Home Builder Choice, Part 3: Custom Design Builder

Rinek Architecture

Having reviewed the basics of tract and semi-custom home builders, let’s take a look at the custom design builder. This type of contractor – including Rinek, Inc. — delivers homes that breach higher, sometimes much higher, levels. A custom design builder may be able to compete with the production and semi-custom builder if asked to, but it offers the flexibility to build whatever a buyer may dream of owning. The program for home and project design may be far more advanced. The unique services offered are unlimited.

The communities that attract custom homes tend to be architecturally restrictive and exclusive. The property, perhaps already owned by the buyer, may be much larger, so the building “envelope” for home design is commensurately large. The custom design builder often builds multi-story homes, or a sprawling single-story residence. Designs are as unique as the buyers. Quality of the features and products are first rate. The home’s infrastructure is more advanced. HVAC systems, for instance, may be systemically integrated into the electrical and control systems to create a more intuitive, cooperative operation.

Available project design services are comprehensive and often provided for the buyer in house. The builder acts as a director and may coordinate a “white paper” design approach that utilizes a full design team. Team members may or may not be on staff, but you can be certain that they are proven, trusted resources. Each project draws upon the right professionals who work as a coordinated “dream team”. There may be an architect on staff, or the builder himself may be a creative design professional who maintains a respected track record. Alternatively, the builder may work closely with an architect engaged by the buyer.

The custom design builder works closely with the buyer, acting as a “concierge” — an integral part of the project team. The project will start with an in-depth discovery and planning session where the buyer shares personal vision and preferences. The custom home builder will incorporate that ground-floor foundation of design throughout the construction process.

The home’s construction may incorporate the latest technologies, paying homage to a client’s goals, not just for aesthetics, but for lifestyle, desired layout, and unique preferences. The interior styling is often coordinated with a design professional. Thus, the project is looked at comprehensively, blending exterior and structural elements in harmony with the interiors to reflect the buyer’s preferences.

This approach makes it difficult to pre-determine the cost per square foot. At the outset, an average or target may be discussed as a guide. This allows planning to match the buyer’s expectation. The buyer is informed in advance when a choice may affect budget.

An experienced custom design builder should be able to offer strict budget control throughout the design stages. As a project is fleshed out, however, the buyer’s wishes may evolve. Appealing elements and options may cause the owner to re-evaluate and possibly adjust the original budget.

For example, if a buyer originally expresses a desire for ceiling-to-wall crown molding, a builder can account for it. If, however, the budgeted 6-inch molding is specified during the design phase as a three-piece 12-inch width crown assembly, the budget for this element may need to be increased by 30%. The options are presented and explained so that the buyer can make an informed decision. As the builder-client relationship grows, this kind of decision making is done with patience and an understanding that education is part of the process. The buyer has the chance to discover, consider, and choose.

A smart custom design builder knows that each client is unique and buyer goals are singular. The builder must be flexible and strive to accommodate any goal. This may include building a simple, economical home, a modest mid-quality home, or a fully realized custom dream home. The buyer’s vision and budget are of primary importance.

What a buyer will find in working with a custom home builder is more experience in the field and in the office than many competitors. The builder may use this experience to set minimum standards for product materials that exceeded building codes. The custom design builder may also insist on using highly skilled tradespersons to ensure the highest quality for the finished home.

In the end, it is admittedly a challenge for a buyer to compare builders and their products by using an average cost-per-square-foot analysis. To simplify the process, it’s best to determine the type of home builder to work with and then entertain competitive bids on an “apples- to-apples” basis.