What does construction cost in Chicago?

It’s PHASE III of COVID-19 in Chicago which means the spring bidding season is now the summer bidding season. The weather has warmed up, the restaurant patios have emerged, and the projects are coming out of the woodwork. People have been spending A LOT of time at home lately and it seems many are looking around and realizing that their spaces need a transformation.

What people are NOT realizing is how much construction costs in this world class city of ours. I don’t blame them – it’s extraordinarily expensive! Especially when we have HGTV touting shows that lie to everyone about cost and use shady contractors to cut major corners in order to make it seem more attainable (Windy City Rehab, anyone?) Not only do homeowners not understand the cost of construction, they’re also not anticipating the cost of design, and they definitely haven’t accounted for the immense amount of time that it takes just to get to the bidding process…it’s usually 3-6 months if you’re serious and responsive to your architect.

So, what does construction cost in Chicago? I’ll give it to you straight:

ARCHITECTURE: Expect to pay 15-25% of your construction budget on your architect. Your architect should be hired through the ENTIRE project. Their work doesn’t stop when they’ve delivered you a set of drawings. You need them during bidding and also through construction to ensure that all of your hard earned money is being spent on the final product you’re expecting. Architects are your allies, don’t treat them like a commodity.

HELPFUL TIP! Ask your architect initially for a general dollar per square foot for your project. If they can’t provide it, then you shouldn’t be hiring them. The architects that we work with on successful projects, time and time again, have been able to have very early conversations with clients to prepare them for ballpark numbers and seek preliminary pricing very early on in the design process in order to qualify and select the contractor. The projects that have crashed and burned in the bidding process are the ones where the architects provided absolutely no input to the homeowners on pricing…the drawings were done and paid for, we had spent hours and hours putting together the numbers, and the clients couldn’t afford their own project that they had spent months dreaming about. It’s heartbreaking. All architects are NOT MADE EQUAL. Hire the good ones. Hire the ones who know what they’re talking about.

RENOVATION: Standard renovation costs in Chicago and Chicagoland for projects with higher end finishes (think Kohler, Hydrology, Cesarstone, Subzero/Wolf…) is $250-$350/square foot. Let that sink in for a second…if you have a standard Chicago 2-flat, 1,100SF per floor, and want to gut it and combine it into a single family home, you need $550k. If you have a 500SF kitchen to gut and remodel, you need $125k.

No, you didn’t read that wrong. No, Integro is not a “fancy” GC that charges more because we have employees and pretty pictures on our website. THERE WILL BE CONTRACTORS THAT TELL YOU IT’S LOWER. That does NOT mean the price will end up being different…it means it will be much more painful by the time you get to the “real” number after a long, painful construction experience…IF that contractor finishes at all and you don’t end up in litigation after hemorraging your life savings unexpectedly. Contractors are notorious for saying what you want to hear in the beginning just to get the job. If you have $350k, they assume you have $700k. Like it or don’t like it, that’s what it is. We see it happen ALL THE TIME. I cannot tell you how many times we have lost bids with a pit in our stomach knowing what our clients’ were about to experience – and how many desperate phone calls we’ve received 3, 6, 18, 24 months later..and we won’t come back people – contractors can’t warranty other contractor’s work and reputation is everything to a qualified contractor. We can’t take the risk.

This is not to say you can’t get the budget numbers down with a good architect and an ethical general contractor…we do it all the time…all I’m saying is that if you’re considering renovating, you had better have $250-350/SF in the bank. Buy yourself a beer if you don’t spend it!

HELPFUL TIP! Take your architect’s referrals and advice…remember, they know what they’re talking about. You’ve hired them to be your advocate, let them do their job.

NEW CONSTRUCTION: Standard construction costs with higher end finishes and exteriors start at $350-$400/SF. Period.

And it all goes up from there, folks. If you’re in North Shore, renovation may be more like $400-600/SF. We’ve done projects at $900/SF. We’ve also done projects at $185/SF. Limited renovations can fluxuate as well if it’s mostly cosmetic. You need a good architect and an ethical contractor that you can rely on for pricing, creativity, and teamwork.

Thinking about a residential project? So are we! Reach out to us at Integro!

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