Custom Homes 101 - A Buyer's Guide
by Brandon Cornett
So you have decided to turn your
dream home into a reality, and you
are looking for a custom home builder
to make it happen. In that case,
congratulations are in order. Moving
up to that kind of property is an
But it also requires more homework
than when buying a more traditional
home. You must do more research and
consider more things when having
a custom home built from the ground
up. There are three primary reasons
- For obvious reasons, there is
usually more money on the line
with these types of properties.
- Building a customized home takes
longer and requires more input
- The word "custom" means
different things to different
the process can vary quite a bit.
More Builders Today Than 10 Years
One bit of good news for buyers
is that there are many more custom
builders today than there were just
a few years ago. The reason for this
can be summed up with one word --
demand. The consumer demand for these
types of houses has risen steeply
over the past couple of decades.
And anytime demand for a certain
product rises, there will be more
providers looking to get in on the
action. To an extent, this has been
the case with custom builders.
Of course, this has a down-side
to it as well. For one thing, it
means you'll have to do more homework
when screening builders for your
project. In a major metropolitan
city, for example, you could realistically
have ten or more to choose from.
On top of this, there are also builders
entering the custom market who lack
experience at that level. Though
they are the exception to the rule
(a case of bad apples spoiling the
bunch), they pose a risk nonetheless.
You've probably seen one of these
stories on the news in the past,
where a project got abandoned halfway
through, the buyers had to sue, etc.
The good news, as
I've said, is that most custom
builders are very
good at what they do and take great
pride in their work. In addition,
it's fairly easy to avoid the "shady" characters
within this particular industry.
With a little homework, you can find
out which builders in town have the
best reputations, and which ones
have the worst. The Internet makes
this kind of research even easier.
Google is your friend during this
What Does "Custom" Mean
to the Builder?
This is another topic worth addressing.
Many consumers don't realize that
any licensed building firm can refer
to itself as a custom builder. There
is no special certification to create
those kinds of homes. So many who
enter the field may have general
construction experience, but a lack
of experience customizing floor plans
And while we are
on the topic, what exactly does
the word "custom" mean
to the builder anyway? Here again,
the standards are loose. Is it the
same as a luxury home? And what the
heck does semi-custom mean?
Here's an easy way to look at it.
A truly custom builder can create
a one-of-a-kind home for you. They
can either design it from scratch,
or work from plans created by an
architect. Either way, the end product
is the same -- a house that is built
for you, from the floor to the ceiling.
On the other hand,
some homes labeled as "custom" do
not live up to that label. If it
starts with a common
floor plan and merely adds on a few
customizable options here and there,
it does not deserve the label. Sure,
it may be luxurious, and you might
be able to provide some input on
certain features. But if it's built
from a common floor plan, then it's
not a one-of-a-kind custom home.
Keep this in mind when choosing a
building firm to work with.
Three Important Questions to Ask
And while we are talking about choosing
builders, let's address some of the
questions you should ask along the
way. When you consider the amount
of time, money and energy that go
into these projects, it becomes clear
why should ask the right questions
in advance. Here are a few good ones
to start with.
1. How many homes do you build
This will give you insight into
the company's experience, as well
as their completion rate. Do they
start more projects than they finish,
or do they complete all projects
within a reasonable time frame?
2. Have you ever operated under
a different name?
Some people feel
like they are being too nosy when
asking a question like
this, but it's a perfectly fair question
to ask. Remember the "bad apples" we
talked about earlier? Many of them
will simply open up under a new company
name, if their reputation gets bad
enough. You need to know this information
when doing your Internet research.
3. Can I speak to some of your
Sure, their brochure says they are
one of the best builders around.
But that's just marketing language.
Other companies will say the same
thing. The best way to get an honest
assessment of the builder's service
and quality is by speaking with some
of their past clients. Most reputable
builders will have a list of references
prepared in advance, because (A)
they know you will ask for it and
(B) they are proud to show it off.
If they can't give you any names
... it's a red flag.
About the Author: Brandon
Cornett is the publisher of the Home
Buying Institute, which has recently
launched a new section of the website
to help buyers find qualified custom
builders in their city or town.
To learn more about this subject,
please visit http://www.homebuyinginstitute.com/custom