Successful Custom Home Building

Like any successful journey, the path to building your custom home requires a good guide and we are here to help.

Getting it On Paper

So you plan on building your dream home, but you don’t know where to start. A good place to begin is with architectural drawings. It is quite tempting to order plans online, but be aware that often times those plans are not acceptable to your local permit office because they may not adhere to local building codes. You could go to a design/ build company or you could hire an architectural services company to design your house. A design/ build company will allow you to pick from existing floor plans and can offer some customization or work with you to design a completely unique drawing. However, in most instances, the drawings will not belong to you. The design is only yours if they construct the house. Therefore, if the price they propose for construction is much higher than you anticipated, you have the option to walk away with no drawings or pay more money to downsize your plans to fit your budget.  On the other hand, an architectural services company, not necessarily an architect but a drafts person, will work with you to design your home. Once you pay for the drafting, the plans are yours. You can shop various builders with those plans to get the best price. A drafts person is capable of producing the drawings at a substantial cost savings. Once drawings are completed by the drafts person, the drawings should be reviewed and stamped by a structural engineer before they can be submitted to your local building permit office. This route offers you more control over the homebuilding process and is more cost effective.


Property Considerations for Custom Home Building

There are many considerations when selecting a home site. Not every piece of property for sale is a suitable lot for building. Property can either be “finished” or “raw.”  A finished lot means that utilities and all major infrastructures have been brought to the lot and the lot is eligible for a building permit.  A raw lot does not have any utilities such as sewer, water, natural gas, and electricity. If your lot is in a well and septic area, then the lot must undergo a local review with the health department to determine septic permeability. Percolation tests are conducted on soils to determine if they’re suitable for the installation of a septic system. The size and location of the septic system can have great impacts on the size of the house to be built. Additionally, the health department would also determine where well drilling locations can be placed on the property. Therefore, raw lots incur much more expense and time to become feasible for building. 

Even when a parcel has an existing house to be demolished, the lot may not be considered “buildable” for new home construction. Any prospective buyer needs to inquire about the status of the property by contacting the county zoning office. Hiring a consulting engineer to address the feasibility of the property and what you are expecting to build upon it is advisable.

Other Lot Considerations

Other things to consider when looking at a piece of property to purchase would be things that impact the cost of building such as, heavily wooded lots. Clearing trees can be costly and there can be restrictions on the number of trees that can be felled. The building envelope may restrict the width and/or depth of the house. The length of the driveway from the road can become costly to pave. If you desire to build a future pool on the lot, the well and septic location will restrict where the pool may be located. If you’re building in an existing subdivision, a Homeowner Association (HOA) architectural review is most likely required. The HOA may have restrictions on the architectural style of the house (modern, farm house, traditional, etc.), material selections (stone, brick, and siding type), size (minimum square footage), type and number of garage bays (side load, front load, 2-car, 3-car, attached or detached) fencing requirements (no fences, vinyl fencing, tree-line fencing), and whether you can have animals (horses, chickens, goats) on the property. Lastly, is it your preference for an in-ground basement or walk-out basement? The advantage of an in-ground basement is the ability to walk directly into your backyard with minimal steps which is an important consideration for entertainment purposes or for families with young children. The advantage of walk-out basements is the ability to have additional light from full height windows which allows your basement to feel like any other part of the home. This is most attractive if you plan to have a bedroom or home office in your basement. Having clear expectations about the type of home you wish to build will have significant impact on the type of property you purchase.

Comparing Apples to Apples

Comparative shopping can be tricky when searching for a home builder. Obvious things to look for are experience, reputation, and licensing. Beware of a builder that throws out a price without specifics. A builder that gives you a “per square footage price” is useless as specific material selections vary greatly in quality and in cost. The more details you provide as to the specific brand of siding, appliances, flooring, cabinets, fixtures, etc., the more accurate a comparison between potential builders will be. The last thing you want, once the construction is underway, is that the kitchen appliances you want installed are at an extra cost, the grade of carpet that you want is at an extra cost, and so on. The more selections you can decide upon at the onset of your builder search, the more accurate your comparisons between builders can be. A sample specification sheet can be seen here. Pricing transparency by construction phase is the best way to know what you’re getting for your money. A builder should list in their proposal the cost in each phase of construction including materials costs, labor costs, and the builder management cost. All of the selections at the beginning of the project may seem overwhelming, but they are well worth it in the long run when they save you both time and money.