Hard Costs vs. Soft Costs – What Real Estate Investors Don’t Know

A common option for people looking to diversify their portfolios and produce passive income is real estate investment. Despite the potential financial rewards of real estate investing, it's important to realize that the process can be difficult, especially when it comes to real estate development. Investors need to be aware of the numerous expenses connected with a development project, such as building costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and legal costs.

Accurately classifying a project's expenses into hard and soft costs is one of the most important steps in determining its potential profitability. While soft costs include non-physical costs like legal fees, permits, and design and engineering fees, hard costs are expenses related to actual construction, such as building materials and labor. Investors can produce more precise budgets and decide on a project's viability by differentiating between the two.

Real estate investors have created trustworthy techniques to deal with these complexities, despite the fact that evaluating hard and soft costs can be difficult. To effectively assess real estate development projects and maximize their potential for profitability, it is essential to understand the difference between hard and soft costs. 

We'll delve deeper into the significance of separating hard costs from soft costs in real estate investing in this blog post, as well as some of the tactics investors can employ to deal with these costs.

Understanding Various Costs Involved in Real Estate Development

Depending on the project's size and intended use for the property, the cost of real estate development projects can change. Investors should be aware of the typical expenses associated with any project, such as land acquisition costs, building permit fees, labor costs associated with construction, initial and ongoing maintenance, and legal costs.

Real estate development projects can involve a variety of additional costs in both the initial and subsequent stages of construction, in addition to these fundamental costs. These can include research and marketing costs related to the project's overall business strategy, as well as complex management and legal obligations that arise in connection with the development's intended use.

Why Should Real Estate Investors Consider Development Costs?

There are a number of reasons why real estate investors need to be completely aware of all project costs. 

  • First of all, developers have the propensity to draw attention to the more alluring features of a project, such as the potential financial success of the development company or the market's apparent favorability. 
  • But before they can earn money, investors must spend it, and how they spend it before, during, and after the development process will greatly affect their return. The development's costs might be too high, and investors might have to operate at a loss for years before turning a profit. This scenario might not be good for their portfolio or level of risk tolerance.
  • Additionally, achieving long-term profitability depends heavily on effective budgeting. Not all development-related costs will be considered objective losses. A budgeting sheet is actually seen by the majority of astute investors as a complete playbook for potential future gains. For instance, creating an office building might entail investing in and putting in IT infrastructure and computer hardware. 

Moving forward, it will be crucial to distinguish between hard and soft costs in order to fully comprehend development costs.

What is Hard Cost?

All costs involved in the actual physical construction of a building or structure are referred to as "hard costs." These expenses, which are also referred to as "brick and mortar" costs, also cover the price of supplies, labor, utilities, HVAC units, cement, and landscaping. Compared to soft costs, hard costs are much simpler to anticipate and identify because they are seen as fixed and tangible. Additionally, they only cover costs incurred during the initial construction phase and do not cover costs incurred after the project is finished. 

What is Soft Cost?

Any expense that is not directly related to the physical construction of a building or other structure is referred to as a soft cost. These costs typically include things like legal and consulting fees, permit fees, financing costs, insurance, and marketing, as well as costs for design, planning, and paperwork. Because they cannot be physically seen or touched, soft costs are also referred to as "intangible costs." They are typically more challenging to predict and quantify than hard costs. Any real estate development project must consider soft costs because they have a significant impact on the overall budget and schedule.

Hard Costs vs Soft Costs

It's critical to comprehend the distinction between hard costs and soft costs when it comes to real estate development. Soft costs are the intangible, variable expenses that are unrelated to the actual construction of a building or structure, whereas hard costs are the tangible, fixed costs that go into its physical construction. When planning a budget for a development project, it's crucial to take both hard and soft costs into account because they can significantly affect an investor's return on investment. 

Let's look at a comparison table to learn more about the distinctions between hard and soft costs:

Hard Costs

Soft Costs

Tangible expenses

Intangible expenses

Directly related to the construction process

Not directly related to the construction process

Fixed and easier to anticipate

Variable and more difficult to anticipate

Examples: labor, materials, utilities, HVAC systems, landscaping

Examples: architectural design fees, environmental research, marketing, repair and maintenance, insurance, legal fees and permits

Soft costs are the non-physical costs associated with the development process as a whole, whereas hard costs are the physical costs associated with the construction of a building or structure. Real estate investors can make a thorough budget that accurately reflects all costs related to a development project by understanding the distinctions between these two types of costs, which will ultimately result in a more successful and lucrative investment.

What is the Proportion of Soft Costs in Hard Costs?

Depending on the type of project, among other things, affects the ratio of soft costs to hard costs. Typically, between 10% and 30% of a project's total hard costs are made up of soft costs. The fact that this is not a set rule and can vary greatly must be understood, though, and should be noted. The location of the project, the type of building being constructed, and the complexity of the design are a few variables that can affect the ratio of soft costs to hard costs.

Soft Costs That Can Be Capitalized in Real Estate Development

A real estate development project's soft costs may be capitalized to raise the development's overall value as shown on the balance sheet. Investors can divide costs into groups based on how likely they are to produce income over the long term using this cost segregation process. The majority of a real estate development's soft costs, including architectural and design fees, contractor and legal fees, permits, and real estate taxes, can be capitalized. 

But it's not a good idea to capitalize on the costs of loan financing. Investors should seek expert counsel to make sure they have a strong legal foundation for realizing any gains.

Key Takeaways

  • For real estate development projects to be properly assessed and have their potential for profitability maximized, it is essential to comprehend the difference between hard and soft costs.
  • Investors need to be aware of the numerous expenses connected with a development project, such as building costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and legal costs.
  • To assess a project's potential profitability, the costs must be accurately divided into hard and soft costs. While soft costs include non-physical costs like legal fees, permits, and design and engineering fees, hard costs are expenses related to actual construction.
  • Soft costs, which are an integral part of any real estate development project and have a significant impact on the overall budget and schedule, can be more challenging to predict and quantify than hard costs.
  • Investors should be completely aware of all costs associated with a development project because they may be excessive and necessitate years of operating at a loss before a profit can be realized. Effective budgeting plays a crucial role in achieving long-term profitability.

To summarize

Real estate development can be a difficult and complicated process, and investors must be aware of these costs when assessing a project's potential profitability. Hard costs, which are tangible expenses directly related to physical construction, must be distinguished from soft costs, which are intangible expenses not directly related to construction. Soft costs must be taken into account because they have a big impact on a project's overall budget and schedule. 

Assetmonk, a real estate investment platform, can help investors navigate the complexities of real estate investment by providing access to high-quality properties and helping them create a diversified portfolio. There is no better option than Assetmonk if you like to play the commercial real estate investment game!


Q1.What is hard cost vs soft costs in real estate? 

Hard costs in real estate are outlays for things like materials, labor, and equipment that are directly related to the physical construction of a building or piece of property. Soft costs, on the other hand, are outlays such as design fees, permit fees, and legal costs that are not directly associated with the physical construction but are required to complete the project.

Q2.Which project cost is considered to be a soft cost? 

Soft costs include things like design fees, engineering fees, legal fees, permits, taxes, insurance, and other administrative costs.

Q3.Is contingency a hard or soft cost? 

As a result of it not being a direct construction cost, contingency is typically regarded as a soft cost. In order to cover unanticipated costs, such as changes in scope or unforeseen circumstances, contingency funds are typically set aside as a percentage of the project's overall cost.

Q4.How do you calculate soft costs?

The percentage of the project's overall cost that is typically used to calculate soft costs. The percentage varies according to the size, difficulty, and location of the project.  

Q5.Is soft cost direct cost? 

Since they have no direct connection to the actual building of the property, soft costs are not considered direct costs. Instead, they are supplementary indirect costs for the construction process.