Down to the Last Detail: 10 Tips on Building a Custom Home

Perhaps you always wanted to build your “dream” house. Perhaps a lack of suitable existing homes has prompted consideration of the custom build. Perhaps you inadvertently came across your vacant “dream lot” and now need a “dream home” to complete it. There are many different paths leading to the custom home build decision. You must first confirm that this decision is right for you and then take the steps necessary to make the process as predictable and pleasurable as possible.

Do you have the personality and the time to build?

Ask yourself—honestly—whether you have the personality and time to invest in the custom home building experience. Do you love planning and a myriad of details? Are you prepared to be contacted at all hours to make a decision? Will your job, and other family commitments, allow you the time and flexibility to be involved? You will be asked by your architect, and then your builder, to promptly answer what seems to be an eternal series of questions. Think hard about this, and speak frankly with your spouse and acquaintances that have built a custom home.

Prepare a Detailed Budget and Research Financing Options.

Determine how much house you can afford, keeping in mind not only the land acquisition and construction costs and “outfitting” expenses. Survey lenders, including credit unions, to determine who actively participates in local home construction financing. Focus attention on local lending institutions. Seek personal referrals and of course, ask the builder you ultimately select.

Design the House for Now and Later.

Perhaps now there are no children at all, or if so, they are young. But time passes. Consider how the house design and layout will feel in 10 to 20 years. Will your teens have space? Look down the road when designing. You may be in that home longer than you expect, and you do not want to be forced to remodel.

Choose Your Architect Wisely.

You may have the option of hiring a design-build firm that has an architect and builder under one roof. One such reputable, experienced design/build firm is Or you may decide to hire the architect independently of the builder. In this case, seek personal referrals and interview more than one architect. Ask for references and testimonials. Confirm that the appropriate licenses are in place. If you have not yet chosen a builder request recommendations. Because you will spend a good deal of time together, it is desirable that you be compatible. Once you have engaged the architect, do your homework so you have ideas as to budget, size, layout, and materials. It is more difficult and expensive to make changes once construction begins; therefore plan in detail.

Choose an Experienced Real Estate Lawyer.

It is a sound practice to use the services of an experienced real estate attorney to review all contracts. Ask acquaintances for personal recommendations. Do not choose the TV gab that advertises $29 bankruptcies. You want an experienced real estate lawyer. The lawyer will review the contract for the building site, the architect contract, and the contract for the construction of the home. Consider the lawyer as reasonably affordable insurance.

Choose your Building Site Wisely.

You may already own your site as a vacant parcel or with a tear down building on the property. Or you may have chosen your builder first, and that builder has building sites for sale that are acceptable. If you are shopping for a building site, there are several factors to consider. First, confirm that government regulations allow you to build the house you dream of, including outbuildings. Second, if the parcel is unserved public water/sewer and all necessary utilities (electric, heat, internet), confirm the options that are available to you (drilled well, septic, etc), and know what they will cost. Third, be familiar with government rules such as minimum square footage, etc. Fourth, if the building site is in a rural area or is being split off of an existing parcel, it may be advisable to obtain a survey of the property to identify the precise boundaries, plot rights of way, and any encroachments.

Choose your Builder Wisely.

Seek personal referrals, and if you already own your building site and are not tied to one builder, interview several. Ask for testimonials from both recent customers and from those more distant in time. How has the house aged? Would you use the builder again? Were promises kept? Check for consumer reviews and BBB status. Request the addresses of multiple homes in the area built at different times. Confirm that basic licensure and insurance standards are met. Note that you will be spending a great deal of time with this person over an extended period, so it is crucial that you are comfortable with them and their style. You do not need to be best friends but you must be able to work together effectively as a team.

Attorney Review of Proposed Construction Contract.

Review the proposed building contract in obsessive detail with your attorney. Your primary objectives are to understand terms and confirm they are consistent with your expectations, eliminate ambiguities, and have the attorney identify those provisions most likely to give rise to difficulties.

Stay involved, visit the site often, be available, ask questions.

As you have voluntarily hired them, the architect and the builder have the right to expect that you will remain interested and engaged over the course of the project. The demands on your time will increase, as hundreds of decisions, consistent and prompt communication, site visits, confirming that deadlines and budgets are all required. It is nearly a full-time job in itself, but because you did your research beforehand, you knew that already.

“Little” Things You Might Forget.

Here are a few “little” things that can add up. Be sure they are accounted for in your budget and planning the appliances, real estate settlement and closing costs, window treatments, real estate taxes and assessments, internet and media wiring and hookup requirements, light fixtures, landscaping, landscaping maintenance and equipment, and interior as well as exterior furniture.


You have had an honest conversation with yourself and your family about the time commitment and stresses that are part of the custom home building process and have concluded you are prepared. Time spent on research and planning invariably pays off. Hire reputable professionals that you can work with. Stay engaged, remain positive, and remember it is your dream house.

Leave a Comment