Production and Custom Homes: Can You Have it Both Ways?

Semi-custom homes allow buyers to have more control over new homes plans for less

Plan 2950 on Lot 37 in Oro Valley, Ariz., a semi-custom homes by Sombra Homes, Photo courtesy of Sombra Homes.

Plan 2950 on Lot 37 in Oro Valley, Ariz., a semi-custom homes by Sombra Homes, Photo courtesy of Sombra Homes.

Like buying a new suit, a new home is traditionally bought “off-the-rack” or custom made.

With a tract or production home you select from a handful of builder model homes, but are allowed few or no floor plan changes and a limited choice of finishes, standard options and upgrades. However, production homes are generally the most affordable and tract communities often offer amenities such as a swimming pool and club house. The downside: it may not fit your dream or lifestyle very well.

A custom home is a one-of-a-kind design created just for you. Working with the builder and/or architect, you create the home plan and style and determine all of the products and finishes. A custom home may fit you to a “T” but requires a boat-load of your time and decision making, takes longer to build, and, generally, costs a whole lot more.

Enter semi-custom homes.

A New Option
There is an increasingly popular third method – a semi-custom new home.

Semi-custom homes are typically modified versions of one of a builder’s existing floor plans. Prior to construction, the buyer is allowed to tweak the selected plan, make limited but often substantial layout and structural changes, such as changing windows, moving interior walls, adding a room or expanding garage space and then can choose finishes and products (flooring, appliances, cabinetry, light fixtures, etc.) from a fairly wide selection of materials or even add new products – all, of course, at additional cost.

The finished product may not be exactly what you want, but the process calls for fewer decisions by the homeowner, can be completed faster and, most important, costs less than a fully custom home.
Today, as buyers are accustomed to the availability of limitless choices, not many builders call themselves “production builders.” Most can accommodate minor floor plan changes to their models and offer a number of finish choices and options. Accordingly, they deem themselves semi-custom home builders.
But that distinction really depends on the extent and amount of changes and upgrades and the degree of choices they allow buyers to make. Sombra Homes, which is based in Oro Valley, Ariz., builds custom homes but is also a true semi-custom home builder. The starting price of their homes is about $350,000.

To clearly define the difference for potential buyers, Sombra has a section on their website titled “The Difference between a Custom Home and a Semi-Custom Home.” The site shows side-by-side photos and a multi-paragraph description of each type of home, as well as links to sample homes they have built and to photo galleries of each type of home.

“With our custom homes the buyer has purchased their own lot and has either taken one of our designs and modified it to their desires or has had their own architect design a plan that we have built for them,” says Susan Pohlman, assistant vice president of Sombra Homes,. “For semi-custom homes, we have several model plans that we have had approved through the county that we offer at one of our own subdivisions. The majority of these customers do a lot of modifications to these model plans.”

Typical Semi-Custom Home Upgrades
As a semi-custom builder, Sombra accepts any change within broad parameters, including enlarging rooms or blowing the house out a couple of feet if, for example, a person wants to expand the bathroom or add a fireplace. It accepts simple changes as well, like replacing carpeted areas with floor tiles. If there are structural changes beyond what they have approved with the county, Sombra will get the draftsman involved to make those changes and then go to the county to get approval.

One recent Sombra Homes’ semi-custom home buyer selected the 3720 model from the firm’s premium series of plans with a Southwestern elevation and a three-car garage. The home’s base price was $420,000, plus a $5,000 lot premium. The buyers then added over $43,000 in changes and upgrades, as detailed below, bringing their total cost to $468,510.

These changes included adding $4,363 of additional cabinet upgrades ($7,664 total), adding a 10’v10’ deck with spiral staircase ($12,500), and installing brand-name vinyl wood flooring in the hallway, entry and nine other rooms ($8,160). The buyers also changed bedroom 2 into a living room and moved the bedroom’s closet to bedroom 3 ($250, plus $500 for plan changes).

However, their requests to move the kitchen and great room wall two feet, move the island 18 inches, relocate two doors, and change the bar to a flat surface with no step up were completed at no charge. In addition, $3,395 was deleted due to credits plumbing changes, and removing a fireplace wet bar refrigerator.

In addition, the buyers had the builder install granite remnant with undermount sinks in the master bath and bath 2 ($1,185), Group 6 granite Pegasus in the kitchen ($5,232), a window and skylight in the master bath ($600), a 20 amp circuit in the laundry room and wiring for the wet bar cooktop ($695), water shut-off in the garage and a soft water loop ($1,100), two closet pocket doors and a patio gate ($900), and sound batt insulation around the game room ($290).

The result was a home that, like a production home, was less expensive and less of a building hassle than a fully custom home. But with all the changes and upgrades it was “customized” to become almost exactly what they wanted. In short, they had it both ways – and you can too.

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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