The process of building a custom home can range from 6 -12 months, or more. For many buyers, the building of a custom home is the culmination of a lifelong dream. When building a custom home, as is true with most things, quality can be affordable, but it is not always cheap. Choosing the cheapest builder quote or the lowest-cost materials and construction methods can create problems down the road.

But with a little work and preparation, you can form a partnership with your custom home builder to ensure you have a great experience.

We’ve previously discussed the need to check your builder’s reputation and references, make sure the builder has appropriate insurance, and the need to work under a contract that clearly states timelines, responsibilities, materials, costs and warranties. Your home builder should have a strong network and good relationships with local professionals and agencies so that the proper permits are in place, and inspections and approvals occur in a timely fashion. A builder with integrity and a good local reputation also will be able to attract higher-quality subcontractors.

Building a custom home involves three distinct phases: pre-construction, construction, and post-construction. You’ll have a better experience if you understand some of the specific steps or activities that take place, or questions that need to be addressed, during each phase. Effectively managing these phases is the key to a custom homebuilding project that results in long-term satisfaction for the buyer.

1. Pre-Construction Phase

  • Choose a location that meets your needs in terms of local amenities, schools, dining, entertainment and recreation options. There are many local and online sources, including state and municipal agencies, media outlets and other sources, for finding this information.
  • Start gathering design ideas. Keep a scrapbook, or use an online option like Pinterest to begin to select what you want in exterior and interior finishes. High-quality fixtures and finishes add value if you have to sell, and can add to your enjoyment of the home while you’re in it. You can specify brand names or levels of quality (but be willing to listen and consult with the builder on potential alternates or installation concerns; he may be able to save you money!).
  • If you want this to be your last home, think about including features for accessibility (like wider doorways) and safety (like grab bars in the bath/shower) that will enhance your enjoyment as you age in the home.
  • Find and secure a building site/lot. Do you want neighbors and activity, or a location for quiet contemplation? Local custom home builders often know of available lots suitable for constructing your dream home.
  • Arrange financing with a lender so you know how much home you can afford. A local builder also may be able to provide information on financing options.
  • Select a builder (see our “punch list” for hiring a custom home builder).
  • Create a plan using an architect/designer, or choose a builder’s plans.
  • Identify and choose materials, fixtures and finishes, appliances, environmental and electrical systems, and more.

2. Construction Phase

  • Now you really feel like the process is underway! You can actually see the footings and foundation being installed, and walls and floors come together as framing is erected. You get to see how your interior and exterior choices interact.
  • Subcontractors add rough mechanical systems (HVAC, plumbing and electric, wiring for technology, entertainment and security systems).
  • Drywall installation gives shape to separate rooms and spaces; insulation and interior painting and finishes – including cabinetry, countertops, interior doors and trim, and other details – are added.
  • Exterior brick, stone and siding are installed, the site is graded for drainage, and walkways, driveway and patio are added.
  • Kitchen appliances and finished flooring also are installed during this phase.
  • Local regulatory authorities conduct multiple inspections to insure the work meets building codes.
  • The home’s systems are connected to municipal utilities and waste systems.

3. Post-Construction Phase

  • The end is in sight! But this is the most important part of the process.
  • Final inspections are conducted, and the local municipality must issue a certificate of occupancy before you can finally move in.
  • You also might want to have a home inspector review the completed work. According to realtor.com©, a builder’s warranty is no substitute for proper home inspection from an unbiased, licensed third party. (Realtor.com actually suggests having two independent inspections; one after rough systems are installed, but before the walls go up, and one after construction is completed.) Having a home inspector take a thorough look at your new space can identify problems, big and small, that could create headaches later and reduce your enjoyment of the property.
  • The owner then should conduct a final walk-through with the home builder, to make sure the home is clean and everything was included as specified in the contract or change orders. This is the point when the builder should make sure you understand how to operate all the systems and features of the home.
  • Go to settlement with your lender and receive the keys to your new home!
  • Before you make the final payment to the builder, conduct a careful survey of everything in the house, identify items that are unsatisfactory or might need attention, and create a punch list of items the builder needs to correct.

Of course, the buyer and builder should be in constant communication. Decide before you start the process how much you want to be involved; most home builders are more than willing to accommodate your wishes. The builder should be willing to provide regular updates on the progress of construction. Things can change quickly, or problems can arise that need a fast decision. Clear, open lines of communication will help avoid problems during the process.

The buyer should expect the builder to be onsite as much as possible during the construction phase to ensure the project’s timeline stays on track and all the work is done to a high standard. Keep in mind that things like weather and availability of materials and subcontractors also can impact the timeline for completion of the home.

Final Considerations

Make sure to include a budget for contingencies. You may decide to make changes or upgrades as the project progresses and you understand what things are most important to you. Also remember that if you add costs in some area, you may want to consider balancing those additional costs by reducing your costs or eliminating items in other areas of the build, so that your overall budget doesn’t get stretched too much.

While custom homebuilding allows you to indulge your individual whims and desires, if you think you won’t stay there forever, you might want to stay away from eccentric or very personal choices that are permanent or hard to change. Rather than building a home with a style or set of features that is dramatically out of step with its neighborhood, it’s easier to express your personality in the accessories.

If you understand the home building process, and what to expect and prepare for during each phase of construction, you are more likely to be happy with the outcome of your work with a custom homebuilder.

At Fowler & Associates Home Builders, we limit the number of custom homes we build each year, which ensures we can deliver a home built with distinction, unquestionable value and superior craftsmanship. We focus on high-quality homes that offer endless customization options for our clients, and we choose the best materials to offer a finished product that will last for generations. Contact us to discuss building your new dream home!