How Much Does it Cost to Build in Santa Fe, NM?

So, how much does it cost to build in Santa Fe?

Well, that is the million-dollar question.  Actually, it’s more like a 2-3 million dollar question for most people looking to build a custom home in Santa Fe.  In fact, I get several emails a week asking, “How much does it cost to build in Santa Fe?” And it’s always a nuanced answer, because there are so many variables associated with determining that price point. 

The Most Common Factors

These include among other things, the existing soils and topography of your chosen building lot, the proximity the building site has to existing utilities, the length of the drive from existing roads to the building site and of course, the design characteristics of your one-of-a-kind hand-crafted custom dream home.  These variables have been constant in their influence over the cost to build forever.  And once we are able to assess your building site, we can often make some predictions about how much these factors may influence the final construction cost.

The Time Factor

But there is another factor which historically wasn’t as influential as it is now, and that is the factor of time.  Einstein realized that time was relative, and Newton was missing the point when he said time was constant.  And although Newtonian physics seems the order of the day when it comes to something as material as building a custom home from scratch, Einsteinian relativity may now be worth considering.  Time and construction costs are in fact relative, and time plays a much greater role in the final construction costs than ever before.  What do I mean, you may ask?

The Data

We recently did a thorough analysis of our custom home construction costs dating back over the last 15 years.  The graph above shows our actual cost data for completed custom home construction projects depicted by the solid orange line.  The dashed gray line represents an average trend and incorporates a projection beyond 2023 based on our expectations.  What the data shows is that, yes, construction costs have increased in the last decade.  I think we all knew that.  But more interesting was the rate of increase over time. 

Throughout the 2010’s construction costs were somewhat stable with a relatively predictable 5%-10% per year increase. And this ramped up from 2015-2019.  Average costs per square foot slowly increased from roughly $200 per square foot in 2010 to just under $500 per square foot over the course of that decade.  This relatively stable rate of cost increase made it pretty easy to predict the general cost per square foot of a custom home from year to year. Then COVID hit!

An Accelerating Trend

What we saw was a massive disruption to the supply chain and labor market at the same time.  Yes, we all have heard about inflation. It’s been in the headlines for years, but what most people don’t consider is that inflation affects different parts of the economy in different ways, and at different rates. And it also affects different local markets in non-homogeneous ways.

For custom home construction in Santa Fe, the previously predictable annual cost increase quickly changed.  And we began seeing increases across all sectors of the construction market, concrete, steel, lumber, and labor.  This amounted to annual cost increases of greater than 20% between 2020-2023. For this reason, we have seen the cost of custom home construction rapidly move from +/- $500 per square foot in 2020 to well over $700 per square foot in just a few years.  And in some instances, we are seeing prices above $900/sf for highly complicated or specialized home designs on challenging lots.

Our Design-Build Approach

At Palo Santo Designs, we recognize our customers rely on us to be as accurate as possible in our pre-design budget forecasting.  It is one of the main benefits of our Design-Build approach.  The integration of real-time construction cost knowledge within our integrated architecture team allows Palo Santo Designs to be very efficient in the value engineering of custom homes. 

Until recently, our predictive models were somewhat static, assuming the cost of construction at the time design commences would be +/- within 5%-10% of what they would be a year later when groundbreaking actually happens.  Now our Updated Pre-Design Budget Exercise has built into it a time factor.  That is, what we can assume for construction costs at the time design begins is factored up according to when you anticipate breaking ground.  That way, we can take into account the accelerated cost trend currently being seen in the market. This allows us to better assist our clients in being financially prepared for the likely construction costs to come.  Also, our integrated Design-Build approach can also reduce the amount of time to commencement of construction. This further optimizes your dollars by staying ahead of growing costs as much as possible.

Optimizing Value

It is also important to understand that contractors have very limited control over the costs of construction.  That may sound counter-intuitive, but general contractors are the orchestral conductors of the varied resources needed to build custom homes.  Labor, lumber, windows, or concrete are all externally priced by market forces outside of the contractor’s influence.   Our team of architects and builders are focused on providing our clients with the most realistic cost modelling possible. We do this by working closely with our trade partners and vendors to optimize value.  And whether you are looking to build at the $1.5 million or the $15 million dollar price point, we will always take great effort to deliver as much bang for your buck as possible.

Find Out More

Email me [email protected] to receive a free consultation about your project and a copy of our Updated Pre-Design Budget Exercise. We can guide you through the steps to realize your dream. Your one-of-a-kind hand crafted custom home in Santa Fe with Palo Santo Designs.  

The New Mexico Monsoon

The majesty of the New Mexico Monsoon. Slow, deliberate, obstinate, discerning and generous. From the great deep of the equatorial Pacific it rolls into and across the vast deserts of Sonora and Chihuahua and tips its brimming cup onto the sun scorched mountains of the upper Rio Grande valley. The Sangre de Cristo. The life blood of New Mexico. Aqua es Vida. The moisture laden air mass moves with impunity from the south being pressed upward upon the Colorado Plateau. Wrung out upon the land, the arroyos fill, reservoirs and water tables are replenished. The acequia comes back to life after a long dreadful sleep, and native Blue Gramma grass will soon become green again, pushing up its short and proud stalks to form the ubiquitous sickle shaped seed top, both recognizable and easily overlooked. This year, looking down upon the seemingly barren soils of the Piñon Juniper forest that is Santa Fe’s home, it seems impossible that these low clumps of dry grass can actually be alive. Yet they are, and the monsoon rains now soaking the ground will prove that fact again.

The mega drought, as they call it, has been a few decades in the making. Lower than average rain and snow cumulating year upon year has left our soils desiccated, and the pinon tree susceptible to the bark beetle. It’s natural defense against the beetle is the production of its sticky sap, which engulfs and kills insect invaders as they try to burrow into the bark. In drought conditions the pinon is unable to produce sufficient sap to defend itself and the beetle population thrives. 2022 has seen another decline in the pinon population in and around Santa Fe.

People often ask, how will we continue to provide water to this growing community? A valid question. And it is heartening to know that Santa Fe is a world leader in water conservation, with one of the lowest per capita water use profiles in the U.S. We remain ahead of the curve in that regard.

I recently re-listened to Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Bowl Blues”, a tribute to a previous mega drought from nearly a century ago. It is a first hand account of the severity and disregard nature can show to our needs, wants, and prayers. Caused in large part by the combined events of a massive scale up of till agriculture across the western plains and a 10 year drought, the dust bowl is recognized as one of the worst environmental disasters of our age. During this unusually dry and windy spring, I found myself wondering, will I be a dust bowl refuge? Thankfully, decades of soil conservation efforts, and improved water resource management has allowed the lands of the arid southwest to handle drought far better than we were able 100 years ago. And now with a record setting start to the 2022 New Mexico Monsoon, my nerves are again calmed, and I settle into the knowing that the rains do come.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the west in times of drought are wild fires. We have just seen New Mexico’s largest recorded wild fire. 2 fires, in fact, who merged to combust an area encompassing about 350,000 acres along the east side, the wet side as it were, of our Sangre de Cristo range. From the small town of Las Vegas, NM through Mora to the north up to Guadalupita nearly to Angel Fire. I fitting name. This blaze now known as the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire sparked to life in early April. A season once still considered winter in the northern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo. A prescribed burn set with the good intention of reducing fire risks by the US Forest Service which quickly grew out of control. Having misread the signs, the lack of humidity, lack of stored moisture in the soils and canopy, the winds, it quickly became an inferno. What was once predictable in earlier years, now seems unpredictable. Simultaneously, in a nearby wilderness, an ember emerged from last year’s prescribed burn. A smoldering subterranean ember, having been resuscitated by the spring winds emerged upon the land to ignite those conifer forests in Calf Canyon and join its twin at Hermit’s Peak to form the largest burn recorded in our state.
Once underway, this blaze had only one remedy, despite the valiant efforts of firefighters on the ground and air tankers from above to contain its wrath. The mighty monsoon, which came on June 15 this year, the official beginning our our fifth and most beloved season. It came on time, not a day too soon, and has proceeded in its first couple weeks to drench our beloved landscape with life giving water.

Because of this generous start to the monsoon, the wild fires are now apparently under control and forest access restrictions are being lifted. The gardens and orchards will thrive this summer. The grasses will come back from their hibernation, and the magnificent display of wildflowers will bloom. The Piñon Juniper forest will be given its ration of life sustaining moisture in this years New Mexico Monsoon and perhaps the bark beetle will be thwarted for now . I sit and listen to the patter of a consistent rain on my roof, watching the runoff flow freely into the catch basins that convey it to the cistern that stores this precious resource. A full tank, that we will use to irrigate our greenhouse, gardens and landscape, we also use the rainwater caught in the cistern to flush toilets in our house, conserving water and re-using it to build soil, grow plants, sequestering carbon and moisture in the soil where life can thrive.

Santa Fe Ranked #6 Best City in the World 2019

Time and time again our great city of Santa Fe is ranked high for tourism and living. However, it’s not as frequent that we jump into the top 10 of worldwide destinations and snag the sixth spot among other notable places. 

Recently Santa Fe was voted the number six best city in the world by the Readers’ Choice Awards 2019 (Condé Nast Traveller)

It came in just below other international cities, such as Tokyo, Dresden, and Merida. But we’re cheering because it landed at number six against some stiff competition. 

Why Do We Believe Santa Fe Is One of the Best Cities in the World?

#1 – The Great Outdoors 

Santa Fe is packed with tons to do outside. You’ll find everything from snow skiing to horse-back riding to balloon trips. The scenic area is packed with year-round outdoor activity. So it doesn’t matter what time of year you come, you’re going to find something great to do outside. It’s rare you can find this much to do outside elsewhere. 

#2 – The Art & Culture 

There’s no doubt Santa Fe scored high on this list because of the incredible art and culture of the city. Santa Fe is rich in native American history, which is evident in both the art and culture you can experience here. Everything from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture to Georgia O’Keeffe’s legacy here in the area, there’s something so beautiful about the art and something so unique you won’t find elsewhere in the U.S. or the world. 

#3 – The Cuisine 

Red and green chiles are king here. The spice is real and people come to Santa Fe to get their taste of chile on just about anything. It’s truly unique to this area and you won’t find red and green chile sauce quite like it outside of the state. So, what makes a city one of the best in the world? Well of course it’s food, and we certainly have some of the best and the most unique in the world. 

#4 – The Architecture 

Touching on our niche, the architecture is one-of-a-kind here and connects perfectly with the surrounding landscape. You’ll find plenty of natural tones and materials throughout the structures in the city, with adobe style stretching from historic to modern and everything in between. Just as the other destinations in the top 10 of the list have one-of-a-kind architecture, so do we, and it’s truly different here in Santa Fe. 

Building In One of the Best Cities

If you’re intrigued by everything Santa Fe has to offer and might be considering relocating to this area, then we’d be thrilled to connect with you. 

We’re proud to be a design and build team under one roof delivering some of the best custom homes in such a thriving city. Building in Santa Fe is an absolute dream. And we’d like to be the ones to turn that dream into a reality for you. 


Palo Santo Designs Achieves Its 8th LEED Certified Home in Santa Fe

We’re proud to announce our team received its 8th LEED certification for a another new home build, and the 5th at the Platinum level which is the highest level for LEED. 

What is LEED? 

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a cornerstone here at Palo Santo Designs. We are committed to green building and sustainability in everything we do. 

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and provides a framework for us to design and build highly efficient, green homes. 

To achieve a LEED certification requires close adherence to efficiency in multiple categories—location, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials, indoor environmental quality, innovation, sustainable sites, and more. 

To receive the minimum LEED certification, a project must score at least 40 points within those efficiency categories. 

Not only did we score enough to become certified, we scored more than 80 points for this home build putting us at the Platinum level—the highest level of certification awarded. 

Our team is unmatched in the Santa Fe area in LEED certified home builds. We pride ourselves in being leaders in energy efficient and sustainable design and builds. 

We’re honored to achieve another Platinum certification, but beyond that we’re proud to be committed to such high levels of energy efficiency and sustainability in our projects.

Santa Fe Architect Spotlight – Sandra Odems

We sat down with another one of our great architects here at Palo Santo Designs—Sandra Odems—to talk about her background in architecture, her favorite part of the whole process, and how she approaches architecture now in Santa Fe.

What Led You To Architecture?

For Sandra, it was her interest in drawing from a young age. “I remember (as a child) finding art books stacked near the road, next to someone’s trash, and thinking I had found treasure,” she says.

As she journeyed through high school she always chose art classes instead of foreign language classes.  Once she arrived at Tulane for college, she determined architecture would be a great path for her, one that would nurture her creativity and allow her to become a professional.

What Did You Do in Early Your Architecture Career?

For her college junior year abroad, Sandra studied at the Architectural Association in London, which had a strong emphasis on design.  After graduation she flip-flopped, and jumped into residential construction, getting her hands dirty learning how buildings are actually constructed here in New Mexico.

As a licensed Architect several years later, Sandra was involved in the construction of larger projects: schools, recreation centers and visitors’ centers across the state.  After ten years as a principal in a bigger firm, Sandra started her family and her own practice, with a new focus on residential architecture.

She also spent some time working with Ed Mazria and his team on The 2030 Challenge, which is an initiative that aims to reduce carbon emissions from the building sector by the year 2030.

Sandra now has 15 years of experience in residential design & construction in addition to approximately 10 years of experience working in the public sector.

What Brought You to Santa Fe?

“I’m originally from New Orleans,” Sandra says, but she landed in Santa Fe after considering options in other areas of the country and moving around a bit.  Sandra initially moved to Taos with her husband. They began building houses together in the area and learning construction.

“We were young and it seemed cool.” Sandra says.  About a year later, they moved to Santa Fe together to pursue larger projects and decided to stay.

Sandra says they fell in love with Santa Fe because of the beauty of the area, the clean air, and outdoor activities.  She and her family enjoy skiing, hiking and sailing on the NM lakes as much as possible.

How Do You Approach Architecture & Design of Custom Homes?

Sandra says it’s a lot about context: the owner, the site, tangible and intangible items.

“You’re always looking for something unique – something special that the client brings to the table – that inspires the project.” she says. For Sandra, it’s about being a great listener, and figuring out what is significant and important about each project.  Then it’s about transforming what’s heard into something that can be built.

It’s also about creating a connection to the outdoors, especially here in Santa Fe where the climate is comfortable and enjoyable.

Sure, modernism influences design and trends, but sometimes it’s also about designing buildings to be timeless; something that isn’t so dated.  That’s a real accomplishment.

But at the end of the day… what Sandra mostly wants is for a project to be successful for the client.  Success defined on their terms, because she has listened to them and created a building that they can enjoy for years to come.

What’s Your Favorite Part of the Design-Build Process?

“I love the day-to-day coordination with engineers and just getting it right,” Sandra says.

The complexity of the design and construction is exciting to her. It’s everything from the big vision to the tiniest of details—the daily push forward to a great finished project.

At Palo Santo Designs, Sandra is pleased to work with a team of people committed to thinking everything out and putting together a great project for each client.

What Are Some of the Unique Solutions You Deliver to Clients?

“I’m always thinking about daylight and energy-efficiency, and context, and how these things can come together,” she says.

Palo Santo Designs is committed to projects that are energy-efficient and it’s also second nature for Sandra since she’s been working on energy-efficient design and construction since the early 1990s.  “I was doing green design long before it was trendy”, she says.

Sandra is also a LEED certified professional.  It’s everything from the orientation of a home for natural light to envelope design and efficient systems. “We like to consider all of this,” Sandra says, but we understand that each client has their own goals and needs in their home.

All-in-all, Sandra is passionate about architecture and loves walking a project from design to build with careful attention to detail throughout the process.  

What Makes Santa Fe’s Architecture Different, Especially in 2019?

“I love that in Santa Fe we have both contemporary and traditional styles.  Contemporary is just starting to gain in popularity, but there is a big push happening right now in this direction.” Sandra says.

She loves the historic quality of the area and the City’s commitment to historic preservation – and a desire on the part of the community to continue to blend architecture into the earth, but she also appreciates and enjoys designing contemporary buildings.

It’s not a greater appreciation for one or the other. It’s an appreciation for how both can exist side-by-side, and in doing so, create a place that is comfortable and exciting.  Old and new, together.

Palo Santo Designs Named One of the Best Custom Home Builders

It’s always an honor to be mentioned for our efforts and successful projects. Recently, we’ve been named one of the best custom home builders in New Mexico by the Home Builder Digest.

We’re thankful to be chosen as one of the best and we always strive to provide the very best in custom home design and construction here in Santa Fe.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work and what we can do for you, please contact Mark at 505.988.7230

How Modern Architecture is Mixing with the Traditional Architecture in Santa Fe

Modern architecture refers to an overarching movement and design that emerged in the Western world at the turn of the 20th century. 

This architectural style was popular for universities, government buildings, and residential homes. 

Modern architecture brought about:

  • Clean lines 
  • Plenty of glass for natural light 
  • Broad roof overhangs 
  • Well-defined, rectangular forms
  • Modern materials and systems, such as steel, exposed concrete, column-free spaces, and radiant floor heating

As you may infer, modern architecture is quite the opposite of the traditional adobe Santa Fe style. Since adobe style is meant to mimic the land and environment around it, the style contains more earth tones and rounded features versus the more angular approach of modern architecture. 

A Mix of Architecture Begins

Santa Fe stayed true to its traditional theme well into the 21st century. The city has long been a tourist destination due to its unique architectural style: rounded walls, muted colors, small windows.

Strict building codes in Santa Fe ensures that this aesthetic is maintained throughout the city’s central district. But many modern home buyers prefer a different approach to Santa Fe’s traditional architecture. 

Now, the city’s less regulated areas have experienced a new wave of modern homes, with steel and glass materials dotting Santa Fe’s landscape, and homes with angles versus a rounded finish. 

Builders and architects in Santa Fe believe that the shift towards more modern styled buildings coincides with the increasing admiration for contemporary art in the city.

Modern art galleries have been set up in notable areas like the Railyard district, just outside of the city’s heavily regulated central districts. This has given contemporary artists the platform they need to put their creativity to good use.

The Historic District Review Board in Santa Fe is responsible for regulating the construction of new buildings, exterior alterations to existing buildings, and the demolition of buildings. This jurisdiction covers Santa Fe’s five historic districts, which makes up 20% of the city. In these districts, building codes are strictly applied. For instance, windows must be a maximum of 30 inches diagonal.

Tradition Meets Modernism in Santa Fe

While many potential homeowners are attracted to Santa Fe for its unique landscape, they want homes that reflect a more contemporary aesthetic: 

  • Bright spaces with plenty of natural light
  • High-efficiency features
  • Low environmental impact

Palo Santo Design LLC – an award-winning general contractor and architecture/design firm – is committed to meeting this need. Our goal is to provide custom homes, renovations and commercial spaces that meet the highest standard of craftsmanship, high efficiency, with personalized project management tailored to the unique needs of each client.

We understand the dramatic shift in demands in Santa Fe, with a steadily increasing demand for contemporary buildings and energy efficient features, which bring about more modern touches.  

However, we also realize that today’s prospective homeowners in Santa Fe desire homes that integrate traditional features such as curbless shower stalls and wider doorways into contemporary styled buildings. This is why our “soft contemporary” custom homes are designed to have a traditional adobe, yet modern feel.

Exotic woods, glasses, metal and glints of stone contribute to the contemporary feel in Santa Fe even when they are styled in plastered interior walls and a coated exterior. 

Santa Fe’s architecture continues to stand out and attract tourists from different parts of the world. As a result, our approach at Palo Santo Design LLC focuses on ensuring the right mix of tradition and modernism based on what our clients want. 

Yes, we are able to meet the city’s strict building codes as well as provide homes that are energy efficient and modern for our clients.


Santa Fe Architect Spotlight – Jon Stern

Jon Stern is the Lead Architect at Palo Santo Designs in Santa Fe. We sat down with him to learn more about what inspired him to become an architect, why he enjoys architecture, what’s his favorite part of helping clients, and what makes Santa Fe architecture so unique.

What Inspired You To Become an Architect?

For Jon, architecture was just something he was always interested in. He said he was easily bored as a kid and the complexity of architecture captured his attention because of the combination of art and science.

It’s certainly never boring,

Jon says

It’s never boring because he’s constantly thinking of structures, designs, materials, process, and so much more to create a space that people will love. It allows him to be consumed in each project, refining his approach, and executing plans for another successful build in Santa Fe.

It also allows him to be calculated and exact while being able to enjoy the art and creativity of the space. It’s a dance between both worlds, science and art, and a dance he enjoys.

How Do you Approach Architecture and Design?

Jon says it’s being an information gatherer and problem solver together. He develops a solution based on the information he receives.

A client has dreams and aspirations for their home, but they don’t know how to bring it to life. They can see something in their minds and communicate it, but it is Jon’s job to bring it down from a dream into a real concept. From there he jumps into three dimensional spaces in his mind where he conceptualizes the entire flow of the custom home.

It’s not just about the rooms themselves but also about the relationship of the spaces. The house must be cohesive from room-to-room and have a natural flow that just feels right.

A client may not be able to describe the details of why it feels right but they certainly feel it and recognize it. And Jon gets to guide our clients to that destination. A destination of happiness and joy within their new home.

What is Unique About Santa Fe’s Architecture?

One of the first things that attracted me to Santa Fe is at a distance the buildings appear to be coming out of the ground, complementing the native soil and rock,

says Jon.

Jon noticed this because he’s originally from Pennsylvania and Santa Fe’s architecture was unlike any other style he’d seen. It blends so well with the landscape and seems to be one with nature.

And yet today there’s a great combination of the historic, traditional design with a contemporary adaptation, which Jon enjoys and leads with himself. He finds that the traditional elements of Santa Fe compliment the contemporary touches.

There’s a lovely interplay between the traditional and contemporary within a home and it adds a certain depth that people are wanting in Santa Fe today.

While at the same time Jon is glad the historic look has remained and the people of Santa Fe want to preserve it throughout structures.

What is Your Favorite Part of the Design-Build Process?

“It’s actually experiencing the space when it is built,” Jon says.

And when he experiences it with the client and they react with “oh wow” Jon knows the many hours of concepting, designing, and refining have paid off.

It’s not enough to hear them say “it’s good.” He wants them to be amazed and to feel everything remarkable imparted into the design. He wants the experience to evoke joy for the client.

Hours of listening and refinement bring Jon to a finished design that the client approves and then sees come to life through construction. And it’s those hours that pay off in the end.

“It’s part of building anything… it’s just hammer and nails,” Jon says.

It’s the hammer and nails of the design process that brings forth the final experience that is all worth it in the end.

Palo Santo Designs Moves Into the Siler Rufina District of Santa Fe

We’re proud to announce that we just moved into the Siler Rufina district in Santa Fe.

Not only did we move into this area, we moved into one of our own, brand-new commercial developments at 1300 Rufina Circle.

The development is an iconic space in a former industrial district of town that is currently getting a lot of buzz, including the popular Meow Wolf attraction, just around the corner from our new offices.

We’re proud of this Rufina development because it provides working space and offices for local artists and small businesses. And not only space, it provides ownership.  

These local entrepreneurs actually own their space within the Rufina development. How terrific is that?

Instead of renting, we’re able to give these hard working people something to own and a place to further cultivate their craft.

The development was a total success and sold out before each phase was completed, both in 2017 and 2018.

In many ways, we created a market where one didn’t exist. An office condo space with this architecture and amenities did not exist in the Siler Rufina district, so we brought it to the area at one of the best times.

Also, we were able to deliver this great Rufina development because of tax benefits offered to owners, enhanced by federal opportunity zones in Santa Fe. This development is within one of the only opportunity zones in Santa Fe, which brings tax benefits to all owners of the property.

Want to know more about these federal opportunity zones?

We’ll tell you more in our next blog post and give you a highlight of another upcoming development.

Why You Should Hire A Santa Fe Home Builder & Architect Together

If you’re researching to build a home in Santa Fe and are wondering how to start and what’s involved in the process, then we want to provide some insight here. Building a custom home isn’t a small project and we don’t want it be a poor experience for you, which is why we want you know everything up front.

So let’s take a dive into what the traditional process for building a custom home is like and how our design-build approach is designed to make that experience better.

Understanding the Traditional Client-Architect-Contractor Relationship & Process

When it comes to building a custom home, the traditional relationship looks like a triangle with the client at one point, architect at one point and general contractor at the last point. Typically, the client would approach an architect to initiate the conceptualization and design of the project.

The triangle represents the traditional client – architect – contractor relationship. The dot represents how we’re innovating this relationship by bring everyone together as one firm.

It’s important to note that a general contractor is not involved in the initial discovery phase or even the design phase of the project, based on the traditional relationship. Selecting a general contractor only comes after the design is complete.

The selection of a general contractor typically goes through a bid process where multiple contractors bid on the project with the most expensive bids being tossed to the side and the more affordable bids fighting for the job. This, of course, is a race to the bottom in terms of price alone.

In some cases a design is kicked back to the architect for a re-design because the contractors cannot build the designed home at a price the owners can afford. It is simply too lofty of a design for the budget.

Redesign can be a very costly experience, and can add many months to a project timeline…unnecessarily, in our opinion.

Why Is the Traditional Relationship is Often Not the Best Approach?

As we mentioned, while all three points of the triangle must be involved to complete a home build, the traditional relationships are siloed from each other. To explain this better, let’s take a look at a real-life example:

Reasons Why the Traditional Client-Architect-Contractor Relationship is Flawed:

#1 – No matter how talented an architect is and how much they know, if they are not working with a builder from the beginning of a project then there is information they will not know and anticipate. Materials, labor, and the environment all constantly change, which directly affects costs and completion. The builder knows that information and can inform the architect but only if the architect is working with the builder from the beginning.

#2 – With the traditional process, expectations are not appropriately set. Again, an architect will surely provide a beautiful design and capture what the client is dreaming of. However, if all of the other building factors are not considered then the client is getting their hopes up for something that may not be a reality. These expectations can crush a project.

#3 – In most cases, 50-75% of custom builds that start in with the traditional relationship end up having to go back through the redesign phase because of unanticipated factors, such as material and labor costs, and other factors Again, a redesign often costs the client more money and immediately delays the build process.

#4 – The traditional approach often focuses primarily on the artistic perspective with little or no focus on cost implications.. As we like to say “our goal is to design to your budget, so that your dream home will become a reality.” This approach is not exclusive of aesthetic focus, but is an informed approach emphasizing the aesthetic in the most cost effective ways possible. So understanding all of the building factors influences the design we create rather than  working backward.

#5 – After a design is ready for contractors to bid on, it becomes all about hitting the budget that is often too low for the scope of the design, which causes a race to the bottom with contractors. Typically, the best builders are tossed out in the beginning because their bid is too “high,” although realistic. In this scenario, you have a beautiful design but a contractor trying to cut costs as much as possible to hit a budget. This is not a recipe for a successful and wonderful build for the client.

#6 – In some cases, a design may never be financially attainable for the client. They have hopes and dreams for a particular home, and while an architect can design the home, it may not be feasible at all for the set budget.

How We Approach Architecture & Home Building in Santa Fe:

Like we mentioned at the beginning, we are innovating this relationship simply by bringing architecture and contractors under one roof and on one team here in Santa Fe.

Since we can collaborate as designers and builders from the very first day, we can overcome the majority of pitfalls that occur in the traditional process. What does this look like?

  • Expectations – we can set the right expectations from day one. No designs that won’t fit an actual budget. We can take your budget and dreams and create a realistic expectation.
  • Financially Attainable – you have a set budget and dream for your home. We take both and create a plan that is attainable financially versus starting with a grand design that cannot be built for your budget. It’s our goal to make your dream a reality and attainable for you.
  • Land/Lot Real Estate – we can assist you in locating and purchasing a lot that suits your goals and avoids many issues that may affect budget and timeline, such as soils, topography, utilities and jurisdictional restrictions. We can effectively prevent redesigns and delays in the design-build process, which saves you money and gets you into your home on time.
  • Compliance – our goal from the moment we start discovery with you is to chart a path of compliance so your project complies with everything needed, such as ordinances, jurisdictions, easements, utilities, and beyond.
  • Truly Design and Build – some firms claim to be a design/build firm but they actually hire an outside architect to come in for a project. We don’t do this. We are truly a design-build firm because we have the architect and builders on the same team here at Palo Santo Designs. We are committed to not only designing you a beautiful home but influencing your project from the beginning with true building knowledge.
  • Sustainability –  because of our extensive experience and expertise in the design and construction of high performance green homes, you can be assured that the design will include numerous fundamental energy and water efficiency features, passive solar design and otherwise environmentally preferable materials and methods.  Sustainability is our baseline, not an add-on.

Featured in the SantaFean for Our Minimalist Design and Craftsmanship

Read our feature in the SantaFean Dec. 2018 – Jan. 2019 edition:

Here’s an excerpt of the story written by Amy Gross:

Though he declined to attend the Santa Fe Parade of Homes awards gala last August, Stelio Kitrilakis told the team that designed and built this house to text him if they won anything. Being in the film industry, Kitrilakis knows a thing or two about awards ceremonies, including how even the best pictures are sometimes snubbed. In this case, he needn’t have worried.
“We were sort of crossing our fingers that we wouldn’t embarrass Stelio by showing up and not getting anything,” laughs Mark Giorgetti, founder and principal of Palo Santo Designs. “But it was text after text after text.”

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