You might be tempted to get a ballpark price by asking a dealer for their modular home square foot price. Many a dealer will be happy to answer this question, since it usually takes no effort to throw out a number. However, this is the wrong question, since the answer will not help you compare dealers. A “price per square foot” is almost always misleading.
Estimating the Cost without Relying on a Modular Home Square Foot Price
To calculate the cost of building a modular home you must begin with the cost of the home and then add in the cost of the GC work. When you ask a dealer for the price to build a home, you need to be clear about whether the two of you are talking about a price for just the home or a price for the home plus the required GC services. A price per square foot for just the home is the most misleading price you can receive, but any price based on square footage alone is problematic.
Modular Home Square Foot Price and Home Design
Price per square foot is misleading in part because the cost to build a home varies considerably depending on the design. For example, one-story homes are usually more expensive per square foot than two-story homes, if you keep everything else the same. The most important reason is that a one-story home of any size requires twice the foundation and twice the roof as a two-story home with the same square footage. In addition, modular designs that require more on-site construction will usually cost more per square foot than designs that are almost completely built at the modular factory, since the additional on-site construction will cost more per square foot than the part built at the factory.
Modular Home Square Foot Price and Home Style
You might try to make this question work by asking for a price per square foot for a given style of house. But there are many types of each style of home. Compare a typical one-story ranch to a large contemporary one-story with multiple rooflines and attic storage. The second type of design is significantly more expensive to build. Also, larger homes for any given style cost less per square foot than smaller homes of the same style, since there are many costs that do not go up appreciably when you make the house bigger. For example, almost all homes have only one kitchen and heating system, both of which get spread out over more square feet in a larger home. You might try to avoid this problem when asking for a price per square foot by being even more specific about the floor plan you prefer. But this will only work if the dealer has an idea what type of specifications you expect.
Modular Home Square Foot Price and Optional Features
You can add $10 to $100 per square foot to a home by upgrading from the fewest and least expensive to a large number of expensive features. For example, stained cedar siding costs much more than vinyl siding, some imported tile floors are substantially more expensive than carpet, granite countertops come at a much higher price than laminate countertops, yet none of these options affect the square footage of the house itself. And a home with a masonry fireplace, whirlpool tub, and central air conditioning is more costly per square foot than one without these amenities, as is a home with a garage, porch, and deck. If you go through the entire house and upgrade every product and add amenities in this way, the price of the home and therefore the price per square foot will rise substantially.
Modular Home Square Foot Price and Site Conditions
Site conditions can also significantly impact the cost of a home. Installing a well and septic system, for example, usually costs substantially more than connecting to municipal water and sewer. So does building on a heavily wooded hilly lot with a winding 200-foot driveway compared to a flat lot with no trees and a 50-foot driveway.
Modular Home Square Foot Price and Dealer Assumptions
For these and other reasons, you can take most any floor plan and come up with a price per square foot that will be meaningless unless you know exactly what you are getting. When a dealer gives you a price per square foot, you will not necessarily know what the home will ultimately cost you. Some builders assume ideal circumstances when they generate a price per square foot. They are not lying about the price, even though you will likely pay more once they flush out the details with you. You can avoid this problem by learning the dealer’s assumptions and providing him with a specific floor plan, preferred building specifications, level of amenities, and the site conditions on your lot. Once you do this, however, you are no longer pricing your home per square foot. There is just no good reason to ask a dealer for this price.
For more information about modular home square foot price, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer in my book The Modular Home.