Mistakes to Avoid When Considering a Custom Home
Finding a new home is a daunting task. The
list of things to be done can seem longer than
what you could possibly complete, and the order
in which those things need to be done is a
mystery to most. When you’ve buckled down and
started scouring the internet for ideas, realtors,
Zillow listings, and it comes time to purchase the
dream home you’ve saved pennies so long for, it
could seem like none of the homes you see meet
all the needs you and your family have. This is
when a custom home is bound to enter you mind.
You can have a plan drawn to meet your customized
lifestyle, select the exact finishes and fixtures that
meet your taste, and you know that every detail of
your home will be exactly the way you’ve always
wanted it to be. However, with this new world of
possibilities comes an even longer list of to-dos.
But when considering a custom home, your “don’t”
list is as important as your “to-do” list. Your time and
energy are valuable, and you surely don’t want to
waste them by making mistakes that can cost you priceless
time or money.
1- Not meeting with a builder before taking any steps in the process.
If you’ve never built a custom home before, you may find that the task of getting the ball rolling is the most daunting part. Where do you begin? Do you start by buying a lot and having a plan drawn up before meeting with a builder? Do you need to have it perked before purchasing, or is that something you wait to let a builder handle? What kind of time commitment is required from a homeowner in order to build a custom home? These are all things to consider, and a builder can give you some excellent advice. Having a meeting with a builder as a prospective client does not lock you into any obligation with that builder, but he/she can give you some invaluable advice. You may discover during that meeting that building a custom home isn’t even the right choice for you at this stage in your life, or you may discover that it’s not nearly as difficult as you thought it’d be and the builder can lay out next steps for you and save you a lot of headache. You would never want to buy a plan only to discover it won’t fit on your lot, or that building it will put you way over your budget, and having an initial, no-obligation meeting with a custom home builder can keep you from those expensive mistakes.
2- Selecting the wrong kind of builder.
Building a home is almost an art. The orchestration that takes place behind the scenes to pull everything together is a skill set that requires both extensive training and natural talent. You would never hire an interior decorator or photographer to do a job without first looking at their previous work, and the same should apply to a builder. If you’re building a mid-century modern home with intensive trim work, you won’t want to hire a builder who specializes in building simple designs. Your home is too big an investment to choose a builder who is inexperienced in the type of home you want. If your builder has no portfolio for the type of home you’re considering, then he/she isn’t the builder for you.
3- Choosing a builder without a comprehensive quote (and thinking the cheapest price is the best price).
Never enter into a contract with a custom builder without first going over, in detail, the kinds of design and amenities you want for you home and seeing that reflected in the price. If a builder you’re considering will only give you a “standard” price and leaves the rest up to change orders after the contract is signed, you can bet that his/her money will be made in the upgrades, and you’ll practically be robbed in the process. Many builders will start you off with a price that includes an empty square box with the cheapest vinyl flooring and low-market fixtures with no trim to speak of, and some builders will initially give you a price that includes hardwood flooring, granite countertops with custom cabinets, and attractive crown mold and window casings. It’s vital to compare apples to apples, because the cheapest price can come back to bite you with upgrades later on. A house is a house and usually costs the same to build from builder to builder, so transparency is key. If a builder is transparent about his/her profit margins and estimates for each area of the home, then you can be more confident his/her price is fair and that a cheaper estimate is leaving something out. For example, a more expensive builder might include an entire line item for supervision, meaning an experienced superintendent or the contractor him/herself is consistently monitoring trade contractors to ensure their work is superior, which is vital in a home with a lot of detail.
5- Being afraid to ask questions.
There are no stupid questions. Builders understand that laymen have no knowledge of what goes into the production of a custom home, so they understand if you have questions that might have obvious answers. Leave no stones unturned and feel free to ask any question that comes to mind from start to finish. Even if you trust your builder implicitly, there could be things you assume are included in the price that aren’t, or fees you’re expected to pay that you don’t realize. Your builder can’t know what you don’t know, so be open and don’t be shy. Some good questions to ask are:
A) “What’s excluded from the price?” This question is usually easier to answer than, “What’s included in the price of the home?” Some builders don’t include light fixtures or bathroom hardware or blinds, so these are things you could need to be prepared to pay for out of pocket.
B) “What kind of contracts do you offer?” Some builders will only offer a contract price, meaning he/she gives you a firm bid that will stay the same unless change orders arise or you go over on your selections. Some builders only offer cost plus contracts, meaning they give you an estimate for what it will cost to build the home, but charge you the actual cost of building plus a percentage for overhead and profit. And some builders offer both types of contracts or do something in between. It’s good to know what a builder offers up front so that you don’t get too far into the process before finding out your price might not be firm.
C) “What does (insert jargon here) mean?” Some builders have been building homes so long that they forget what people new to the trade don’t know, and their talent lies in administration and using their hands, not in teaching. Don’t be afraid to interrupt your builder to clarify any terms you don’t understand. He/she probably doesn’t realize that not all people know that “flush” means a surface is even or level and not the final step in using the restroom.
6- Choosing a builder because of promotions and discounts.
There are no free-bees. To repeat: THERE ARE NO FREE-BEES! If a builder is offering free appliances if you sign a contract to build a home in a certain neighborhood within a certain timeframe, you can bet your life that “free” set of appliances is paid for somewhere else. Either quality is sacrificed in certain areas of the home or you’ll be charged extra in other areas of the home. Your home is probably the biggest investment you’ll ever make, and you’ll regret outlet quality construction the moment your warranty is up.
Remembering these “don’t”s will help you to avoid mistakes, and avoid wasting your time and your builder’s.