Apartment Building Construction Cost Breakdown

apartment building construction cost breakdown

In the realm of architecture, each project is unique – and along with every individual project comes its own cost-driving program elements. Apartment buildings are no exception to this rule, as they can be as simple as a 3-story walk-up or as complex as an urban development project with various construction limitations.

When projects are initially budgeted for, RSMeans data can be implemented for background information; however, construction costs for apartment buildings cannot always be pinpointed to an absolute number, particularly in areas where the housing boom has sharply increased construction costs and a shortage of skilled labor.

In many cases, firms will use historical data from past projects and extract elements that are common to the proposed project. Because construction costs for apartment buildings vary greatly based on economic and market trends of the current year, the location they’re being constructed in, and other variables, determining an average national cost can become somewhat elusive. hmm

In this article, we’ll explore the variables found in commercial construction across the U.S., along with tips and tools to estimate the cost of building a commercial apartment building.

Commercial Construction: Cost-Estimating For U.S. Apartments

When it comes to determining the cost of commercial apartments, many factors must be taken into consideration, including building practices, the cost of labor, the cost of land, and to some extent, the cost of the materials. Because these tangential costs can differ greatly from location to location, and are dependent on the nature of the particular apartment building being constructed, it is difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all answer.

Although the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) can provide a broad idea of construction costs for an average home, it is not an ideal tool for estimating costs for a commercial apartment building. Companies that provide more specific cost estimating, usually for a fee, include RSMeans and Marshall & Swift. These costs include all of the builder’s expenditures that go into a particular item, including labor costs paid directly by the general contractor, the cost of hiring subcontractors, and the cost of materials.

So, the question still remains: what does it cost to build an apartment building? As mentioned, there are a huge number of variables in such a question – for example, apartments come as low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise architectural styles. For the purpose of this discussion, we will look at the mid-rise buildings with five or more units in each. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the size of the average apartment is 861 square feet, which assumes a "footprint" of approximately 24'x35'. The building of single mid-rise complex would never be a "DIY" project, and typically requires a knowledgeable contractor, an architect, a team of subcontractors, and cooperative owner to get the job completed within a calendar year.

For the building of an apartment building with twelve units, the typical costs include:

  • Utilizing mid-range materials, a normal foundation with full basement, efficient doors and windows, all appliances, and "turnkey" finishing would run at an average of $64,575 to $86,100 per unit to complete. However, this does not include the acquisition of the land.
  • The above figures place this construction at an $85 and $200 per square foot cost, though national average stands at $125 for most contractors. This pricing structure assumes that carpenters, masons, and excavators charge an average of $70 per hour, electricians between $65 to $85 per hour, painters between $20 and $35 per hour, and plumbers between $45 and $65 per hour.
  • It should be noted, however, that this building would not come in at a simple cost of $85 per square foot; this is due simply to the excessive amount of construction required on the interior. A three-story unit of masonry construction with twelve apartments would run roughly $9.4 million in total costs. This excludes land acquisition and site improvements (e.g., parking, landscaping and play areas). Materials would cost around $4.65 million, labor would cost roughly $4.51 million, machine costs would stand at roughly $232,000, and the contractor would take in over $1.3 million for the project.

Cost Breakdown: What Is Included?

Most owners rely on both an architect and a contractor, and the architect will require approximately 10 – 17% of the total building budget. Below, a breakdown of services each professional traditionally provides, along with an overview of what to expect in a general commercial apartment buildout:

An architect will:

  • Determine the scope of the project and establish a preliminary budget
  • Draft list of proposed work, budget, and outline of plans
  • Create the schematic design and draft floor plans with elevation drawings
  • Work with structural engineers and meet with planning agencies to verify any requirements
  • Finalize drawings and incorporate all details about materials and finishes, any fixtures or equipment, and all systems in the structure
  • Serve as the project manager and review the plans with any required local agencies while also obtaining necessary permits (if contractors are to be used, it is at this point that they must be selected)
  • Serve in an advisory capacity to choose a contractor and help the client through the bid review process
  • Complete construction documents and obtain the building permit
  • Administer the construction, ensure that contractor's requests for payments are accurate, and confirm all final details are corrected or finished by the contractor

A contractor will:

  • Provide the services and materials required for the entire job
  • Hire subcontractors according to need
  • Suggest plans and ideas to architect/owner to help them meet goals
  • Deliver final cleanup of the entire job site
  • Pull all permits for work and utility installation

A general apartment construction project will cover such items as:

  • Bath Fixtures
  • Built-In Appliances
  • Cabinets
  • Carpeting
  • Countertops
  • Doors
  • Excavation
  • Exterior Finish
  • Exterior Trim
  • Final Cleanup
  • Finish Carpentry
  • Finish Hardware
  • Flooring
  • Foundation, Piers, Flatwork
  • Heating and Cooling Systems
  • Insulation
  • Insurance
  • Interior Wall Finish
  • Lighting Fixtures
  • Painting
  • Permits and Utilities
  • Plans and Specs
  • Plumbing Fixtures
  • Plumbing Rough-in and Connection
  • Roofing, Flashing, Fascia
  • Rough Carpentry
  • Rough Hardware
  • Unit Heating and Cooling
  • Windows
  • Wiring

Did You Know…

The shape of the outside perimeter is also an important consideration in estimating the total construction cost. Generally, the more complex the shape, the more expensive the structure per square foot of floor area. The shape classification of multiple story or split-level structures is based on the outline formed by the outer most exterior walls, regardless of the varying level. Most structures have 4, 6, 8 or 10 corners. Small insets not requiring a change in the roof shape can be ignored when determining the shape.

Points Of Interest: Examining Apartment Construction Pricing Based On Real Estate

  • The first thing to note is only half the costs come from physical construction (37%) and land (19%) that you can see and touch in a building. The remainder of the total is soft costs (24%) and expected equity return for the investors (25%).
  • A real estate developer loses approximately 15% of the total building’s space for inefficiencies and common areas (e.g., hallways, elevator and exhaust shafts, residential lobby, etc.). Therefore, a 1,000 gross square foot construction turns into an 850 net square foot 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment. The 15% loss factor increases the price per square foot, equivalent to approximately $65,000 per unit for space everyone is using in the building,but no one is thinking they are paying for when they purchase a condo.
  • The profit to the equity investor is the second largest driver of residential pricing. Although the real estate developer may lead and manage the project and is often the face of the development, the developer generally is not the primary capital provider in the project.

For instance, in the 30-unit apartment development described above, the developer would have to invest $4,500,000 of equity (i.e., $150,000 per unit or 35% of the total cost). Most real estate developers would not invest all of the capital themselves, especially if they have a few real estate projects underway at any one time. Instead, they raise the equity capital, usually from an investment fund, and those outside investors put up 80-90% of the money (e.g., $3,600,000 to $4,050,000 of the total).

Remain Proactive To Avoid Cost Overruns

Above all, it is crucial to prepare for cost overruns when determining the costs for the construction of a new apartment building. If you can actively remember that the finished cost of an apartment is often more than the original bid price, you can work to avoid this outcome. In some instances, budgets can easily be eaten up on high-end materials, such as flooring, vaulted ceilings, elaborate landscaping and so on.

However, the investment made in such luxury fixtures and materials can be recouped, as the price of your property increases exponentially, both in real estate value and as a source of income (i.e., higher rental potential). When something is chosen that is outside the contract, this is called a “change order,” and if you are working with an experienced builder, they should be able to quantify these upcharges for you so you can make an informed decision.

Start by working with your new home builder to create as detailed a construction contract as possible. The more detail this contact reveals, the more accurate your estimated new apartment building costs will be, and the more likely you are to stay within your budget.

Some key components to identify in your contract should include:

  • Green material costs
  • How a garage, outbuilding, or basement might be included/handled in the contract
  • How you define heated or unheated spaces
  • If the land is included in the square footage costs
  • Inflation for a delayed build
  • Landscaping costs
  • Liability insurance costs
  • Realistic allowances
  • Septic system costs
  • Sidewalk costs
  • Subcontractor costs
  • Utility connection costs


Although there are wide variances in cost when it comes to commercial apartment construction, one thing is for certain – with the proper planning and budgeting in place at the onset of your project, you can achieve your goals while staying within budget. In the end, it makes good business sense to figure in an additional 10% to cover unexpected costs; however, a seasoned commercial builder should be able to help you adhere to your budget.

Using tools such as ProEst's RSMeans building construction cost data, you can track labor and material cost changes can also be highly beneficial – our database has the key information you need through every phase of your construction project. From Civil Cost Construction Data to Commercial Construction Cost Data, we have the estimating products and services to help you create profitable and competitive bids.

Our easy-to-use General Contractor Estimating Software helps you quickly respond to customer bids while accurately calculating the cost of any size project.

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