Guide To Building A Custom Home: Pricing, Timing and More…

Compared to speculative (spec) homes that offer the buyers a menu of options, but the builder makes most of the decisions, custom homes require buyers’ decisions about every aspect and detail. Furthermore, custom home buyers must be willing to take responsibility for communications, wait longer for home completion, and pay a higher price. Buyers opt for a custom home when:

  • Spec builders’ standard floor plans don’t meet needs and wants.
  • Buyers want to live in a particular location, often a unique building site, where spec homes are not being built.
  • They want a very personalized home.

Please consider these 5 points while planning for your new custom home:

1. Timing

Why custom homes takes longer than spec homes to design and build? A custom home design process starts on the architect’s drawing board where, with help of the engineer and the architect, the personal and unique design is developed. Decisions about the details take longer, because there are so many more to make and indecisive buyers may waver over decisions that a builder would make quickly. The transition from drawings to blueprints to building site can take several months. Depending on the size and complexity, build time for a custom home can take 9–24 months or longer.

2. Pricing

Custom homes cannot achieve the economies of scale of spec and production homes. The architect’s design may specify specialized unique materials (sometimes ordered and delivered from overseas) as well as increased framing and detailed finishing. In addition, custom homes are often built in unique and challenging locations, an interesting terrains and surroundings may enhance the enjoyment of the home, but they often increase costs for excavation and foundation engineering.

3. Choosing Custom Builder

Custom-home buyers really need to do the legwork to research and find the right builder. The builder should have experience in the price range and type of home that the buyer wants, has to have deep knowledge of permits and regulations imposed by the County and the competence to construct the home according to the specifications. Builders should be able to demonstrate the quality of their work and provide references. Ideally, the buyer should be able to see inside of some homes built for satisfied homeowners.

It’s important that the architect, builder, engineer, and buyer form a cooperative and harmonious relationship. You will have to interact with the architect, builder, and on-site construction superintendent. Choose a builder with whom you can develop a relationship based on mutual respect, trust, and communication as these are essential, because over the course of construction, the relationships will be tested as details go awry.

4. Designing Process: Where to Start?

New home buyers can start by collecting house plans to become familiar with how houses look “on paper” and grow accustomed to visualizing a finished home from looking at the floor plan. Plan books, home design magazines such as Designer Dream Homes and Custom Home and numerous websites offer sample plans to stimulate the imagination and identify needs and wants before meeting with a designer or architect or touring model homes. Northern Virginia’s Capital Remodel + Garden Show is one of the best places to get ideas and see what’s new in building, remodeling, gardening, landscaping, home décor and more.

In addition, collecting pictures and photos of architectural features and home ideas can help the buyer sort out likes and dislikes as well as establish needs and wants. is a great website with more than 13 million photos sorted by rooms and design styles. Buyers can even take photos of existing homes and write down addresses of homes that they like. Images—photos, magazine clippings, and downloads will help the buyers communicate clearly with an architect or designer. In addition, ask your real estate agent to give you a tour of new construction homes in the local area.

5. From the Drawing Board

Even when a buyer has definite ideas about house’s layout and design, the architect and the builder must convert the buyer’s vision into drawings, blueprints, and specifications ready for bidding and permitting. The process of designing a home involves numerous conversations between the architect and the buyer over several months. A typical custom home design process usually includes the following five steps:

  • Ideas: During the first meeting with the architect, the buyers describe their ideas for the home. Floor plans, magazine pictures, photos, and drawings can help the architect understand what the buyer wants.
  • Preliminary drawings: The architect develops preliminary drawings. It may take several rounds of drawings, buyer comments, and revisions to fine tune the preliminaries.
  • Working drawings: From the preliminaries, the architect produces working drawings for closer scrutiny. Buyers should take time to study the working drawings and study how the layout and flow of the floor plan will affect the experience of living in the finished home.
  • Blueprints and specifications: The architect turns the drawings into blueprints and specifications for construction, materials, and systems.
  • Bidding and pricing: Working from the architect’s plans, the builder submits the specifications to subcontractors and suppliers for bids. The builder’s pricing must anticipate increases in costs for materials; for example, lumber prices fluctuate frequently.

The builder’s final pricing includes materials, subcontractors’ work, permits, utility fees, surveys, building operations, and margin—the builder’s profit. Everything is included as a line item expense, including the real estate agent’s commission. Once all preliminary work is done, it’s time to begin the construction.

Important Tip: You have to decide if you will be designing custom home to fit the site/lot; or site/lot will be found to accommodate the size and type of home.

If you haven’t found a lot yet, continue to the next article How to Vet A Parcel and Buy A Perfect Lot in Northern VA.