii and that one needs to be aware of:

1) Site preparation. Not every parcel is ready to have a house built on it and it may require additional preparation like bringing utilities to the main dwelling, grading, digging, leveling, filling in, building retention walls, etc. Topography, slope and soil composition are very important in determining the total cost of the “ground work”, in preparation for construction.
2) Outdoor living space. We all recognize the value of having large, covered, well ventilated, accessible lanais. Depending on the finishings, they may cost as much as interior living space, yet they are only marginally included in real estate statistics.
3) Cost of materials. As we all know, most of the materials that are used in building and decorating homes are not made in the islands and have to be shipped from somewhere else. Prices for wood, steel and gas have gone up in the past few years, due to global demand.
4) Interior finishings. Although we live in a society that praises the next new thing, when it comes to houses, we are not building them for the season, but for a lifetime. Classic, timeless décor seems to cost more than what is fashionable at a certain point in time; but this décor will not need to be replaced when trends change.
5) Landscaping, pools, ponds and other water features: these are lifestyle choices more than design choices. It may cost more to build a swimming pool on your lot, or it may be more challenging to have your own rose garden. But the benefits are priceless.
6) Labor costs. Although in a recession labor costs are expected to go down, we need to remember that the cost of living in Maui has not gone down: rents, mortgage payments, gas and the cost of food are higher than on the mainland.

To conclude, when you are looking for a contractor, make sure you are not just shopping for a price per square foot. Factor in all above mentioned variables; check your contractor’s references, his work and his reputation.