Contractor Lowballs Construction Cost for a Kit Home and THE NEW YORK TIMES IS ON IT!

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©. Not exactly the model that the article is about. Rocio Romero

© Not exactly the model that the article is about. Rocio Romero

One of my favourite twitter feeds is The Times is On it, "Because sometimes stories in newspapers are just *that* obvious." Their pick from the Home and Garden section this week was "GUYS, what little kid doesn't love building forts out of couch cushions? The Times is ON IT. They picked the wrong one; it should have been GUYS, Contractor lowballed a job and screwed the customer and the Times IS ON IT. Because in that story, titled A Prefab, Short on the Fab, Beth Greenfield writes about how a family bought an LVL kit from Rocio Romero, and found themselves $ 100,000 over budget and broke. From the article:

Affordability, along with a minimalist aesthetic, were the reasons she decided on a prefab house — points on which Mr. Buryk, who had years before remodeled a 100-year-old house in Portland, Ore., wholeheartedly agreed. “I, similar to Zoe, was coming from a place of not wanting to do that again,” he said.
But it wasn’t quite as affordable as they had hoped. The house cost $260,000 to build, from start to finish (the kit itself was $47,000) — nearly $100,000 more than they’d expected.
The contractor they hired had assured them he could assemble the kit (which includes posts and beams, a plywood roof structure and siding) and complete the entire project for $120,000. But his quote wound up being at least $100,000 too low.
“We finally had to fire him when we were completely broke,” said Ms. Bissell, who was pregnant by then. The house was still about $45,000 away from being ready for a certificate of occupancy. To get it there, the couple cashed in retirement plans, broke out their credit cards and borrowed from family and friends.

But there is a lot more going on here. For one thing,

It's not a prefab.

Rocio says right up front that one is purchasing a kit of parts and a design.

The KIT OF PARTS is an exterior package that translates the signature design components of the LV Series Homes. It includes the OPEN WALL PANELS, MATERIALS, and the EXTERIOR SIDING. Non-signature exterior design components, like windows and a roof, are not included.

That is a very small proportion of a house, that she sells for $ 28.13 per square foot. She describes the finished costs:

The overall consensus of our LV home owners is that the LV construction price is on average the same or slightly below local stick-built rates in their local area. Our clients consider this a great value given that high end modern design is usually very expensive and on the upper end of their local market.

Modern design is expensive, and so are architects. Yet the Times notes that a contractor gave the client a quote of $ 120,000 to build an entire 1669 square foot (according to LVL website) modern house, from the foundations to roof, and minus only the exterior framing and the cladding. That's tough to do. Yes, I know people will say that production housing costs $60 per foot and so should prefab, but a) this isn't prefab and b) this isn't vinyl.

Sun Joo Kim writes at Smart Planet:

A quick browse through Rocio Romero’s website shows that the architect clearly states a construction price of $120-$195 per square foot, not including infrastructure and sitework costs. A just as quick calculation puts the construction cost for a 1,450 square foot home kit at $175,000 on the low end and $282,750 on the high end. So those are the construction costs a client should expect to pay and a contractor that comes in so much lower should raise a huge red flag.

I first met Rocio Romero close to a decade ago, and she is still delivering what she promised then: simple, modern, green designs. She never said they were cheaper to build and she never called them prefabs.

Then when you look at the slideshow, I think anyone would have to say, it looks pretty fab. So whoever wrote the headline got it wrong on both counts. I think that the contractor did the clients a disservice, and that the author has done one to Rocio Romero.