What Builder Fits You Best?

By Bill Kraeling

People often wonder what the differences are between a speculative builder and a true custom builder, and how their finished products are different. With custom homes:
• Your home can be built on land you already own or land that you acquire.
• You can either supply a plan, request your builder help you select a plan or commission a set of home plans to be drawn.
• You can work with a separate architect and builder, or with a design-build firm like ETL that manages both the architectural design along with the construction process.
• You’ll be more involved in the process and have the opportunity to make decisions to ensure the home is a custom fit for your lifestyle.
• You can pick from nearly any product in a category, within budget of course, rather than selecting from a predefined menu of cookie cutter type choices.

If you already have your land, already have a set of plans or want to be heavily involved in each step of your home’s design, then you should definitely consider a true custom home builder. The process of building a custom home is less scripted than a production home because there are no pre-defined choices or menus to choose from due to the custom fit.

You may pay slightly more for a custom home rather than a production model of similar size and floor plan because the typical custom builder doesn’t enjoy the economies of scale and efficiencies that a production builder does, but typically the materials and workmanship are better supervised on a custom home. With a custom home, you will have a unique home that reflects your needs and style and it will be of better quality. The actual price will depend on a number of variables – the most obvious being the size of the home, the intricacy of its design and detail, the building products and materials you select, and the land purchased. Because the process of building a custom home is 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.

While many people associate custom homes with large and expensive homes, a custom home can range from a very simple home to a more elaborate floor plan custom designed around your lifestyle. Custom builders create homes in a variety of architectural styles and any good custom builder will refrain from committing to per square foot pricing until they have viewed the home site and the set of plans along with detailed specifications. Many custom builders maintain strong relationships with past homebuyers, 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.

When building a new home, your choices are nearly unlimited; the main restrictions are your budget and any code or zoning limitations. If you find that freedom to create a home from a blank sheet of paper to be exciting or if you find yourself reviewing house plans and dreaming, then building a custom home is likely for you.

Be prepared to select custom doors and woodwork, as well as nearly any type of appliance, flooring, fixture, countertop and cabinetry. In fact, you have the option of selecting almost all the details in your home. You can work closely with the architect and builder to site your home and to design a floor plan that works around existing trees on your land and that places your windows to take advantage of the best views. 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 lovely, but higher-cost options. Custom home costs can easily be controlled by good planning.

You may already have a flat lot with in-ground utilities already available at the curb, or you may be considering wooded, rural or steep hillside property, and while such land is scenic, the upfront costs of preparing previously undeveloped rural land for construction is typically an extra cost in addition to the purchase price of the land. Site prep such as driveway grading, bringing in water, electric and sewage lines or septic systems, and excavating the foundation can add cost. Your builder can help you estimate those costs in order to make a more informed decision.

Even if you’re building on developed land, you need to carefully research zoning or deed restrictions. For example, you may be required to site your home on particular parts of the lot and to keep all structures a certain distance from the property line (commonly known as setbacks). To avoid surprises, have an attorney clarify all zoning and deed restrictions and get estimates on site work via your builder if possible before completing a land purchase.

During each stage of design and planning, you’ll have a wide range of choices to make your home truly unique. Given the many choices involved, it’s not unusual to experience a few more emotional ups and downs than a production homebuyer may experience. But knowing what to expect at each stage via timelines and planning, and especially what choices you’ll make and when, can make your custom home process smoother and result in the home you’ve always dreamed about.

ETL Construction only offers truly custom-built homes.

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