Managing Expectations for Houston Custom Home Builders

06:23 Sep 2018
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Making a decision to build a luxury custom home is not one that should be made lightly. For most clients this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. With little direct experience in preparing to make the gauntlet of decisions, the Houston luxury home construction process can be an emotional rollercoaster ride for most. Torn between exhilaration and disillusionment in the same week can take an enormous emotional toll on most people. This is why if you are considering building a new custom home that you not only should prepare yourself for the procedural process but also for the emotional journey that you will experience.


Developing both procedural and emotional expectations is an essential course of action when undertaking your preliminary due diligence. The design and building procedures do not vary widely, although the actual procedural order may be different. For instance if you hire a general contractor early or later will yield much different outcomes. That is where the emotional expectations come into play. The first major procedural alternative is in the approach method that the owner uses to design and construct their custom home. We will discuss these various methods and their impact on the clients expectations.

Design to Bid vs Design to Build Approaches

The traditional method for most owners building luxury homes in Houston is the design to bid approach. This is when the owner directly hires an architect or home designer to design and prepare the home construction documents. After the plans are completed the plans are issued to 3 custom home builders in Houston for a formal request for bid.

If the bid amounts are too high, the owner has the home designer redesign aspects of the home to comply with the recommendations of the custom home builders and architect to achieve the estimated total cost that the owner can live with.

The alternative method is the design to build approach. During this method the owner selects and hires a general contractor that represents him as a sole responsible party to both design and build for a targeted investment budget. The general contractor then hires the architect / home designer creating a design team.

The architect designs the home while the general contractor provides construction pricing guidance through the entire design process. This method usually results in shorter time frame for design and a competitively priced home with the most innovative and cutting edge construction technology.

As an owner you can see how you would need to align your expectations with the 2 different design for construction approaches. The design to bid process will likely take a longer time and require the patience to make some tough chooses in eliminating cost. While the design to build process would require you to have the trust in the design team that your general contractor has assembled.

Creating a Pictorial & Product Wish List

Once you have determined which process approach to use to build your home you will need to provide your design team the tools to help you create your design vision. This is most often accomplished through long conversations and sharing your collected photo image with the design team. The collection of photos should have architectural detailed features to properly communicate guidelines for architectural design themes, product types and specific features that you want to incorporate into the drawings of your project.

The owners principle expectations should be discussed throughout setting up the preliminary drawing stage. The early hand sketches should reflect your instructions, photos and answers to the design teams questions. The greater the amount of detailed information you provide, the higher the level of your expectations should be that the drawings will reflect your vision.

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Developing a Preliminary Budget and Feasibility Study

Once the owner has communicated the details of their custom homes vision to the design team, the general contractor can share a conceptual construction budget. As the preliminary drawings are developed your Houston custom home builder can create a detailed line item schedule of values. For line items of products that have not been selected, your builder will develop allowance amounts based on your product preferences.

You should expect that these early budget numbers are a work in process and continue to change throughout the design process. Most seasoned custom builders will create these early budgets with a +/- 25% factor. You should expect as the working drawings become complete that the construction budget will continue to be better defined in a higher accuracy.

Lot Selection Process

Selecting your home construction site is one of those high priority items in the design process that varies dramatically in the timing of the procedures. Some owners will not start the process of interviewing builders and architects until they have purchased the home site. The advantage to this strategy is that once a lot is selected, the process can move much more swiftly. The disadvantage is that there may be recorded limitations in the deed restrictions or setback requirements that the owner was unaware of at the time of purchase.

Selecting a lot after you hire your design team provides the advantages of avoiding purchasing a property that may limit your home construction or cause you unexpected problems later in the construction process. The disadvantage is that it may take some time to locate a building lot.

Select a Financial Lending Partner

Once the owner has a lot selected and preliminary home plans completed, they can apply for their construction loan and mortgage. Your lender can often discuss the idea of financing and provide you with pre-qualification before you select a lot, develop plans and hire a general contractor. But they will not offer a loan or mortgage commitment until preliminary construction documents, construction budget and qualified general contractor on board.

It is realistic to expect that your lender can give you a general idea of what interest rates and mortgage totals you would qualify for, but until you have the construction documents and general contractor under contract, most lenders will not provide you with a loan commitment.

Developing Product and Material Selection Priorities

A very useful practice for the owner when preparing for preliminary plan development is to prioritize the products and finish materials that they are planning to use in your new luxury home. As you are reviewing these items you can make note of the more expensive items and think about suitable alternate products to use if you are required to value engineer your plans.

This process also brings value in analyzing a cost value relationship with larger ticket items in your budget. By assessing the priority of these different product purchases the owners are better prepared to make the hard chooses if a value engineering exercise is required.

Finalizing Contract Documents and Construction Budget

As the design team completes the home plan documents the budget can be completed with either the design to bid or design to build program. With plan documents and a construction budget complete it is realist to expect that it is time to enter into a construction contract with your home builder. It is realistic for the owner to expect a complete and comprehensive contract that includes the formal terms discussed with the proposal. These items include a detailed scope of work, a construction schedule, progress payment schedule and contract clauses that layout dispute resolution.

Finalizing Construction Process Expectations

Having a clear understanding to the what you can expect from your builder during the construction phase is very important. Items such as on site progress meetings, product selection priorities and the builders procedures to communicate concerns about quality control issues. Your builder should provide you with both onsite prodical and office prodical to guide owners through support systems.

Having a functional working relationship should be expected when building a luxury custom home. With that said it is essential that expectations are managed early in the process to make the luxury home building experience a rewarding and enjoyable journey.

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