Our Custom Home Building Process

Benchmark's on the way to building your new custom home.

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.

"DO NOT START WITH THE ARCHITECT FIRST" This is the most important repeated advice we give to perspective clients for the reasons explained further below under Step 3. 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.

Step 1 — Site Selection

Our first challenge is to find a site for your new home.

At Benchmark Homes, we are in the business of locating and marketing new home sites.  While we focus on the neighborhoods within Kirkwood, Des Peres, and Webster Groves, we also have a presence in most all areas of St. Louis County, including Sunset Hills, Jefferson County, Frontenac, and Town and Country, to name a few.

Take time to familiarize yourself with your potential neighborhood by asking us about schools, churches, highway access, neighborhood stability, municipal services, etc.

Step 2 — Site Development

If you have chosen a home site from the Benchmark Homes inventory, you need not worry about site development.

We will review all of the important points for you to know about how your site is serviced by utilities and how we ensure that your home is structurally sound “from the ground up”.

IMPORTANT: If you have already purchased a home site, or are negotiating on a potential home site, NOW is the best time to meet with us.

We will help you review the feasibility of your potential home site and give you our professional opinion on what it will cost you to develop this site – in addition to the cost of building your new home.

You will want to consider the following before developing your home site:

  • Utility Services – Including electrical, gas, water, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, cable, phone, etc
  • Test Holes – Soil testing to determine suitability of soils for supporting your building structure and, in certain areas, investigation for potential rock, plastic soils, water tables, sink holes, suitability for septic, etc
  • Clearing, Grading & Excavation – Not only as they impact your anticipated costs but as they impact the architectural design elements of your new home.
  • Code Compliance & Zoning Restrictions – These are imposed by the respective municipality, including front, rear and side yard set back requirements. Additionally, the site may be subject to height restrictions, tree ordinances, architectural standards, etc
  • Subdivision Restrictions  These may also apply if the site is located within a legal subdivision bound by subdivision indentures and restrictions

Step 3 — Designing to Your Budget

Design and budgeting go hand in hand. After discussing the building site with your family, it is recommended that you meet with the Builder early on. Benchmark Homes believes meeting with your Builder first is important to help you keep from designing a home that isn't affordable.

We will have extensive discussions during which we will establish a preliminary design of your home, determine its anticipated size, discuss your desired level of finish, discuss appropriate allowances and estimate its anticipated cost.

Before we engage a professional architect to begin the formal drawings for your home, we want you to be sure that you are prepared to increase your investment in this building opportunity. At this time, if you choose to continue the building process, you will enter into a Construction Service Agreement with the Builder with a deposit ranging from $5,000-$15,000.

The next step is to employ an Architect who will work with you and your builder to design and establish a fully engineered set of working plans. We will offer you several options for architectural services but we will specifically recommend an architect who best suits your personality, budget, time constraints, etc.

You may also choose to work with your own architect; however, you will be assuming more responsibility for the performance of an architect that you recommend. We have found our architectural references to provide cost effective building plans with great design. Our architectural references are also very familiar with the unique requirements of the various municipalities in which we specialize.

Throughout the architectural design phase we will continue to monitor the architectural design and update your anticipated costs. If we become concerned that you may be exceeding your desired budget, we will ask the architect to make the necessary revisions or identify certain items as optional so that they can be considered further.

This takes approximately 45 days (and 3 to 4 meetings) to complete. You will pay a non-refundable fee for your plans directly to the Architect. This fee is non-refundable because the plans you will receive have been designed to fit your needs and style and will be yours to keep.

Step 4 — Contract & Financing

Within two to four weeks after plan completion, we will be able to quote you a firm contract price including options for possible upgrades. If our quote is acceptable to you, and you choose to enter into a contract to build with us, your initial construction service deposit of $5,000-$15,000 will be applied to your contract amount.

In the event you choose not to continue with Benchmark Homes, the deposit is refundable less the amount of time the builder has assisted you on this project at an hourly rate of $125/hour

Because of the unique nature of a custom home, you will be expected to make a significant investment in the project during your contract period. In addition to the architectural fees, you will be making a 10% down payment (which includes the construction deposit) at the time the contract is signed and then several more payments as construction proceeds. These payments will be spelled out in advance in your contract.

We utilize a standard contract form provided to us by the Home Builders Association of St. Louis. In a few areas, we have customized this standard contract form to clarify issues unique to our area of specialization, in-fill custom homes. We do provide a copy of the standard contract form in advance and ask that you review it in detail. You will find it to be an industry standard form but a thorough advance review of the contract will answer many of your questions and concerns.

If you have already chosen a home site from the Benchmark Homes inventory, you need not worry about construction financing. We will take care of everything! We will review all of the important points for you to know about how construction is financed and how we ensure that your investment in your new home is kept safe and protected.

Specifically, we will review how your contract deposits and all construction loan funds are directed through a disbursing company. The disbursing company makes the payments we direct once they have established the authenticity of the bill and collected lien waivers from the subcontractors/suppliers. These steps are taken to protect your investment and so that you can obtain title insurance when you close on the purchase of your new home at its completion.

If you have already purchased a home site or are negotiating on a potential home site, we can assist you in identifying lenders who specialize in this relatively unique market and work with you and your lender to see that the same investment protection mechanism are in place as described above.

Step 5 — Finish Selections

Once the architectural design of your home is complete, we can begin the Finish Selections process. During the Design & Budgeting phase you will have become familiar with (selected) features and have already made some of your selected finishes.

During the Finish Selections process, we will confirm all of your feature selections and address all remaining finish selection.

You will be given a list of preferred vendors who can work with you to best prioritize and schedule your selections. Beyond this list there are countless options we can pursue to meet your individual needs and tastes.

We will be available to assist you throughout the finish selection process and offer our personal opinion and industry expertise.

Your selections can include but are not limited to the following:

  • Stone and Masonry
  • Roof Shingles or other Roofing Materials
  • Exterior brand/color choices such as for vinyl siding, hardiboard, stone/stucco, etc.
  • Exterior Trim Colors and Gutter Colors
  • Interior and Exterior Paint Colors
  • Bathroom Surrounds and Vanity Tops such as cultured marble, tile, Silestone, natural marble, etc…
  • Fireplace “Boxes” such as full masonry, prefabricated models, gas logs, doors, etc.
  • Fireplace Surrounds/Mantels
  • Plumbing Fixtures
  • Kitchen & Bath Cabinetry
  • Kitchen Countertops such as Formica, Corian, granite, etc.
  • Kitchen Appliances
  • Exterior Windows & Doors (in general, these selections are made during architectural design)
  • Interior Millwork and Trim including door styles, door hardware, base/casing, crown molding, etc.
  • Flooring
  • Electrical Fixtures including light fixtures, security, central vacuum, sound systems, etc.
  • Mirrors, Shelving, and Shower Doors

If you would also like outside assistance, we can recommend an interior designer selected to meet your budget/needs.

Step 6 — Fieldwork

Once the contract is signed, we will apply with the appropriate municipality for a construction permit. The permit process can take approximately two to four weeks (or more) depending on the municipality.

Once your foundation has been poured and back-filled, you can expect construction to take five to twelve months depending on weather conditions and the complexity of the home. The expected construction time from completion of foundation will be noted in your sales contract.

Our owners and our employees can be found on your job site daily making sure that everything runs as smooth as possible. We believe that a significant and consistent presence on the job site is necessary for effective communication and quality control.

From time to time, you will be asked to schedule specific visits with us to review the progress on your home. In between visits, we will also maintain contact with you to answer additional questions and concerns that may arise.

Step 7 — Closing

Approximately 2-5 days before closing, we will accompany you on a thorough inspection of your new home to make sure that the home was built in accordance with the plans, specifications and color sheets. At this time, we will also document any outstanding items or deficiencies noted.

We will work diligently to make this list as short as possible and will also use the time remaining prior to closing to eliminate as many noted items as possible. Any outstanding items at the time of closing will be presented to you at or before closing for your signature. We will coordinate completion of these remaining outstanding items with our subcontractors and you.

You will want to be very thorough in your inspection of hard surfaces such as countertops, flooring, etc as you will be specifically asked to sign-off on these items. As you can imagine, many hard surfaces are damaged during move-in and it is important for us to document the condition of your home prior to move-in.

At closing, you are required to pay the remainder of the contract and take possession of your new dream home.