The Key Steps to a Successful Custom-Built Home

For many people, the term “custom-built home” conjures images of a master-bath Jacuzzi, a handy mudroom off the garage, or a playroom in view of the kitchen—with abundant storage for plastic toys. And indeed, designing a house from scratch can result in a home that both fits your family’s lifestyle and fulfills your most detailed dreams of how your space should function, look, and feel.

But building a home is also a complex undertaking, one frequently characterized by “decision fatigue,” changes in plan (and budget), and unforeseen delays. While not every problem that crops up during the process can be prevented, a serious investment of time and effort even before your foundation is poured can ensure that the process never gets out of hand, nor strays too far from your vision of what your home should be. Moreover, by working with a team that explains the process thoroughly and communicates openly about possible challenges along the way, you can trust that construction is proceeding according to plan even when you’re not on site to supervise—which, for most of us, is most of the time.

If you’re considering taking the plunge with that lot for sale, or have your Pinterest boards lined up for interior-design inspiration, the following is an outline of the custom-home building process that can give you a sense of what to expect and a feel for what it’s really like.

In other words, keep those Pinterest boards handy, but keep a stack of spirals for note-taking nearby, too.

Keep it Real

Keep it Real

The first step in building a custom home is determining how much you can afford: for the land, local fees and taxes, design and engineering costs, and finally, home construction and landscaping—and that’s before interior decoration and furnishing, for which you’ll want to reserve a sizable sum. With prices for custom homes ranging anywhere from $80 - $200 per square foot, there’s a lot of room in between for decisions on size, location, and design features.

Scout it Out

Once you have an idea of how much you can spend, you can start considering properties in earnest. Along with the size of the lot, think about the proximity of neighbors, the style of other homes in the neighborhood, and natural features such as trees and sloping land (no homeowner ever liked to be surprised by a two-dozen steps to his front door). This is a good time to engage the services of a professional architect or engineer, who can see the property’s potential and pitfalls, and provide a clear- eyed view of whether the site aligns with your vision of your home.

Go Big On Ideas

Go Big on Ideas

Designing a custom-build home is your chance to make your space truly work for you. Sit down with an architect to discuss both your hopes for your new build, as well as the reasons you decided to go the custom-home route in the first place. What about your current or past homes left you frustrated, and what do you hope to correct? What is a must for your lifestyle, and where can you compromise without noticing or minding much? A good architect should be able to provide a realistic sense of whether your budget and chosen location can produce the home you imagined. At the same time, he or she should be able to suggest ideas that fit with your vision wherever a compromise is required, or a more time- or cost-effective alternative is available instead.

Get in The Details

Get into the Details

Two floors (or more) v. one, an open v. closed kitchen, a dedicated home office v. combination office/guest room—once you know what you want, can’t do without, or only really think they need in magazines, you can speak with your architect about how best to organize the space at your disposal. Make sure to explain any specific lifestyle issues with your architect, such as access for an elderly relative, a dedicated space for pets, even a room for certain hobby’s equipment. They call it a custom- build home for a reason: Make sure to give thought to—and let your architect in on—how you use your space in daily life, and what would make the difference between a house and home that’s truly yours.

Choose Your Style

Choose Your Style

If you have a specific style for your house in mind, an architect or interior designer can help make sure that it’s carried out throughout the house, to lend the entire build a sense of cohesion. They can also match preferred home accents and architectural elements with the right materials (think cabinets, flooring, and counters), and make sure they won’t interfere with the way the way you use your home on a daily basis. Finally, a good architect and interior designer can suggest ways to increase energy efficiency through the choice of building materials and appliances, making for a comfortable, beautiful home that pays you back down the line.

Pick Your Team

Pick Your Team

To build your custom home, you’ll need an architect to provide the plans, and a general contractor to carry them out. Choosing a contractor whom you trust is the key to a successful custom-home build, since the contractor is the one with whom you’ll be working for the majority of the process—and the one responsible for bringing your plans to life. Make sure to get recommendations and references for your contractor and be clear about your expectations for how he’ll handle changes, misunderstandings, or setbacks along the way.

Equally important, make sure your contractor is someone with whom you feel comfortable speaking openly and from whom you receive the responsiveness and attentiveness you need. Building a custom home is nothing if not detail-oriented work; your contractor should give you the time to explain what it is you want, and listen to your concerns to prevent problems along the way.

Finally, confirm that your contractor has the necessary insurance to undertake the job and can obtain permits from the local authorities. A contractor who can deal directly with your jurisdiction will save you both time and hassle, and free you up to focus on the parts of the project you enjoy most—or to live as normal a life as possible during the intense building process.

And it is intense—but intense can be exhilarating, especially if the results are worth it. After all, most people truly love living in the home they’ve designed and built themselves, despite all the work that went into it. And if you have the realistic expectations, consult with the right professionals, and most of all, hire a team that is as committed to your satisfaction as you are to your vision—the process of bringing your home to life can be (almost) as rewarding as the experience that awaits you after.