Do You Have to Be Rich to Build a Custom Home?

Plus 6 Easy Material Swaps for the Custom Home

A stone exterior is magnified by a two-story porch that welcomes guests to this custom home in New Braunfels, Texas, by Sierra Classic Custom Homes.

A custom home by Sierra Classic Custom Homes in New Braunfels, Texas, has a stone, two-story porch to welcome guests.

Today’s home shows focus on beautiful custom homes. And though you may daydream about having a home like the ones you see on TV, you might have asked how anyone could afford these beauties. The good news is that you don't have to be rich to build a custom home.

The road to a beautiful — and affordable — custom home requires careful planning and opting for affordable, yet high-quality, materials in place of other, more expensive materials. Here’s what to consider:

It’s About the What

Shay Millheiser, a top producer for Select Austin Real Estate, says it’s important to figure out the “what” when buying a home.

“When a client sends me Houzz images of what they want their bathroom, kitchen or other rooms to look like, I ask them what they like about it,” Millheiser says. “Is it the textures? The color contrasts? Or the actual materials?”

Millheiser gives clients with tight budgets a heads up that they won’t get the fancy decor you see on the cable TV shows, but helps them understand that it is still possible to replicate a similar look with certain tricks.

Let Your Home Live Larger

There are plenty of materials you can choose for your custom home that won’t break the bank.

“It all starts with the design,” Ken Durio of JKD Builder in Austin, says. “Stay with more of a boxy design to reduce exterior finishes and multiple angles and cuts.”

Not only that, but he emphasized that when comparing sizes, a two-story home requires less slab and less roof than a one-story home, making it less expensive. Plus, a two-story home can give you a bit more exercise as you walk up and down those stairs.

Millheiser points to a trend that she sees where clients think that their bathrooms and kitchens need to be huge. She holds the same belief as Durio. “Every square foot of space adds to your bottom line,” she says.

So, even if you’re not building a 3,000-plus-sq.-ft.-home, you can still get a custom home that lives large. Builders understand how to make a home feel more spacious by using high ceilings and lots of properly placed windows, including double-duty/flex spaces and using lighter finishes. For more on how builders make the most of the space in a new home, check out our article, How Builders Make New Homes More Spacious, Inside and Out.

Easy Material Swaps for the Custom Home

A little bit of research on different types of materials can go a long way. Here are four basic swaps you can use in your custom home:

1. Swap porcelain for marble.

While marble is gorgeous, it is also fragile and expensive. Porcelain is denser than marble and costs $2 to $7 for a minor decrease in aethestic satisfaction. Millheiser says by using porcelain, you can get a “Calacatta” (a very fancy, white-based look) for less than you think.

2. Go with a slightly textured drywall option over smooth drywall.


While smooth drywall is beautiful, it can also run up your budget when it comes to labor costs.

3. Select cheaper faucet and shower options for guest bathrooms.

Save the fancy fixtures for the master bathrooms and the kitchen — it’s OK for your kids to go without fancy material! Durio says you can shop countertop yards to save money on items that still deliver a quality look.

“You don’t need (top-priced) countertops in a custom home to make it nice; you can get an expensive look with less expensive material,” he says.

However, if you want a fancier look to your guest bathrooms, recessed can lights are always a great cost-saving option.

4. On the Topic of Cabinets …

Both Durio and Millheiser agree homebuyers should reduce the amount of built-in cabinets. To help get a sleeker and more-uniform look to cabinets, use white paint, which blends the outdated face grooves of older cabinets.

5. Opt for vinyl over wood.

Millheiser says today many vinyl floors look like wood, which can be a nice bonus for homebuyers who want a sleek floor look. While vinyl is much thinner than wood, buyers can choose to install padding underneath to get a more authentic feel of wood. At a fraction of the cost, printed or solid vinyl are great alternatives for a tiny budget.

6. Avoid intricate tiling.

Though it’s nice to look at a beautiful tiling while taking a bath, small, intricate tiling patterns can cost a whole lot of money. Homebuyers can save a few hundred dollars by using basic tiling pattern in bathrooms.

Building your custom home shouldn’t be daunting or out of your budget. With these tips, you will be able to build a great-looking custom home that fits your budget.
Adam Rosenfield is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. When not writing, he spends his time supporting Dallas sports teams.

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