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Prefab vs. Site Built Homes in Urban Charlotte

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I wanted to post a thread on this to see if anyone else was interested, curious, or knowledgeable about prefab homes.  My girlfriend and I are considering either a major addition to our home or demoing the structure and building a custom home.  I understood prefab to be better built due to the ability to build in a controlled environment, but also cheaper due to the economies of scale achieved by building similar homes in one location.  This would be especially true for the modular homes.  However, I am finding many of the prefab homes are priced in the $350-$500/sqft. range, excluding land costs!  One company (Turkel Design) gave me a quote for $143 for site work costs, which would include running the plumbing, electrical, installing the cabinetry, etc.   The materials (drywall, cabinets, counters, appliances, etc.) come as part of another $150,000 line item for the budget.  The big issue I am having is comparing apples-to-apples.  How do I confirm what a comparable house would cost to build on site?

Does anyone have an personal experience with these types of homes or projects?

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It is really hard to know without considering the quality of the materials used in construction. Everything is variable. Even on a remodel, some people do a kitchen remodel for $30,000 and other people spend $100,000. The materials, moving walls, finishes, etc... can cause dramatic price variances.  Turkel is a very high end prefab builder specializing in the luxury market, so that most likely is going to be on the very high end of costs for building a home. 

Have you consulted general contractors and custom home builders in Charlotte to give you estimates for building a home on-site with the quality you are looking to get in your budget?

Edited by CLT2014

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We have had some ball park conversations, but nothing detailed.  Realistically, we are probably 1-2 years away from actually doing something, so I don't want to waste someone's times.   We met with an architect that focuses on modern architecture.  We have seen his work and we really liked it.  He gave us a ballpark of $250 per sqft. to add a second floor to our house or $180-$200 per sqft. for a new house.  We also met with a semi-custom home builder, but we just do not like their options.    

Your comment about the variability in finishes and materials is our biggest issue.  I feel like it is virtually impossible to compare apples-to-apples with any home builder.  I do not know enough about the finishes to know the difference.   I guess we can make a list of our must haves and our wants and then start pricing that out.  I was really hoping to find a consultant or someone that could help guide us through the process.  Are you aware of any websites or vendors that can help us see through the fog and compare offerings effectively?

Edit: The other thing that throws me off is Turkel estimates $143 per sqft. to assemble the house and install the finishes.  This is on top of an allowance of $50 per sqft. for the materials for the finishes.  Their estimates are for a 2400 sqft. house.  I know the $143 number includes the crane and assembly of the shell, which I am sure is expensive.  However, if I can build a nice house for $180-$200 per sqft., how can it possibly cost $200 per sqft. to assemble their homes?  I have some secondary connections to people in the prefab business, so I am trying to chat with them about the costs.  I am not dead set on prefab, but I like the idea and want to fully explore it.  Also, it would be really nice to have a shorter and more controlled construction time frame.

Edited by pgsinger
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I had a client consider a prefab home versus site built and she found the prefab homes for what she wanted were higher price per sq foot.  I think it they are basic designs like boxy 2 stories they maybe be less expensive but my experience on what this client wanted they were more expensive for the type of home she wanted. 

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I had a friend who lived in York County SC and his home burned, total loss. He and his wife had modular rebuild. It was a builder from Gaston County. Fire safety was one reason they went modular. Total customization, interior finishes to whatever level and completeness desired. His site was fully prepped, obviously, and all came on trucks with lift cranes and bolted together. After completion it looked a new house, indistinguishable from others.

By the way, he said it is REALLY important to have photos of all areas of the inside of your house and garage, including inside of drawers, cabinets, closets, desks and in the attic, everywhere and everything. Keep this record ELSEWHERE, in my case my safety deposit box. 

Learn from his grief.

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On 10/6/2018 at 6:59 PM, KJHburg said:

I had a client consider a prefab home versus site built and she found the prefab homes for what she wanted were higher price per sq foot.  I think it they are basic designs like boxy 2 stories they maybe be less expensive but my experience on what this client wanted they were more expensive for the type of home she wanted. 

This is basically what I am finding myself.  There are a lot of beautiful options, but they basically start around $800k for a 2400 sqft. home.  I just don't know if that translates to a $200/sqft. site built home or a $350/sqft. site built home.  It is virtually impossible to tell.  This really makes it impossible to buy a prefab home, unless you are super wealthy or want an entry level one.  There are plenty of traditional style homes that perfectly fine and pretty cheap.  They just do not match the preferred aesthetic we like.


22 hours ago, KJHburg said:

I saw this too.  Plant make s a lot of the living home plans that seem to be produced by a number of companies.  They are really pretty houses, but also quite expensive from what I have been able to find out.  

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