If you are wanting to build a custom home, there are a few things you need to know before you get started in order to avoid some expensive mistakes. In this article I will go over the steps from planning to closing, that will ensure that your design built, or custom home building experience will be rewarding and exciting!
First of all, unless you are building on acreage, before you buy a lot, find a builder who can look at your lot that you have in mind. This will help you avoid buying a lot that will offer building challenges that the eye of a good builder can help you recognize. As a custom home builder myself, I have had people come to me wanting to build a specific house on a challenging lot, in some instances, there were costs involved when doing lot prep or excavation that could have been avoided with a different lot, sometimes in the same development. Other times, we had to help our clients find another lot that would be more suitable, leaving them with a challenging lot that they had a hard time selling. If you are building on acreage, we can typically find a suitable building site.
When searching for a custom home builder, here are a few things to consider. Is the builder an HBA builder? Since Missouri doesn’t license home builders, the HBA does a great job of vesting its builder members, they ensure their builders are insured, and they offer training to ensure their builders are aware of the latest building science techniques and codes. Does the builder have General Liability and Workers Compensation Insurance? Workers Compensation insurance is expensive and some builders in this area try to get away with just having General Liability insurance, which is far less expensive. If your builder doesn’t have Workers Compensation insurance and someone gets hurt or worse while working on your home, the insurance companies, hospitals, and lawyers will come after you for damages, not your builder. Ask for proof of insurance, make sure it comes from your builder’s insurance company. Make sure you can work together with your custom home builder and that there are not going to be any personality conflicts. It is my firm belief and my experience that no one can get along with everyone. When building a custom home, depending on its size and scope, you and your builder are going to be working together for 2-3 years when you include your warranty period. If you have a personality conflict with your builder, it will be a miserable 2-3 years for both of you! As a custom home builder, my clients and I treat each other as partners, knowing that both parties will work together through the construction process, each of us wanting the same thing, which is a great home that everybody can be proud of. Nothing is worse than a relationship where the home builder and the home owner treat each other like adversaries. Lastly, get a basic idea about cost per square foot (this can vary quite a bit depending on the home and the level of finish that you are wanting, but you should be able to get a good range). Most custom home builders work on a cost-plus basis and in the Springfield area, you should expect that percentage to be anywhere from 12% to 15%.
Once you have found a builder and a suitable lot, now it is time to design your home! At this point, you have discussed basic cost of construction, so you know what size of home fits within your budget, and your builder knows, based on your lot, what size and shape of home you can build. This is the time where you take your ideas to the drafter to design your custom home. You should work together with your drafter and builder to design a house that works for your lifestyle and budget, but also something that makes sense from a construction standpoint. A big mistake some people make is to give a drafter some general ideas and let them take off with designing your house. When this happens, you will not be building your dream home, you will be building your drafters version of your dream home, and those two things rarely line up. Additionally, most drafters aren’t taking your budget into consideration on the size and scope of what they are designing for you.
Now that you have a set of plans, you and your builder should go through the drawings and discuss the specific finishes that you are wanting. This is how your builder puts together your estimated cost of construction. Remember, this is an estimate and sometimes there are unforeseen expenses, which may include hitting rock when excavating, price increases in the commodity market, such as a natural disaster making lumber prices rise, and other things that can come up from time to time. Additionally, since you are building a unique home that has never been built before, there can be some challenges to overcome, plus you may change your mind on finishes along the way that can add cost to the project as well. In my experience as a custom home builder, as long as my clients work together with me to stay on top of the budget, we can limit and sometimes eliminate cost overruns, and at the very least make sure there are no surprises at the end. As a rule of thumb, estimate a little high, so you have some room to address issues as they may arise.
During construction, there will be times that it will feel like everything is moving along at an extremely fast pace, other times, it will feel like it’s dragging on forever. Remember, not all progress during construction is as noticeable as, say, the framing stage, where one day you just have a foundation sitting there and then all of a sudden you have the bones of your custom home standing there in a matter of a few short weeks. Challenges that can cause delays are weather, inspections, and the fact that the construction business is so hot right now that there is a waiting list for most subs because of labor shortages. I know for one, I would rather wait a little while on a quality sub-contractor, than hire one that can get there quickly but their quality isn’t there. In this market, if someone isn’t busy, they are probably not very good. I always say, the more eyes on a project the better! Stop by and check out progress at the end of the day, sometimes every few days, sometimes every day depending on what’s going on. The house is your vision and your dream, nobody, including your builder, will know your house and what you are wanting to accomplish more than you. If you notice something that doesn’t look quite right, don’t be afraid to bring it up with your builder, sometimes it will be no big deal, other times it may be something that got overlooked. If it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, it is much easier to address it as early as possible. As you stop by and look at the progress of your house, don’t be a distraction to the workers. If you have a question or a concern, bring it up to you builder, he needs to know what is going on and if you are giving instruction to the workers on the site, your builder is being left out of the loop and could cause unforeseen problems for you on your project. Additionally, the more time the workers are spending talking to you, the less time they are working on your home, which can cause delays. That’s why I say, it is best to do your walk throughs at the end of the day unless you have a scheduled walk through with your builder.
After your home is complete and you have moved in, there will be things that will come to your attention that need to be addressed as warranty items. This is normal and unless it has to do with a water leak, an electrical problem, a heat and air issue, or anything else that can cause damage to your home, put it on a list and let your builder know you have a few warranty issues to address at the 3, 6, and 12 month intervals, so your builder can handle multiple things at once.
Hopefully, at the end of this process, you will have not only a beautiful home that you will be proud of and enjoy for years to come, you will have developed a relationship with your builder that turns into a friendship that will last for years to come as well!
by Ryan Green
First Choice Custom Home