Building a house in Florida can be expensive, depending on the cost of labor, materials and demand for builder’s services. The housing market in Florida is dynamic, to say the least. Depending on the type of home you want, building may be the best option.
If the cost of buying a home in Florida seems out of reach and you’re wondering you’re better off building one, here’s what you should know.
How much does it actually cost to build a house in Florida?
Building a house in Florida typically falls within the price range of $240,000 to $350,000, with the national average exceeding $400,000. The average cost to build a house is about $300,000, not including the cost of land.
That’s a wide range. Still, it gives you ballpark figures to work with. The estimates for popular metro areas tend to be on the higher end of the range. The typical sale price for homes in Florida is $263,640. The median listing prices in the most populous cities are $303,097 (Jacksonville), $553,743 (Miami), $391,601 (Tampa) and $368,211 (Orlando).
What factors affect the cost of building a home in Florida?
The cost of constructing a house in Florida depends on the labor market, materials and competition. Current shortages in the U.S. labor market affect low-wage jobs disproportionately. An increase in the hourly wages in other industries may drive up construction labor costs.
For example, prices of lumber surged during the pandemic. They’re coming back down but may take time to level out. Wildfires in the West and the US-China trade dispute also impacted the cost of construction material this year. Shortages in other materials, such as copper and windows, halted construction.
Likewise, construction activities throughout the country were halted due to the pandemic restrictions, leading to a spike in demand for home construction. The pandemic also drove many people to relocate or renovate their homes in response to shifting needs. Consequently, the demand for construction services grew.
Building vs. buying a home in Florida
The rising demand for existing homes in Florida has driven up prices beyond the reach of an increasing portion of the population. If you’re among these people, it is cheaper to build rather than buy the home you want.
Even so, the answer to which between buying and building a home is more expensive depends on several factors, among them the cost of the land on which the house sits. Lots in Miami, for example, go from 45,000 to several million dollars.
Buying a home is generally more expensive, with increased square footage accounting for most of the cost. However, foot by foot, the difference in cost is not that huge. Remember that even though the upfront cost of constructing a new home in Florida may be higher than buying an existing one, a new home may have lower overall annual expenses.
An existing home accrues substantial maintenance expenses in the first 5–10 years following its purchase. In contrast, a newly constructed home typically doesn’t require major fixes within the first decade.
Note that Florida requires you to have a local engineer assess and stamp all the blueprints of the home you build. This adds to the cost but is necessary given the intense hurricane weather conditions this state frequently experiences.
The ability to customize your home to your needs and preferences is one of the primary advantages of constructing your home instead of buying an existing one. When you build your home, you can do design your floor plan, have as many rooms as you want and include features such as a fireplace or a full bath and so on.
Moreover, building a home lets you prepare for retirement. Every year, about 145,600 retirees relocate to Florida, and most of them buy houses. Suppose you, too, plan to live to Florida after you retire. In that case, you can fit the home with accessibility features for aging household members with limited mobility. Doing so can save you a lot of money down the line.
Financing the construction of a home in Florida
If you’re like most people, you don’t have readily available all the money you need to build your home. You need financing, and a conventional loan won’t cut it. Homebuyers can get a standard mortgage loan fairly easily, provided their income is reliable and they have good credit.
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In contrast, most lenders are unlikely to give you a conventional mortgage to build a home with because it exposes them to a risk they deem unacceptable. To build your home, you need a construction loan, which is also referred to as a construction mortgage or self-build loan.
Construction loans are usually short-term loans (one year max) that cover the cost of construction. While construction is ongoing, payments for the project are made on a schedule, and only the interest is due.
Lenders have more stringent loan requirements for home builders than they do for home buyers. You’ll often be required to put down 10% at minimum, with some lenders requiring as much as 20–30%. In comparison, conventional home loans require slightly less than 10% down if you pay private mortgage insurance.
Financing the construction of a new home is in many ways similar to getting a mortgage to buy an existing home. In both cases, you need to compare the terms and rates from mortgage providers, banks, online lenders and brokers. However, there’s one crucial difference: contractors of newly built homes may offer attractive financing options via an affiliate or their mortgage subsidiary.
In general, construction loans have variable rates that are higher than rates for conventional mortgages. Once construction is complete, you have the option of refinancing the construction loan into a standard mortgage or paying off the construction loan with a new loan known as an end loan.
Furthermore, home builders can access unique tools, such as new-construction financing and bridge loans. You can use these financing options to start constructing your new home before you even sell your current home.
Make sure your credit information is accurate and up to date
Before you start shopping around for a construction loan, get your credit reports from one or more of the three credit bureaus: Trans Union, Experian and Equifax. Note that you’re also entitled to one free report every year from the Annual Credit Report website.
Review the reports to make sure they are up-to-date and accurate. If you find any errors, have them corrected as soon as possible to avoid them getting in the way of the financing process.
In addition to your credit reports, get your FICO credit scores. Lenders use your score to determine the terms to offer you for financing. Before offering you financing for the construction of your home, lenders also review your
- Employment history
- Bank accounts
- IRS filings going back two years (if you’re self-employed)
- Other assets, such as 401(k) funds
Gather all these documents and make sure they are up to date. Additionally, it’s advisable to prepare a rough estimate of your current household expenses in case the lender wants that information.
Determine how many financings you can afford for building your home
Many lenders’ websites have calculators, which you can use to estimate the cost of their loan products. In the past, people determined how much they could afford by relying on rules of thumb. One such rule was that you could afford a home with a value 2–2.5 times your gross annual income.
It’s a bit more complicated today. Most lenders now rely on automated underwriting models. The lenders input your personal information, such as debt-to-income ratio and credit scores, into these models, which then use the data to determine whether you qualify for a loan, how much interest you should pay and so on.
Work with a licensed, insured, reputable builder
One of the requirements for getting a construction loan is demonstrating that your builder is qualified, meaning that they’re a licensed general contractor with a stellar reputation and extensive experience.
If you plan to build your home yourself or be your own general contractor, you must demonstrate that you’re licensed, insured and experienced for your construction loan application to be approved.
In this case, consider looking for owner-builder construction loans. This type of financing can be hard to get but not impossible. It helps to provide the lender with a comprehensive construction plan that showcases your skills and knowledge in home-building. Be sure to keep a contingency fund for unexpected costs.