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How to Build a Custom Home – Part 1 – What is a Custom Home?

Before we can discuss how to build a custom home we need to understand just what a custom home is. The Custom Builders Council of the National Association of Home Builders defines a custom home is a home designed and built for a specific homeowner on a specific lot. There a lot of homes advertised as customs homes that are not. By the above definition if it is already built it has not been built for a specific homeowner. Most of these homes fall into closely related categories semi-custom and Spec homes.

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Note that the definition does not address the level of quality in the home. A two bedroom home with a 4/12 roof pitch that is designed by an architect for a specific site and client would be custom. A three story six thousand square foot home with an elevator and seven bed rooms built for a parade of homes and marketed as custom is not a custom home. From a marketing stand point the builder of the second home is trying to present the features of the homes as being of a level usually found in custom homes.

A true custom home starts in the minds of the homeowner and architect and on a blank sheet of paper. The architect and homeowner are not limited in their selections of materials or manufacturers. They can select wood shake roofing, clay tile, architectural shingles or standard three tab roofing shingles. A true custom home is nearly always the most expensive because the homeowners are selecting features and materials often without regard to the cost or more important taking advantage of the efficiencies of production homes where the builder can buy hundreds of sinks, for examples, instead of just one.

A semi-custom home is a home build from an existing plan with modifications, sometimes extensive modifications. In this type of home, if it is being built by a professional builder, it is far more common for the materials to be selected from a smaller group of suppliers and manufacturers with which the builder has a relationship. The builder usually will get better pricing because of the quantity that is purchased. The professional builder will also call on experience to select materials that are cost efficient within the quality level expected, easy to install and likely to create the least call backs.

A semi-custom home is likely to cost less – most often a lot less – for several reason including the design costs less because the plan is available and it is easier to modify than to start from scratch; if a professional builder is involved he is selecting materials that are cost efficient, reliable and available; and the builder has built the plan before and has worked out the bugs in the plan.

A spec house is one built by a builder on speculation that the home will sell. The benefit of this type of home is the builder selects materials and features that the market in the area has selected. For example a fireplace might be added if they are popular in the price range of home being built. The builder can also build the home without dealing with a home owner during construction which reduces delays and changes.

While a production home may not fit in this discussion many production builders will try to market their homes as “custom’ while using materials and methods more associated with less expensive homes. The production home will always be less expensive but there will most often be little chance for customization.

In this article we have begun our discussion of how to build a custom home with definitions of custom, semi-custom and spec home.

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