Center City is a full service real estate development, investment, and construction company based in San Antonio, Texas.

One major area of specialization we have is building custom, semi-custom, and spec residential homes in the urban areas of town.

Building in downtown is a different experience with different challenges than in suburban areas. Having a good understanding of the process will ensure your new home construction experience goes as smoothly as is absolutely possible. This article outlines the road to success and what you should know each step of the way.


If you haven’t yet, download our FULL guide to building a new construction home in downtown San Antonio!


Step 1: Due diligence & pre-construction planning 

Before you start swinging a hammer you need to perform due diligence on the property you’re considering building on!

    1. Zoning – is this already conducive to your project? If not, can you rezone? The neighborhood you’re buying in is a huge factor in knowing if you’ll be able to rezone the property. This is a judicial process where public opinion is encouraged. Zoning cases mail out notices to the surrounding property owners giving them the exact details of what’s going on, it’s probably worth your time to speak to the people on your street and getting an idea of whether they will support your project.
    2. Platting – Does the property have a plat of your lot in its current condition? This is a legal document that shows the lot dimensions, easements, and any other information that would affect where you can build. This is a requirement to pull a construction permit.
    3. Would you qualify for a COD (Certificate of Determination). This is a document you can potentially get instead of having to plat the property.
      1. Potentially if the property has been in its current state for over 8 years.
    4. Any environmental concerns? You should probably get a Phase 1 environmental study.
    5. Any encroachments from neighboring properties?
      1. You will want an updated survey
    6. What is the soil condition?
      1. This will effect the type of foundation you build
      2. Is the foundation design cost effective for your project?


Step 2: Assembling the right team – how to pick a builder

    1. You need a builder with experience in downtown construction projects. This is very important! A builder who is used to constructing homes in already established neighborhoods will probably not have the right skill set to get your project to the starting line. A basic knowledge of the land development process is important when working in downtown areas.
    2. Should I hire a builder or a contractor?
      1. If you hire a builder they will handle all the pre-development on your project.
      2. If you hire a contractor you may need to hire these other trades independently.
        1. You may save some on cost, but the project will likely take longer.


Step 3: Tasks before you can start construction

Are you prepared to work through the intricacies of building in an urban/historic area?

    1. Is the land you are looking at in a historic district? 
    2. Are you OK with your house maintaining the look and feel required by the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation?


Are you going to work well with the neighborhood your home is being built in?

    1. Are you designing a home that the neighborhood will like the look and feel of?
    2. Are you wanting to have density in your home (small multi family or ADU)? Talk to the “architectural review committee” before you start designing.


If the property isn’t zoned for your project do you have a plan for doing the land development portion of the urban new construction process?

  1. Zoning & Platting Considerations.
    1. If the property needs to be rezoned you will need neighborhood and city support.
      1. This process usually takes 3-9 months
    2. If the property needs to be platted you can have this completed by just your engineer.
      1. This usually takes about 3-6 months
        1. You may be able to start construction before the plat is fully complete.
      1. The builder will usually have the engineers and architects you will need.
      2. Does the builder understand the zoning/platting/land use process?
      3. Can the builder help you maximize the value of your finished project?
        1. Would you want an ADU (accessory dwelling unit)?


How long will it take to build my new downtown home?

    1. Building a new home takes time – I would estimate 8-12 months total.
    2. Pre-construction/design timeframe (1 – 3 months)
    3. Active construction (4 – 6 months)
    4. Project completion  (3 weeks – 1 month)


What are the costs of building a new urban home?

    1. Pre-development & due diligence costs
      1. Survey
      2. Geotechnical Report
      3. Lot Staking
      4. Zoning & Platting
    2. Cost of your team
      1. Architect
      2. Designer
      3. Engineers
    3. Costs of construction
      1. Foundation
      2. Framing
      3. Major Systems (Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC)
      4. Drywall & Paint
      5. Flooring
      6. Finish Out (cabinets, tile, fixtures, etc)


Downtown San Antonio real estate is skyrocketing in value! It is an incredible time to transition from renting (or owning in another part of town) to living and enjoying urban life. It is extremely important though that you do a little planning to ensure you have a successful experience.


Center City is able to assist with every step of this journey. We can help you find the perfect downtown lot, conduct due diligence, ensure all the proper approvals are obtained, and ultimately construct your dream home!


If you haven’t yet, take our downtown home costs survey to get more information about what it will cost to make your urban dream a reality!