Snapshot: The Home Building Process

You can expect the general outline of building your custom home to follow these steps:

Step 1: Procure a Building Lot

Typically, the lot on which you choose to build is driven by your home’s design. Perhaps you envision a design and look for a suitable match, or, you identify a desirable lot and design a home to compliment its characteristics. Either way, choosing the lot is the starting point.

Step 2: Completion of the Home’s Design

Once a lot has been procured, the home’s design can be refined based on the constraints, structural requirements, aesthetic considerations and level of exterior and interior finishes desired. The architects will outline these aspects in detail throughout the construction plans and specifications. This step is a crucial one, and the result should also reflect your lifestyle and needs for functionality.

Step 3: Administration of Permits & Building Requirements
Once the home’s design is completed, the following steps must be taken to ensure administration of building codes and restrictions:

  • A civil engineer will be contacted to develop a site plan to include the lot boundaries and building restriction lines, proposed location of the home, utilities and other prominent features.
  • Building permits must be procured, often with the help of the civil engineering firm and/or the architect. In certain situations, this process is quite simple. In other situations there may be varied considerations and potential complications. Either way, there is typically a nominal time delay while local entities review their respective phases of the permit application, time which may be put to efficient use by interviewing builders and soliciting pricing information.
  • Once the design is complete, preliminary specifications established and a site/grading plan intact, you’ll have enough information to inform prospective builders to compile cost estimates.

Step 4: Selecting the Right Builder for Your Home
Choosing the right builder to lead a skilled team is a critical decision. Here are a few tips:

  • Several competing builders may have similar qualifications. First, take time to screen for the quality of their workmanship by surveying a few of the homes they’ve built. You’ll want to closely assess the following:
    • Workmanship: Examine the fit and finish of doors, trim and built-in cabinetry. Look for professional installation of good quality materials.
    • Functionality: Ensure accents such as cabinets, doors and windows work properly.
    • Finish: Inspect the roofing, siding and finishing details; assess whether the various components compliment each other.
    • Installation: Scan for neatness and professionalism in how the electrical and mechanical work is laid out and installed.
    • Proactive Planning: If possible, inquire whether the builder planned ahead and anticipated potential problems.
    • Customer Service: If possible, ask the owners about the builder's service and response to questions and concerns throughout the entire process and even after moving day.
  • Interview builders and request references to assess strengths. Some builders are adept at producing lower cost projects, enabling them to finish a higher volume of projects. Others are more meticulous and exacting, taking more time and completing fewer projects, but delivering finer work. To compare the two in the same project bid will usually lead to confusion, disparity in pricing and wide variations in the final product. Try to determine the builder’s strengths.
  • Use discretion when requesting for preliminary or “ballpark” estimates. Many builders do have a historic cost base which allows them to approximate pricing. Your project might be compared to one finished in the recent past, and certain costs are simply extrapolated to provide a “best effort” estimate of your cost. But because the price can be easily influenced by a host of factors, a homebuyer must rely on the integrity and judgment of the prospective builder. Finally, square foot costs are particularly difficult to quantify and should always be treated as approximations.

Step 5: Specifications
The construction specifications outline key details for a home’s layout and infrastructure. Specifications include decisions regarding plumbing, electricity, insulation, interior finish, carpentry, windows, kitchen & bathrooms, the driveway and much more; and are extremely important, in that they help to define the home as much as the original design.

Specifications can significantly impact the cost of the home, and so should be carefully considered. Vague or improperly defined specifications lead to variations in cost estimates and will make it difficult, if not impossible, to compare pricing developed by prospective home builders.

Options are “second choices” to specifications, often referred to as “alternates.” Alternates can be valuable tools in understanding the way in which money is spent, and analysis of the value received. Evaluation of alternates will provide the information necessary to make informed decisions with regard to upgrades or cost saving ideas.

You will need to make decisions regarding a number of specifications issues which influence the quality, appearance and cost of the final product, including the following:

  • Structural Specifications: Structural requirements will set a minimum standard for certain portions of the specifications. Take the example of floor “joists,” or the beams which create a floor’s framework. The typical structural specification will satisfy local codes, but upgrading the joist rating, spacing or depth will usually yield a noticeably "harder" floor, yielding a more luxurious feel.
  • Exterior Finishes: The materials with which your home is built, including brick, stone and siding, along with exterior trim materials, roofing and other details also influence final product’s quality, appearance and cost.
  • Windows and Doors: The manufacturer’s range of products and options present another area with the potential for variations in quality and costs.
  • Interior Finishes: There is much variety among drywall, paint and finish levels, millwork materials and styles, flooring, ceiling details and built-in cabinetry which determine the character, and cost, of your new home.
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