Hey all, I’ve had lots of requests for a little insider info into how the custom home building process works. I can’t say this is how it works for everyone, but this was our experience this time around. I’m going to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start…I couldn’t resist) with how to pick a contractor and a couple of other “how to get started” questions I get a lot.
1. How did you find your land/property?
This will be totally different for each person, but in our case, we used to live across the lake and I ran the 3.5 mile trail around the lake a few times a week. I had run by this house a million times and never noticed it, but I stopped to tie my shoe one day and happened to look past the house and see how beautiful the view was from this bay. This was a total God thing. There was an open house that Sunday and the rest was history, you can read more about that here.
If you are new here, this is the house that used to be here –
But here was the potential I saw…
2. How did you find your contractor?
There are a few ways to find a contractor – word of mouth, Parade of Homes (or Home Shows in your area), or driving past newly built homes/neighborhoods. We went word of mouth mostly, although I had been through a Parade Home of one of the builders we interviewed. We interviewed 4 general contractors based on recommendations from friends and family.
The contractor we ultimately chose had built my aunt’s home across the lake. We were able to walk through her home and see the craftsmanship, which was especially important to me because we were going to be having them build all of our custom cabinetry. All the trim work and details in her home are beautiful and she had nothing but great things to say about her experience building. The most important thing to the Mr. was asking if they were on time and on budget. And mostly, yes they were :)
How crazy is this photo of the living room to look back on?
When you meet with a contractor, three things to keep in mind are your design style, your budget and their timeline.
Design Style – Your styles don’t need to match up completely if you have a strong design idea in mind. If you have pinterest photos and magazine tear outs that you want to make happen, you will most likely be ok. Some builders use an in-house designer to help the process along, so it may be more important that your styles match up well in that case. In my case, I knew what I wanted and was fairly confident I could work with most people if I communicated well. That said, if a contractor typically builds super modern structures and you are wanting a more classic style home, you could probably find someone who is better suited to your needs and will be more familiar with the products and style you love.
Budget – Now just because you have pretty pinterest photos doesn’t mean that you can make those things happen on your budget. Talk over your must haves with your builder, but also your budget. If he is a good contractor, he will highlight easy things to take out to hit a budget, or that there is no way to make certain things happen at a certain price range right up front.
This can be hard to even find a starting point, but most builders have a price per sq ft they build at as their base and can give you ballpark estimates for all the extras you may want to add. For us, that meant our living room ceiling, all the board and batten walls, and the custom cabinetry details. Several contractors we interviewed were also able to share examples of homes they built (with floorpans, photos, etc.) and what the approximate price of the home, so you could get an idea of what you can get for your money. This was extremely helpful in figuring out where we were going to land price wise.
Timeline – This may not be a factor in all areas of the country, but right now the real estate market in West Michigan is nuts. There isn’t much on the market and what is there goes fast, so that leaves people with the option to build. We had a few contractors that we loved, who were booked out a year and we didn’t have an entire year to wait.
Can you believe our kitchen started out like this?
Lastly, personality is also a big factor – can you communicate well with this person? You will be spending a lot of time working with your contractor, or in our case, I ended up working more with the Project Manager, who did all the trim work, built all our cabinets, etc. It’s important that you all can be on the same page especially if you aren’t able to be at the project stalking every detail like I was. Although project stalking may be annoying at times, I highly recommend it because no matter how good you are at communication, some things can get lost in translation. We saved some costly mistakes based on me showing up to go over details every day. For example they originally started the board and batten at 10 inches apart instead of 12 because they were going off the center of the boards. Thankfully I caught this after one wall.
These before and after shots are so fun to look back on!
3. What about an architect?
Quite a few custom builders have specific architects with which they exclusively work. The main reason being that architects who work closely with contractors can draw you a house you can actually afford. You don’t want to hire an architect, pay big $$$ for a plan you love and find out it’s going to cost you $2 million. Unless your budget is $2 million, then good for you, and also can I come see your house when it’s done? ;)
Originally, we were going to use the architect who drew our last house, but our contractor’s wife actually draws a lot of the house plans they have used in the past. So after meeting with her several times and sketching out lots of ideas based on different homes I showed her, we decided she would be able to come up with a great plan for us.
Alternatively, if you are going through parade homes and like a certain style, that is a great way to find an architect or designer, just again, be sure your budget matches your plans.
4. What’s the timeline you can expect?
This again varies completely based on the type of home you are building, time of year, area of the country etc… I can tell you for us, we bought the property in June of 2016. Started interviewing contractors right away and settled on our contractor and his wife to draw the plans by August. The plans were finalized by October and construction started early November. We were lucky with the weather and had a mostly mild winter so the crew was able to work straight through and we moved in at the end of May 2017. From start to finish, it was about a year long process for us. But I know that can vary a ton!
Wowza, I’m over 1,000 words, so I think I’ll stop there before your eyes glaze over. But, if you have other questions, leave them below and I’ll add them to my building series list! I hope this was a little bit helpful to those of you who are thinking of building a custom home and need some direction on how to pick a contractor.