6 Steps to Building a Custom Home

After that, your dream home will be built in 5 phases

Exterior of a new custom home, nearly complete. Photo courtesy of Hibbs Homes

Photo courtesy of Hibbs Homes

Buying a production home is easy. The steps are simple and take little effort on your part. Find a new community and builder you like. Check out and pick one of the models. Sign the contract. Wait for it to be built. Move in.

Building a custom home is much more involved. It’s a major undertaking demanding a lot of your time, effort, and, of course, money.

Completion of a true custom home requires significant advanced planning and active involvement on your part. It consists of a number of major steps or actions that demand your participation and decisions – from finding your dream location to defining, designing and building your dream home. Only one of which (tracking the actual construction of your home) is required when buying a production home.

With a custom home nothing is pre-planned, pre-selected or pre-designed. Because of this, taking a custom home from concept to completion takes significantly more time.

See the accompanying article: “How Long Does It Take to Build a Custom Home?

As shown here, the custom home building process also requires a number of additional steps taken by you, the homebuyer:

Step One: Fashion your dream

Way in the beginning, long before construction, you need to fashion ideas and elements that you envision for your “perfect home.” Collect photos and tear sheets. Tour completed homes. Chat with an interior designer. Begin to outline preferences in regard to architectural style, room function, design elements, product features and lifestyle requirements.

Step Two: Assemble the team

You might select an architect first who can then help you get bids from potential builders. Conversely, some custom home builders offer design service or can help you find an architect. To find these professionals, ask everyone you know for recommendations, including local realtors, lenders, building associations, even friends who have recently bought homes.

Step Three: Obtain references

Ask prospective builders for the names of clients, lenders, suppliers and subcontractors. Get their opinions: Were they satisfied? Was the project managed effectively? Dose the builder pay subs and suppliers on time? What was the quality of construction? Get sample contracts, construction schedules and warranties.

Step Four: Find a location & buy your land

You’ll need to find and purchase the land for your home. Here, the professionals can help evaluate potential sites as to their suitability for building, available utilities, and potential views.

Step Five: Help craft the design

Designing your custom home will require extensive discussions with your architect/designer to analyze the cost/benefit of various options, establish a budget, and finalize specific design and floor plan ideas, features and product elements to be included and that best match your “dream” home.

There is no “typical” time limit for the above elements and none of these are required when purchasing a pre-built production home. The time they take depends on you. Dream building, team/site selection and home design could take a few months or even years.

Step Six: Track construction

In addition to the decisions you need to make when formulating your home design with your architect, numerous selections will be required of you during construction. On a typical 12 month building schedule for a custom home, significant buyer input on design decisions, product and color selections will be required in at least 9 of the 12 months.

Custom Homes are Built in Phases

Rather than defined Steps, Kim Hibbs, owner and general contractor at Hibbs Homes, a custom homebuilder in St. Louis, MO, divides the custom home building process into five phases:

Phase 1: Discovery

The first phase, according to Hibbs, is the “Discovery’” phase. “That’s where we get to know the client and learn what they want to accomplish,” Hibbs explains. Hibbs provides them with a “Needs, Wants and Wishes” worksheet, gives them references, and walks them through homes they’ve built.

At this stage, Hibbs also helps the buyer find a lot, obtain loan approvals, and hire an architect. Kim’s wife, Jan, is a licensed real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Gundaker. However, fifty percent of clients that come to them already have a lot. Kim sets up and attends several client meetings with potential architects to find the best fit.

“This requires a lot of hand holding,” Hibbs admits, “but that’s what a custom home client is looking for. They want to make sure you’re with them in every phase. It’s extremely important that clients deal with the same people throughout the process, and that they don’t feel rushed.”

Phase 2 and 3: Design and Budgeting

These phases cover the pre-building process of design and budgeting. In this phase, the firm helps the buyer complete a site analysis, draft a construction schedule, develop a budget, and discuss options. “Architects have been known to over design,” notes Hibbs. “So, in this phase, we want to make sure the architect designs the home to the budget.”

In addition, at this time, clients are out making selections. There are probably 35 or 40 critical decisions that clients have to make, with selections, finishes, and colors, according to Hibbs. On a real complex home, he notes, it could be as many as 50. So, he adds, “it’s vital to know exactly where to set our allowances for client selections.”

Interior image of a custom home kitchen built by Hibbs Homes. Photo courtesy of Hibbs Homes
Interior image of a custom home kitchen built by Hibbs Homes. Photo courtesy of Hibbs Homes

A major option presented by Hibbs to his custom buyers at this stage is to design their home to be a sustainable, energy-efficient “green home.” Hibbs Homes is an Energy STAR partner and a designated RESNET builder. The firm has completed Net Zero Homes and built the first Active House in North America. Hibbs, himself, is a Certified Green Professional through NAHB.

See accompanying article: “How to Build an Eco-Friendly Custom Home.”


Phase 4: Construction

At this stage, construction finally begins. “The construction phase is easy,” notes Hibbs. “If you’ve done everything right – determining needs and desires, finding a lot, going through the design process and the selection phase – the construction phase takes care of itself.”

Interior of a custom new home, mid-construction. Image courtesy of Hibbs Homes
Interior of a custom new home, mid-construction. Image courtesy of Hibbs Homes

Hibbs homes typically take about a year to construct, but can take from 6 to 18 months. The number one item that can disrupt the process, Hibbs says, is if the architect does not meet deadlines. Number two is when the buyer does not stay on time making selections.

“As a custom builder,” says Hibbs, “we expect some changes. However, we make sure everyone understands up front that, with a change order, no work will be done in the field until an approval doc is signed and we have a PO from whatever vendor is involved.”

Construction crewing placing trusses on a new custom home. Photo courtesy of Hibbs Homes
Construction crewing placing trusses on a new custom home.

Phase 5: Closing, walk-through, final checks & move-in

This last phase in Hibbs schedule covers closing, a walk-through one week prior to move-in, review of product operation and warranty elements, punch list completion, and move-in.

Exterior of a new custom home from Chesterfield, Missouri. Photos courtesy of Hibbs Homes.
Exterior of a new custom home from Chesterfield, Missouri. Photos courtesy of Hibbs Homes.

Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.

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