Custom House Builders – Different Types in Houston

12:01 Nov 2023
Houston Custom House Builders

One of the most common misconceptions with owners aspiring to build a custom home is that all Houston custom house builders are the same. This could not be any further from the truth.

This common misunderstanding can create confusion and misdirection for the client efficiently building a custom home.

Although premium custom home builders and production semi-custom home builders both offer residential general contracting services, there are significant differences in services, products and process offerings.

Both these builders operate as residential general contractors dramatically differ in their approach towards the house building process and services offered before, during and after house construction.

Understanding these differences will greatly assist an owner in avoiding a great deal of aggravation while saving them money and time.

Houston Custom House Builders

Learn the differences of custom house builders and semi-custom home builders in Houston

Semi-Custom Home Builders

A semi-custom home builder is for all intent and purposes is a production house builder. They build homes from a library of off the shelf home plans that can be modified to meet the buyer’s needs.

These are not one-of-a-kind home designs built to the specifications of a sole owner, but rather from a plan design that the general contractors intend to duplicate many times.

Many of these new house builders will advertise themselves as custom house builders.

Many of these building firms allow homebuyers to make modifications and product selections to the home they select.

These house designs typically will include a model floor plan that may have some optional space changes. They will also have anywhere from 4 to 6 different exterior profile elevations per floor plan.

The number of changes that semi-custom builders will actually allow varies with each general contractor.

Some will allow structural changes while others will not. That also applies for the exterior of the house.

The extent of these modified changes allowed also has to do with how advanced the progress of a selected house is during construction.

Custom House Builders

Custom home builders will generally construct one-of-a-kind home designs. These will be either design to build or bid to build on your lot homes.

The distinctive difference is that the owners design plans have never been built before. This creates a great deal more work for the home builder and requires a uniquely different process from design to move in.

The price of a custom home vs the semi-custom home has little to do with the differences between builders.

It is the origin of the home plans, the actual home design and construction process that defines the differences.

Although most Houston builders are more expensive than semi-custom production builders for a number of reasons.

First the purchasing power of a production builder. They limit their selections to commonly used products that they receive better quantity discounts on.

Secondly, they negotiate volume discounts from their subcontract labor contractors on the standard repeatable plan designs.

Although each of these builders will build spec homes for sale, Houston builders will typically be more agreeable to make structural changes to a house under construction then a semi-custom builder.

Another major difference is that Houston custom house builders will typically sell a buyer the land if the home construction has not started, or the land and home if under construction.

The production builder will accept the contract to purchase, but will keep the title in their name until construction is complete.

The biggest difference between the custom builders and semi-custom builders is that a custom builder will build a house to your exact specifications and design.

They will facilitate the selection of any product that you want to use, built mock ups for multiple product combinations and make changes at any time during design or construction. There are many more layers of services that custom house builders offer.

The custom home building experience is a uniquely personal one and has many progressive steps that are required.

To see a home construction infographic see our link. We will examine the major differences associated with each general contractor’s process.

Custom House Builders in Houston

Semi-Custom Home Builders Process

 Plan Design: There is often little to no plan design associated with the production builders process unless requested from the start.

Depending on the builder, they may allow interior changes to the homes floor plan but most likely will not allow changes to the homes profile elevations.

The homes engineering has been previously completed as part of the original master model design process.

This stream lines the permitting and reduces the errors common with changing production homes during construction.

  Product Selection: Most semi-custom builders will have a design center that they use to assist their buyers in selecting home products.

These products are often preselected with fixed unit prices. There may be a wide range of selections, but these builders refuse or discourage the use of products from outside sources.

This practice is common among production builders to avoid future problems with availability and warranty issues.

  Construction Phase: The construction process is similar between the two types of builders. The significant differences are with how each builder interacts with their client during the construction phase.

  On Site Meetings: Both builders should arrange site meetings during the construction phase intervals for a variety of different agendas.

Although it will vary for each production builder, there are typically 2 or 3 planned progress meetings on a house during new home construction.

There is usually a pre-planned meeting onsite before a house goes into the drywall phase.

This is to assure that the owner has reviewed any pre-wiring needs and confirmed the proper preparation for special framing / needs for cabinetry or mechanical products.

It also allows the owner an opportunity to make any last minute changes at a more cost friendly basis.

There also may be a site meeting after drywall to help the client visualize the house better than during framing. In most cases there will always be a walk through with the owner at completion.

This gives the owner a chance to request minor items to be touched up and adjusted.

Custom House Builders Houston

Custom House Builders Process

 Plan Design: The home design process of custom house builders is much different than a production builder.

In both the design to build and the bid to build methods a home designer or architect is involved to create a special one-of-a-kind home design for construction. For a quick video of the unique home design process visit link. 

The design stage is composed of a conceptual phase, which is often a hand sketch, with many owner questions and illustrated images to convey the ideas.

Once achieved, the next step is the preliminary drawings phase. This is when floor plans and the homes profile elevations are revealed for the owner’s comments and approval.

Generally, the final phase is when the designer completes the plans and presents them to an engineer for structural and MEP drawings.

With the design phase completed, the home plan documents can be priced by the general contractor for construction.

This event requires the creation of product allowances for completion of the construction budget.

This is very common for owners because there are so many products required to be selected in new house construction. Most owners can not complete the product selections during the design phase.

Product Selection: The product selection is also much different for the homebuilding clients than for a semi-custom builder’s method.

Houston custom builders rarely have a specific design center. More often they will make arrangements with their product vendors to meet and demonstrate a variety of the many chooses available.

Their vendors will normally be equipped with the product allowance amounts and will guide the customer through their options.

 Sample Mock Up: Another major difference between the two home builder’s approaches is that during custom building construction the builder will provide onsite mock ups that represent the actual appearance of the products selected.

With the exterior selections it is common to create a large onsite sample board that shows the actual materials for the roof, brick/stucco color and stone features.

This provides the client with a higher confidence in what the products they selected will actually look like.

  On Site Meetings: The on-site construction phase major difference between the two types of builders are the services you receive from unique house builders.

The house builder provides a concierge service experience with far more attention focused on the home buyer’s personal needs during the design and construction process.

The onsite meetings for a home buyer are much more frequent and more involved than the production builder’s process.

The custom builder is required to get the homebuyer involved at the beginning of each stage of construction if there are personalized needs.

Although there are detailed plans that represent each phase of construction, a smart builder will request a client blessing each stage of completion to avoid misunderstandings.

Another significant difference of builder types is that the home building company is required to request shop drawings for products that are being prepared offsite.

This provides the vendor who is producing an offsite product to take dimensions from the actual house under construction rather than from the design plans. This provides a greater assurance of accuracy that the products will fit precisely.

So, with these insights you can better understand the options you will have when it comes to making a decision which type of Houston home builder will fit your needs best.

For a comprehensive guide of the entire home design process and detailed one-of-a-kind home construction process visit here

Selecting the Right Houston Custom House Builder for Your Needs

Once you have identified the depth of your house building needs it’s time to interview, vet and selecting your Houston builder.

The process usually involves creating a short list of builders that you have found their portfolio appealing and found their reviews to be favorable.

The most important step in the process is the actual interview. We have attached a list of questions that will be helpful in determining your short list of builders.

The most important thing to remember in separating and selecting one house builder from another is that you want a general contractor that is like minded in their approach toward business and is willing to provide you the service that you require.


The difference between custom house builders and semi-custom home builders is the level of service, accommodating needs and their ability to properly communicate and listen to the client’s needs.

Building a custom house is a long-detailed process that requires the builder and owner to have a trusting relationship as one might have with their doctor or attorney.

New house construction requires the general contractor to guide the owner through each step of the design and house building.

To learn more about home construction and the custom house design process read our comprehensive guide.

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