Cost range for building small guesthouses?
January 12, 2015 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone built a guesthouse/in-law suite/studio on their property?

My partner and I are thinking about buying several acres in the rural-ish North Carolina mountains with the intention of adding 2-3 small cottages to be vacation rentals. We are looking at properties that already have one main house built (where we would live). Most of them are unrestricted, but we will obviously only look at properties whose zoning would allow this.

The guest houses we would want scattered far enough so that everyone has privacy but hopefully close enough to take advantage of the utilities set up at the main house - or at least make the extension cheaper. Some of the properties are on city utilities, some have septic and wells. I'm not sure which would be easier/cheaper for adding additional houses.

We have been looking at the larger Tumbleweed plans as well as - we want the guest houses to be roughly 500 - 800 square feet with one bedroom and a small but functional kitchen and bathroom with real, "normal" plumbing. Not interested in "container houses" or pre-fab. We would be fine with doing some of the finishing work, but don't want this to be a total DIY project - contractors, plumbers, electricians etc. will definitely be involved.

Has anyone had experience with building something like this and can give me a rough price per square foot? Would it be cheaper to have them built all at once vs. one at a time? Any other input?

posted by ohsnapdragon to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Carefully consider the cost of septic systems, which are required, and not cheap.
posted by theora55 at 8:25 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I work for a general contractor who does commercial and residential construction and we often get questions like this before any real planning has been done. There is no magic price-per-square-foot. There is no ballpark price-per-square-foot. Without a set of architectural drawings and a general idea what the going rates are for subcontractors and suppliers in your area (amid a whole bunch of other factors including building codes and local regulations), a guess is just that and isn't much good to you. We get asked this all of the time and it's akin to asking "How much does a new car cost?"

As for your second question, I'd guess it would be much more economical to have them all built at once. We are actually right now building the third of three residential buildings on a large lot and the second is still under construction as well. So much easier for our crew to run back and forth between buildings than it would be to call them in from another worksite located elsewhere.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:34 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

If you go to Menards you can get a really good estimate for materials. They have computer kiosks where you enter dimensions, windows, doors and so forth and it will spit out a materials list (and a price). I imagine Lowe's and Home Depot have similar things.
posted by ian1977 at 10:00 AM on January 12, 2015

I would suggest that you get a couple quotes for everything you're looking to do. Materials are easy enough to price out, but labor is variable, depending on the job location and what level of detail/care you want. Talk to a couple prior clients for anyone you like, to try and verify that everything is as good as it sounds, and check out those developments if you can. And for good measure, you may want to talk to rental agencies who could handle that end of things, to see how much you could expect to get in a given year, if you don't already have that figured out.

Don't forget/ ignore permitting. You may need to permit the buildings themselves, the use, or both. When checking with your city/county building officials, describe the buildings and their eventual use, if they don't ask you. I say this because you're using a couple different terms that are not interchangable, from my experience as land use planner in California (wholly different state, I realize, but terminology is likely to be similar). If you don't check into permits, you may run into issues if you have a disgruntled renter, angry neighbor, or look to sell the property in the future.

Guest houses are typically dependent on the primary/main house for the major kitchen and laundry facilities, and may be allowed to have kitchenettes built in.

Small cottage sounds like a small single-use home, with all the expected amenities.

Vacation rentals may be required to have certain amenities, unless the renters have access to shared main facilities, and you're likely to pay some occupancy taxes. North Carolina looks to have a Vacation Rental Act, which covers a lot.

Good luck!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:22 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I looked into getting a decent tiny house built on some land in MA, so it needed to be a bit more weather-tight and have heating for example. I got quotes/prices in the $20-30K range for something that looked finished and nice. Decided ultimately not to go with it. You'd really need to talk to a local contractor who is aware of the local laws and regulations.
posted by jessamyn at 4:22 PM on January 12, 2015

I built a 600 square foot garden suite behind my house a few years ago. I did all the work myself (with the exception of concrete placement and finishing for the floor). The building envelope was constructed to a high wood frame standard: Radiant floor heat, R30 double stud walls, R60 ceiling, 60A service, fully tiled wheelchair accessible curbless shower/bathroom; wood frame double pane casement windows; etc. I also have 10' ceilings because the space is designed to be turned into a shop in the future. Cost was around $12,000 but I used some reclaimed materials (windows, some plumbing fixtures). Cabinets were Ikea grade.

Here in Canada several of the home improvement borgs offer kit houses. Not terribly cost effective in your case where you are constructing several cabins at the same time however they would give you a good idea of the costs involved. It certainly would be cheaper to build all the cabins in one go.

On your siting and plumbing: sewer pipes need to slope to the either the septic field or the public sewer system so you are limited to sites that are close enough to allow the pipes to slope without rising above the frost depth. In a rural property this can be mitigated by installing additional septic systems (maybe necessary anyways depending on the size of the field servicing the existing house) but the cost is significant. Around here you are looking at $10K for the simplest cases. Also septic fields don't really like intermittent use; you are better with one big field that gets constant use than half a dozen smaller ones that don't get used for months at a time.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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