The Cost of a Custom Home in the City of Boston vs. the Suburbs


5 Considerations for Boston Area Custom Home Building and the Costs to Expect

If you want to build a custom home in the Boston area, the first decision you have to make is whether you want to live in the city of Boston, or the suburbs that surround it.

A lot of factors go into this decision–your taste for city life, the ease of your commute, how highly you value a backyard–but none tend to be as all-encompassing as cost. Anyone living around Boston knows there are significant cost differences between the city and the suburbs, and building a custom home is no exception.

In this post, we’ll compare the cost of building a custom home in the city of Boston to building in the suburbs as it relates to the different decisions you would need to make and the preferences you may have.

There are more factors at play than you may realize, and understanding where certain costs come from when building a custom home in the suburbs versus the city will help you make more informed decisions.

Consideration #1: Prioritizing Space


Custom home in Millennium Tower with beautiful views of the city skyline

Custom home in Millennium Tower with beautiful views of the city skyline

By their very nature of being in a city, Boston homes take up a smaller footprint than a suburban home. While there are inherent sacrifices to city living, such as having a big yard or ample parking, there are also different costs involved in building a functional home in a smaller space.

Boston homes are often called “jewelry-box homes,” a term that is not new but has resurfaced as homeowners increasingly seek to downsize while living functionally with upscale detailing. Jewelry-box homes are built more compact (often up rather than out), and have luxurious interiors.

Conversely, as building a home in the suburbs of Boston affords more space, there is less need to build “small but smart.” Homes in the suburbs are generally built for long-term use and functionality, as suburban homeowners are seeking a place to grow and raise a family.

Where would you spend on space in Boston?

In a Boston city home, costs associated with amplifying your space would likely come from high-end finishes and amenities to achieve the feeling of luxury consistently throughout your home. These features could include marble countertops, stone or hardwood flooring and custom cabinetry.

Where would you spend on space in the suburbs?

In the suburbs, you might opt to spend less on your countertops and more on a gameroom or finished basement to make up for your distance from city entertainment.

Consideration #2: Sizing Constraints and Regulations


Luxury kitchen in mid-century modern condo

Luxury kitchen in mid-century modern condo

The overall footprint of a home isn’t the only difference between building in the city of Boston versus the suburbs. You might need to get creative with windows, cabinets, countertops, or even furniture due to the size and configuration of your city home. Limited space or non-standard layouts tend to require custom features.

Additionally, the City of Boston has building regulations in place that may require your home to meet specific parameters that cannot be satisfied with standard installations.

By contrast, building a home in the suburbs largely eliminates sizing constraints or any specific regulations.

What costs are associated with regulations in Boston?

In your city home, you’d likely incur greater costs to accommodate size constraints or building regulations, such as for custom fittings for typically standard installations like windows or counters.

Consideration #3: Building Process


Custom home construction in Back Bay

Custom home construction in Back Bay

With parking at a premium and neighborhoods so thickly settled, a new home build in the city of Boston can be a tricky and involved process for contractors and construction teams.

It’s understandable that building in the suburbs would be a less complicated process as there are no meters and ample parking, but if you want to build in the city, it’s best to know what to expect. You’ll likely need to work with your contractor to ensure they have all the proper permits, and are aware of any special considerations that could impact the building process.

How much do parking permits cost for Boston construction crews?

Parking and street accommodations for construction crews and building supplies could require a street occupancy permit. These start at a $50 per day base fee.

Consideration #4: Average Cost Per Square Foot to Build a Custom Home


Large living area in custom home in the suburbs

Large living area in custom home in the suburbs

Cost per square foot of a custom home in Boston

In the city of Boston, it’s common to spend $300-$500 per square on foot renovating–but it’s also easy to spend up to $600-800 per square foot in neighborhoods like the South End with more high-end real estate.

Cost per square foot of a custom home in the suburbs

The suburbs of Boston aren’t much different, with home cost per square foot averaging up to $400. Homes in the city tend to average $1,200 per square feet.

The largest differentiator is that suburban homes provide more physical space, like a basement, multi-car garage and backyard, while a home in the city might offer other amenities like proximity to restaurants, entertainment and public transportation.

What’s an average custom condo cost in Boston?

By its nature, the cost of custom condos can range widely. The cost depends on a number of factors, such as the neighborhood you’d like to live in. For example, a recent custom condo construction project we completed in the South End had a renovation cost of $800 per square foot. This project included fully-custom fixtures and amenities, like a $400,000 closet with hidden drawers and specially-designed storage spaces for everything.  

Consideration #5: Features and Amenities


Custom Wine Cellar in Boston Condo

Custom wine cellar in Boston condo

There are always specific features for your home that top your “must-have” list from the very beginning. Some of these features, like a garage or master bath, can be achieved whether you’re building your home in the city of Boston or the suburbs. However, as we’ve learned, the costs are quite different, so it’s important to know what you can get for your investment in the city versus the suburbs as it can influence your decision on where to build your custom home.

What are cost differences of custom homes with amenities between Boston and the suburbs?

A 3,000 square foot newly-constructed home in Boston’s South End with amenities like an indoor garage would cost $4-5 million. For about $1.2 million, you could get a similar home with similar amenities in most suburbs of Boston, or an 800 square foot home in the South End at about $1,500 per square foot.

Homes in the suburbs also tend to have more complex and larger amenities, such as a steam room or personal gym, which would be difficult to build into your custom home in the city–but also less necessary as city homes are closer to clubs and gyms that offer those amenities.

1 bed/1 bath condos in Boston with standard finishes and appliances, small roof deck, and no parking are selling easily when priced under $1 million. In the suburbs, $1 million can build a 3,000-square-foot home with a 3-car garage and other amenities like a custom fireplace and expansive yard.

Your decision whether to build your custom home in the city of Boston or its suburbs may not be solely focused on cost, but it is likely an important factor. Each of these considerations are important to understand not only where the costs come into play, but what you can get for the money you put in.

Your custom home build should be exactly what you want it to be–otherwise it’s not 100% custom.


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