The Choice Between Custom Builders and Production Builders May Be Tough if You Don't Understand the DifferencesIf you are thinking about new construction, it's best that you understand your choices between production builders and custom builders. After reading about custom builders here, be sure to compare to production builders to ensure you are building to fit your comfort level and personality.
Custom BuildersIf you already have a set of floorplans, have your eyes on a particular piece of land, want to build in an established neighborhood, or want to be heavily involved in each step of your home’s design, then consider a custom home.
As the name implies, the process of building a custom home is less scripted than a production home, because there are no feature lists or finished models to choose from. With custom homes:
- The home can be built on land you own or land that you acquire.
- You can supply a floorplan or commission a set of home plans to be drawn from scratch.
- You can work with a separate architect and builder – or with a design-build company that manages both the architectural design and the construction process.
- You’ll be more involved in the process and have the opportunity to make many decisions.
- You can pick from nearly any product in a category – within your budget, of course – rather than selecting from a defined menu of choices.
Expect to pay more for a custom home than a production model of similar size and floor plan; after all, the typical custom builder doesn't enjoy the economies of scale and labor efficiencies that a production builder does. Of course, the actual price will depend on a number of variables – the most obvious being the size of the home, the intricacy of its design, the building products and materials you select, and the land you purchase.
While many people associate custom homes with large and expensive homes, a custom home can range from a simple ranch-style home to a more elaborate and multi-story floor plan designed around your lifestyle.
Since most custom builders create homes in a variety of architectural styles and price ranges, a great place to start when selecting a custom builder is to ask to see photos of the past homes they’ve built. Many custom builders maintain strong relationships with past home buyers, so you may also be able to work with a custom builder to set up an appointment to visit a home they’ve previously built.
Once you select a custom builder, you can supply your own floorplan or work with an architect to design a home from scratch. Be prepared to select custom woodwork and to select nearly any type of appliance, flooring and cabinet. As a custom home buyer you can select most details of your home. You can work closely with the architect and builder to site your home and to design a floorplan that works around existing trees on your land and that places your windows to take advantage of the best views.
The good news?When building a new home, your choices are nearly unlimited; the main restrictions are your budget and any building code or zoning limitations. If you find that freedom to create a home from a blank sheet of paper to be exciting, then building a custom home is likely for you.
The key to working with a custom builder is to establish a realistic budget and to stick to it, even when you’re enticed by a lovely but higher-cost option. While most buyers realize that additional customization will increase the home’s price, unexpected land-related costs can take you by surprise, so it pays to do your homework.
At one end of the scale, you may hold the deed to a flat suburban lot with in-ground utilities already available at the curb. Such a finished lot is ready to build on.
On the other hand, you may be considering wooded, rural or steep hillside property. While such land is no doubt scenic, the upfront costs of preparing previously undeveloped rural land for construction is typically a significant additional cost in addition to the purchase price of the land. Site prep – building a driveway, bringing in water, electric and sewage lines, and excavating the foundation – can be quite expensive. Your builder and architect can help you estimate those costs, too.
Even if you’re building on already developed land, you and your architect and builder need to carefully research zoning or deed restrictions. For example, you may be required to site your home on particular part of the lot and to keep all structures a certain distance from the property line – leaving insufficient room for that three-car garage you want. To avoid surprises, have an attorney clarify all restrictions and get estimates on site work (either via the builder or on your own) before completing a land purchase.
Because the process of building a custom home is, not surprisingly, truly customized, you’ll typically spend a lot more time designing and constructing your new home than you would if you work with a production builder. You also must trust your ability to communicate and connect with the builder as the choices you make may sound good on paper but not turn out how you visualized. Custom homes also typically have a longer building process than production homes.
During each stage of design, you’ll have a very wide range of choices to make your home truly unique. Given the many choices involved, it’s not unusual for custom home buyers to experience a few more emotional ups and downs than a production home buyer may experience in their new home journey. That said, knowing what to expect at each stage – and especially what choices you’ll make and when – can make your custom home process smooth and result in the home you've always dreamed about.