1. How do I find and choose the right contractor to build my custom home?
Choosing the right contractor is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when building a custom home. Here are some tips for finding and selecting the best home builder:
- Get referrals from friends, family, neighbors or coworkers who have built recently. Ask about their experience and if they would recommend the contractor.
- Look for custom home builders who are members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This helps ensure they follow industry standards.
- Check websites like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List for customer reviews and ratings. Look for contractors with consistently positive feedback.
- Interview at least 3-5 contractors before deciding. Ask about their building experience, number of homes they build annually, and typical budget range.
- Ask to see examples of completed homes they’ve built, either through photo portfolios or by visiting model homes. Make sure their building style matches your own.
- Consider credentials like being a Certified Graduate Builder (CGB) which requires builders to complete training on business management.
- Ask about their billing process and avoid contractors who ask for large upfront down payments. Payments should be tied to completion of project phases.
- Make sure the contractor will get all necessary permits and oversee code compliance and inspections during the build.
- Agree on all project details in a written contract. Get lien releases from subcontractors to protect yourself financially.
Choosing the right home builder takes research but is worth it. Taking the time to thoroughly vet potential contractors can help ensure a smooth, successful custom home building experience.
2. Should I provide my own house plans or have the contractor design a custom home?
When building a custom home, you have two main options for the home design:
- Provide your own house plans that you’ve had drawn up
- Have the home builder create a custom design
The advantage of providing your own plans is that you’ll get a home built exactly to your specifications. You maintain full control over the layout, features, aesthetics and detailing.
However, good home design requires specialized expertise. Unless you’re an architect, you may benefit from having the builder create plans or at least review and revise plans you provide.
Here are some tips if creating your own home plans:
- Hire a qualified residential architect to draw professional quality designs.
- Make sure the plans meet zoning and building code requirements.
- Build in adequate time for the contractor to review plans and suggest revisions.
- Be open to changes to improve constructability or avoid potential issues down the road.
Having the contractor provide design services offers these benefits:
- Takes advantage of the builder’s experience designing homes that are efficient to build.
- The contractor ensures the plans meet all local building codes and standards.
- The home is customized to your needs and wishes through an iterative design process.
No matter who creates the plans, make sure you see a 3D model of the home and thoroughly review drawings before construction starts. This helps avoid surprises or changes later on. Clear communication with the contractor is key.
3. How do I determine a reasonable budget and make sure I don’t overspend?
Determining an accurate budget and controlling costs during your custom home build is critical. Follow these guidelines to establish and manage your budget effectively:
- Research typical per square foot costs in your area, between $100-$300/sq.ft depending on materials and features.
- Get price estimates from contractors during bidding to compare costs.
- The land purchase and site development costs must be factored in. Budget around $30,000-$100,000 for land and site work.
- Create detailedAllow 10-20% extra as a contingency fund for unexpected overages.
- Securing financing early is advised. Shop mortgages from multiple lenders.
- Only make changes from the agreed upon plans when absolutely necessary. Change orders can blow budgets.
- Closely review all invoices and payments to catch any over-billing. Avoid pre-payments.
- To control material costs, use a fixed price contract for some materials tied to market pricing indexes.
- Prioritize must-have features and finishes and cut back in areas that are less important.
- Adding sq.ft adds cost. Keeping the plans under 3,000 sq.ft will help control the budget.
- Be ready to make compromises on finishes and be flexible on items that go over-budget to avoid large overruns.
With proper planning, realistic expectations and discipline throughout the process, you can build your dream home while successfully sticking to your budget.
4. How long will it take a contractor to build my custom home?
For most custom homes, you should expect the construction timeline to be 6-12 months or longer depending on these factors:
- The size and complexity of the home design. Larger or multilevel homes take more time.
- Any site constraints like steep slopes or poor soil requiring extra site prep work.
- The pace of construction and availability of the contractor. Some builders have longer backlogs than others.
- Access to utilities. Connecting power, water and sewer lines adds time.
- Permitting and approvals. Some areas have faster zoning and permitting turnaround than others.
- Material lead times. Custom cabinets or fixtures can require months of lead time.
- Weather delays are common, especially with foundation work.
- Any changes or additions made mid-construction can extend timelines.
To get a more accurate timeline, ask potential contractors how far out they are booking new builds. Have your property evaluated for any constraints.
A typical home build follows this timeline:
- 2-4 weeks: Permitting and initial site work
- 1-2 months: Foundation and framing
- 2-3 months: Exterior finish and roofing
- 2-3 months: Interior finish and systems
- 1-2 months: Final detail work and inspections
Building a quality custom home rarely happens on a tight timeframe. Work with your contractor and be flexible on the schedule.
5. What questions should I ask potential contractors when interviewing them?
Vetting and hiring the right contractor is key to a successful custom home build. Here are some of the top questions to ask potential builders during interviews:
- How long have you been in the home building business and how many custom homes have you built? Look for extensive experience.
- Are you licensed and insured and do you belong to any professional builder associations? Check credentials.
- May I have a list of your recent custom home clients that I can contact for referrals? Call references.
- Do you have a portfolio I can look at of some of your completed home builds? Ask to see examples of their work.
- What is your typical budget range for the custom homes you build? Get a sense of their target market.
- What geographic areas do you serve and are you taking on new clients in my area? Builder availability may be limited.
- How far out are you booking new custom home projects? Find out their backlog and realistic timeline.
- What is your billing process? Avoid large upfront down payments.
- What is your communication and project management style when working with clients? Make sure it aligns with what you want.
- Do you handle all permitting and inspections for your builds? Confirm they oversee regulatory aspects.
- Can you explain your change order process and fees? Understand how design changes are handled.
- Do you provide a warranty on the home? Look for at least a 1-year workmanship warranty.
Ask all potential contractors the same questions to easily compare their responses. This helps find the right match.
6. Should I hire one general contractor or multiple specialty contractors?
When taking on a major custom home build, you essentially have two main options on how to structure the contractor relationship:
Hire one general contractor to manage the entire project – This is the most common scenario. Advantages include:
- A single point of contact to communicate with and oversee the whole process.
- The general contractor handles subcontracting to all specialists like electricians, plumbers etc.
- Coordination of schedules between workers is handled by general contractor.
- Potential cost savings compared to hiring individual subcontractors yourself.
Hire individual specialty contractors yourself – This gives you more control but adds complexity:
- Must act as your own general contractor and directly manage each sub.
- Requires extensive time and coordination on your part.
- You must check credentials and insurance coverage for each sub.
- Subcontractors may not have worked together before, complicating scheduling.
- May ultimately end up costing more than a general contractor would.
In nearly all cases, hiring an experienced general contractor to oversee and manage the entire build is worth the cost and will result in a smoother process with fewer headaches for the homeowner. Just make sure to vet their credentials and references thoroughly.
7. Should I be involved during the construction or leave it up to the contractor?
As an excited homeowner, it’s only natural to want to be highly involved during the construction process. However, finding the right balance is key when working with your contractor.
These are good ways to be involved:
- Attend pre-construction meetings to discuss all project details and decisions.
- Provide finishes, fixture, and design selections in a timely manner when needed.
- Check in with scheduled site visits at key milestones to visualize progress.
- Ask questions and request updates from the contractor on at least a weekly basis.
- Review invoices in detail before making payments.
But avoid micromanaging day-to-day work onsite for these reasons:
- The contractor is responsible for managing their own crew and schedules.
- Too much owner involvement can slow down workers and add confusion.
- Don’t provide direction directly to subcontractors who are under the general contractor’s oversight.
- Allow for reasonable flexibility in project timelines.
- Understand that some changes or delays are normal in a major construction project.
By finding the right balance of involvement as an owner, you can ensure good communication while allowing your contractor to effectively manage the customized home build.
8. What are the most important things I should outline in a contract with my home builder?
A solid construction contract is essential between you and your custom home builder. Be sure to clearly outline these key items:
Scope of Work – All aspects of the build like materials, square footage, finishes etc.
Payment Schedule – Amounts and timing of deposits, draws, final payment, contingencies.
Timeline – Estimated start date, duration, and completion date with reasonable allowances for delays.
Plans/Specifications – Blueprints and detailed drawings specifying every aspect of the home’s design.
Permits/Inspections – Clarify who obtains permits and arranges inspections.
Warranties – Length and coverage details for workmanship, materials, systems warranties.
Insurance Requirements – Exact insurance amounts from the contractor like liability, workers’ comp.
Change Orders – How design changes will be handled if modifications are needed.
Dispute Resolution – Procedures like arbitration to deal with potential disagreements amicably.
Liens – Contractor’s responsibility for lien releases from all subcontractors.
In addition to protecting both parties legally, a well-drafted contract also ensures open communication and sets clear expectations between homeowner and builder. Don’t sign a contract you don’t fully understand – work with an attorney to review.
9. How do I protect my investment and limit liability when building a custom home?
Making a major investment in a new custom home build comes with financial risks. Use these key strategies to protect your payment and limit liability:
- Require the contractor to be fully insured, with at least $1M in liability coverage and workers’ comp for all employees. Get copies of policies.
- Pay no more than 10-20% upfront, with the bulk of payments tied to completion percentages of each phase.
- Incorporate contingencies and allowances in the contract to cover cost overruns so they don’t come out of pocket unexpectedly.
- Do not make final payment until you’ve done a full punch list walkthrough of the home and are satisfied with the work.
- Hold back at least 5-10% of total cost for at least 30 days after occupancy in case issues arise requiring repair.
- Require lien releases from all subcontractors prior to making payments to limit liability if contractors fail to pay subs.
- Hire an attorney to review the contract and advise on state laws to protect your interests.
- Purchase title insurance to protect against claims made against the property by other parties.
- Consider a construction loan that only disburses payments upon inspection progress compared to personally financing.
- Document everything in writing throughout the process to create a paper trail if needed.
With proper planning and protection measures, you can gain peace of mind that your custom home investment is safeguarded.
10. How do I control costs with change orders and avoid going over budget?
It can be tempting to make changes mid-construction on your custom home build. However excessive change orders can wreck your budget. Follow these tips to control costs:
- Be disciplined about sticking to the agreed-upon home plans and make changes only when absolutely necessary. Understand that changes always add time and money.
- Clarify the change order process thoroughly in the contract. Require change orders to be approved in writing with pricing agreed upon upfront.
- Request an itemized cost breakdown on change orders listing materials, labor hours, subcontractor fees etc. Do not blindly approve inflated change orders.
- Ask about less expensive design alternatives that meet the intent versus making changes with premium materials that boost costs.
- Offset additions by looking for areas to cut back or simplify rather than adding continuously.
- Decline contractor-initiated change orders recommending upgrades unless they provide clear value you agree is worth the cost.
- Account for change order costs through a dedicated contingency fund in your budget rather than paying out of pocket.
- Weigh the pros/cons of non-essential changes carefully. Even small changes add up.
- Stay disciplined on “must-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves”. Prioritize changes with the greatest impact.
With a clear change order approval process and discipline on unnecessary changes, you can successfully modify your home’s design while sticking to your budget.
- Interview multiple contractors and check references thoroughly before selecting a home builder. Look for demonstrated custom home experience.
- Decide if you will provide your own plans or have the contractor design the home. Be open to suggested revisions to owner-provided plans.
- Research typical per square foot costs and get multiple bids to determine an accurate budget including contingencies. Control costs with fixed price contracts where possible.
- Expect a 6-12 month or longer construction timeline. Factors like home size, site access, weather and changes can all add delays.
- Vet contractors thoroughly by asking about their credentials, processes, communication style, warranty coverage and change order process.
- Hire one general contractor to manage the entire project including all subcontractors. This simplifies project management.
- Be involved throughout construction with scheduled site visits and good communication, but avoid excessive micromanagement of contractors daily work.
- Protect your investment with a solid contract, lien releases, reasonable payment terms tied to progress, insurance and title coverage.
- Minimize non-essential changes, require written pricing on changes and offset additions with cuts to avoid blowing budgets with change orders.
- Research and vet contractors thoroughly to find an experienced custom home builder you trust.
- Set clear expectations through a comprehensive contract and discussions of all project details like budget, timeline and quality standards.
- Protect your investment with insurance, title coverage, lien releases and structured payment terms.
- Control costs with well-researched budgets including contingencies, disciplined change management and effective oversight of invoicing.
- While being involved via regular communication and site visits, avoid micromanaging the contractor and allow them to manage their crews.
- Building a quality custom home takes careful planning, budgeting and oversight. But the result is getting your dream home tailored exactly to your unique needs and desires.