The luxury custom home building experience for most people is the Mt Everest of personal dreams. To design and build a “one of a kind ” custom home is a majestic and life affirming quest to fulfill. Although there are production builders with their standard models that allow you to select your own colors and there are semi custom home builders that will allow you to modify their stock plans, there remains an exclusive select group of general contractors known as luxury “one of a kind “custom home builders. These special and exclusive homes personally define the owners signature lifestyle unlike any other product that can be purchased or produced anywhere in the world. These are the following essential elements as defined by a master builder with more than 35 years of experience and care.
Research and Planning
If you only do 1 thing, doing your due diligence and proper planning is critical to a successful custom home building process. Even if you have previously designed and built an “one of a kind ” custom home, this step should not be ignored. As they say, the devil is in the details and ignoring the details can send your project to hell.
The research and planning can take many shapes and forms, from intensive reading and preparing detailed questionnaires to the endless hours of viewing and piecing together design idea books with design and product ideas to share with your design team. The point is that you should always do some reading, product selecting and design planning. This alone will assist you in attracting and communicating with your professional design team tasked with the duty to assist you with the creative and construction process.
Take in consideration your lifestyle and how you and your family intend to use your home. Plan your wish list around a full spectrum of wants and wishes, from your family growing up in this home to your bucket list achievements. Make it as comprehensive as possible, you can rule them out as non feasible later in the design process when you are limiting yourself for financial reasons. The point here is to allow yourself the ideas before you eliminate them so not to regret having considered them at a later date.
Develop Your Design Team
Your principle design team consist of your builder, architect / designer and an engineer. Depending on your needs you may also want the services of a interior designer and / or a landscape architect to supplement the design process with more detail. During the first stage of this process your research included gathering a short list of professionals to interview during this stage of the home building process. Armed with your design idea book, your questions and some alternative building site locations, you dive in head first to explore the best personal fit for this collaboration effort.
The most effective method to conduct these interviews is in a friendly setting for the owners. I subscribe to placing your professionals in a somewhat uncomfortable situation during their interview to determine how they react to adversity. This can give you a real time idea of what it will be like when challenges take place during the project. I have seen a couple start naturally arguing just to see how their consultants would react. The primary idea is to find a method to make your assessment in determining if your professional service providers will work as a team and that you will enjoy working with them throughout the entire process.
Review the architect’s / designers portfolio and have some open discussions about their creative process and design philosophy. Probe them with questions concerning their tolerance of accepting constructive criticism of their work. No one enjoys working with a touchy artist. Ask your prospective general contractors about the different methods available to clients for contracting their services. Ask them the difficult questions about how they handle change orders and how they resolve conflicts and disagreements with their clients. When you have your list narrowed down to a few select names, meet with both the architect/designer and the builder to decide how well they will collaborate.
Future Home Site
Many people will purchase the home building lot before they hire their design team. This is understandable due to the rare opportunities available in selecting a premium lot. By having your team selected beforehand they can be extremely helpful in assisting the owner with the right building site for your new home plan. Preliminary design (shape and form) can only truly be defined when the lot has been purchased. Your builder can assist you in your lot selection by researching the deed restrictions and property building setback requirements. They can also be instrumental in the home finish floor elevations, driveway configuration, utility accessibility and mature tree preservation.
The home site is a critical part of the building process for many reasons. First the home building site is the largest single purchase that is made during the “one of a kind “custom home building process. Secondly, the homes orientation can be a major factor in energy efficiency depending on the suns southern exposure and window openings planned. The major defining factor should be the neighborhood and the adjoining homes and properties. In other words how well will your intended home’s design architecturally blend with the existing homes.
Budget and Working Drawings
At this point you have a home site, a conceptual drawing approved, conceptual budget and you are well on your way to completing the home drawings. Your builder is preparing a high confident budget price for the working drawings and the engineer is modeling the load members for compliance. You are working on product selections such as plumbing fixtures, cabinets, exterior stone or brick. The more of the selections you can actually finalize the more assurance you will have in your builders price. In the absence of these selections you will be provided a set of fair market allowances as a portion of the overall construction budget.
With the construction budget and the completed plans you now can finalize your financing. This traditionally consist of funding to acquire the building lot and the allocation amount required to fund the construction of your new home. Your lender will require that the construction cost are paid in progress payments and that the builder provide proof of payment for materials and labor as the project progresses.
The final drawings will require the owners approval and the general contractor will submit the engineering and drawing to the local building department for a permiting. The building department will usually review the complete documents by passing them around throughout the different departments such as; electrical, mechanical, civil and structural for each departments approval and comments.
Home Construction & Warranty
The final phase of the new custom home building process is the actual construction of your new home. Your involvement does not end with the design phase completion. You will be required to attend progress meetings on site, complete your product selections, review details of shop drawings of products that are being fabricated for your specific home. These meetings also provide the owner the assurances that the home is being built to their quality standards and their design expectations. There is nothing worse than building a “one of a kind ” home that does not meet the owners expectations. It is important that the owner continue to be decisive and deliberate in the required task of colors, product selections and progress meetings to avoid unwanted delays.
A word regarding owner risk management. The owner and builder will be required to both carry insurance on this home under construction until complete. The builder will need general liability and someone will be required to maintain builders risk insurance until the construction and final city inspections are complete. The owner will be required to maintain property casualty insurance until the construction is complete and the homeowners policy goes into effect.
The State of Texas requires that general contractors provide a minimum insurance on new construction. I would recommend that you make this part of your due diligence discussions when you are hiring the general contractors. Not all home warranties are created equal.
My best advice in your luxury custom home building experience is to enjoy the process. If the process gets to be too stressful, have a conversation with your professional advisers in an open conversation to reduce the unwelcome stress. Your professional advisers are hired to make your home building experience satisfying and a positive memorable experience.