By Erik J. Martin, CTW Features
Seeking a next or first residence but want to own a one-of-a-kind that doesn’t look or feel like a cookie-cutter property? Give serious thought to having a custom home built, which can provide more personalized living spaces and better reflect your tastes and preferences.
“A truly custom home is distinct from a new home constructed from set floorplans in several ways. You have the opportunity to be fully involved in the design process, allowing for complete personalization and flexibility. This means that every aspect of your home – including the layout, size, materials and architectural style – can be tailored to meet your specific wants and needs,” explains Elizabeth Vergara, founder and lead designer with Vergara Homes, a custom home building firm in New York City.
Ashley Farrell, a licensed associate real estate broker in Palm Beach, Florida, agrees.
“A custom home is your unique vision come to life. You’re starting from scratch to build every single detail exactly the way you envision, and there is no asking permission. If you can afford it, you can have it – so long as it’s built to code,” says Farrell.
This differs, of course, from a “spec home”: a pre-built residence that may also be custom, but which is move-in ready. With a spec home, the design/floor plan is typically fixed with few options, if any, for customization other than perhaps paint colors, door and cabinet hardware, and possibly countertop materials.
Home shoppers with specific needs are well suited for a completely custom home.
“For example, it’s not difficult to find a four- to five-bedroom home. But let’s say you are a family of six and want enough room for your children and a growing family and guests. You’re going to have trouble locating a six-bedroom home on the open market. Or, if size isn’t the issue, maybe you favor ultra-modern stylings and materials in a neighborhood known more for traditional residences. Having a custom home built in these scenarios is often the best solution,” Farrell adds.
Custom home benefits are obvious: If you can pocket the costs, you can have a one-of-a-kind home designed and built that includes all the items on your wish list and a layout amenable to your lifestyle. But there are drawbacks, too.
“Building a custom home is an expensive endeavor, the construction for which can be drawn out over many months or even years. It’s very easy to go over budget with a custom home. The spending is not always from unforeseen costs but amenity decisions along the way,” Farrell points out. “For instance, your tile budget may be ‘x’ per square foot, but maybe you’ve suddenly fallen in love with a tile material that’s twice that amount.”
Diana Melichar, an architect in Lake Forest, Illinois, cautions that many custom home clients often have unrealistic expectations regarding their building design.
“They may throw everything into their shopping cart of needs, and then their home will grow exponentially in size and complexity,” she says. “For most clients, we are working toward a set budget. It’s often the architect’s job to manage client expectations and help our clients think through what is truly important to them while working toward their predetermined budget and goals in a manageable way.”
When it comes to the price tag, expect to pay a lot more for an exclusive residential creation.
“Custom home construction costs can often be within the range of $300 to $600 per square foot versus $150 to $300 per square foot for a predesigned floor plan. But this estimate is relative to the location you live in – some areas are double that price,” Vergara cautions.
The first step in planning a custom home is finding the right parcel or empty lot.
“The most desirable areas tend to be close to sought-after amenities, often quiet locations set away from busy roads or high-traffic areas and located in top school districts,” Farrell says.
To find the right custom home builder, seek out referrals from trusted friends and family and research candidates carefully online.
“Carefully evaluate the builder’s previous projects, timelines and communication strategies to ensure a smooth collaboration. And always asked to view their portfolio,” advises Vergara. “If possible, request a walk-through of a recently finished project.”