Frequently Asked Questions
The information in the following three sections should answer many of the questions you may have regarding new construction… whether this is your first home or your fourth, we hope you find this page useful.
1) I want a Custom Home – Where do I Start?
If you pose this question to 10 different people who have built custom homes, chances are you’ll get 10 different answers. And the value of their answers for your particular project will depend on how long ago they built a custom home.
Once a custom builder understands your wants and needs, he will work with an in-house architect, or an architect within his network of trade partners, to begin the design process. Most custom builders will work with both the home buyer and the architect during the design phase to clarify issues related to the construction process. Regardless of the style or design you’ve chosen for your new home, don’t be afraid to ask questions as the design takes shape. Both the builder and the architect may be able to suggest alternatives based on designs they’ve implemented for other houses. Try to balance creativity and flexibility as you strive to make your house livable and unique.
When the designs are complete, your builder will request bids from his network of trade partners. If you’re requiring something that’s new to your builder, he may ask you to suggest suppliers or installers. (Do your homework before this phase if you want specific brands or installers.) If your builder’s trade-partner network is diverse, chances are his partners will offer more competitve bids than any new players, due to already established relationships. However, it doesn’t hurt for your builder to consider your suggested trade partners or suppliers; they may be great additions to his team.
In order to maximize budget and timeline, make all your decisions early in the building process, and avoid change orders. If you decide to authorize change orders late in the game, you’ll spend more in materials and labor, and your construction timeline may be longer than anticipated.
If you interview a number of builders before making your final selection, remember that the lowest price won’t necessarily yield the best value. Ask lots of questions and take a look at some of the prospective builders’ completed projects. Most importantly, be very comfortable with the builder you choose before you spend any money or sign any contracts.
2) The FAQ’s of Custom Home Building
Q. What’s your price per square foot?
A. Unfortunately, the figure is unique to each house since no two custom homes (or the lots they’re built on) are identical. If you’re looking at a custom builder’s display, a better question might be, “What’s the base price of this particular house, excluding the lot?”
Q. Is your price negotiable?
A. Not likely. While each builder uniquely calculates where he plans to make his profit margin, it’s rare to experience a discount in builder services. Choosing products and installers wisely in usually the best avenue for overall project savings.
Q. Can I buy my plans from a magazine or website?
A. If your local municipality doesn’t require sealed architectural drawings, these kinds of plans should be acceptable. However, this is very rare. We have found that general nation-wide-accepted plans have a large amount of unneeded construction and additional cost that do not fit our location.
Q. How long will it take you to build my house?
A. This depends on the size and scope of your project. Most homes in our market can be built in 4-8 months. However, the quality of up-front planning, along with unknown variables such as weather conditions and labor/material challenges, will be huge factors in the actual timeline.
Q. I’m not sure what I can afford. Can you give me a rough idea of what my house is going to cost?
A. Yes. Until the actual bids come in for the unique elements of your lot and house design, it’s very difficult to determine an exact cost in today’s market. However, we can still help you get your basic finances in order with the lending institution of your choice.
Q. Do you have a preferred lender?
A. Some builders do have preferred lenders. Feel free to shop for your own lender and compare its program to those being offered by your builder’s preferred lenders.
Q. When the house is done, can we consolidate everything into one loan?
A. Yes. This loan process is sometimes referred to as a one-time close. The loan for your existing home and/or your building lot is eventually combined with the loan for your new home. The previous loans are then paid off by your new home’s lender. Consult with your lender to see if he can offer this option.
Q. Should I have someone look at my existing/tentative site before I choose/purchase house plans?
A. Absolutely! If there are unique elements about your site that are not communicated early in the process, you’ll be wasting lots of time and money.
Q. Will my house have the same bells and whistles as your display?
A. Probably not. Most people want to see what’s available/popular when they visit a display home. Be sure to ask the builder for a list of the upgrades with current pricing.
Q. How much should I spend on options/upgrades over and above the base price?
A. A rule of thumb used in the industry is to spend no more than 20% of the total price in options and upgrades.
Q. What will the taxes be on my new house?
A. Your local taxing district should be able to give you a ballpark idea based on the taxable value of your finished house in conjunction with the value of the land. Your lender may also be able to give you an estimate.
Q. Is a third party warranty necessary?
A. The answer depends on how long you plan to stay in the house and if you’re willing to take the risk of structural problems upon completion. Warranties offer peace of mind. Plus, a warranty is a great resale tool if it’s still in effect when you’re ready to sell.
Q. Can I tour any of the homes you’ve built?
A. This will depend upon the builder and the willingness of his previous clients. If the answer is no, don’t get too discouraged. Just be sure to get the names and phone numbers of some previous clients you can call.
Q. Are the workers building my house on your payroll?
A. Most custom builders rely on quality trade partners versus employees. If your builder has reasonable quality control measures and a good on-site management presence, you will see no difference between employees and trade partners on the job site.
Q. I don’t have a lot yet. Do you have inventory lots?
A. Some custom builders will have inventory lots from time to time. Other custom builders will be aware of lots that can be purchased that fit your criteria. Don’t be afraid to ask.
(FAQ’s Courtesy of the HBA of Greater St. Louis – St. Louis Homes & Lifestyles Custom Home Guide 2006)
3) What is the best way to maintain my new home?
Maintenance for New Homes by the National Association of Home Builders
So you’ve just moved into your brand new home. What should you do now?
One of the most important things to remember is that you are responsible for certain maintenance items to keep your house functioning properly. These tasks tend to be relatively simple. For instance, many types of heating and air conditioning systems contain filters to remove dirt and dust from the air. A home owner should change these filters when necessary.
Cleanliness is a factor that will make your home last longer and work better. Dust and dirt, if allowed to accumulate, can harm the finishes on blinds, cabinets, counter-tops, floors, sinks, tubs, toilets, walls, tiles and other items. If dirt does accumulate, make sure to clean it with a substance that does not scratch or damage the finishes.
On the outside of your home, make sure that gutters and downspouts do not get clogged with leaves or other objects. The exterior of your house is built to withstand exposure to the elements, but periodic cleaning will improve the appearance and, in many instances, prolong the life of siding and other exterior products.
When you bought your home, you probably received a warranty from the builder on workmanship and materials. This warranty applies to problems related to the construction of the home, but it does not apply to problems that arise because of failure to perform routine maintenance. For example, if your roof begins to leak after six months because of faulty workmanship, your warranty would cover that. If you develop a problem because water backed up in clogged gutters that you should have cleaned, the builder is not responsible for repairs. Also, some items, such as appliances, may be covered by manufacturers warranties and are not the responsibility of the builder.
You should familiarize yourself with the terms of your warranty soon after you move into your home. With all the excitement surrounding a move into a new home, most people have little desire to curl up in front of the fireplace and read a legal document. Nonetheless, you should not wait to read your warranty until a problem arises. Set aside an hour to learn what your rights and responsibilities are from the outset.