What would you recommend to someone doing a first time custom build job?
Jordan Collins
May 28, 2013 in Design Dilemma
We are just in the beginning stages. Just purchased the lot... 1 acre! Haven't chosen a builder yet. Have an idea for a floor plan, but nothing official. If you could do it over again, what would you do different? What were the important lessons you could pass along? What are the definite do's and definite do not's? Let the advice begin!!!!
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Tres McKinney Design
Hire a good team from the onset. An architect, interior designer and contractor that can all work together to make your dream house. Give them lots of input: pictures of what you love and hate, your wish list and budget. If you have a dream team you will get what you need and more of your wants than you ever dreamed.
1 Like   May 28, 2013 at 8:38PM
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there are a few threads asking your same question. try doing a search in the "search field" next to "Discussions". One of the threads had hundreds of ideas. It was a few months ago & I did not bookmark it, so can't give you a quick link. maybe someone else has it?
0 Likes   May 28, 2013 at 8:45PM
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Mega Builders
Start at the end: clearly define your budget and your objectives BEFORE plans are drawn.
Investigate the option of having an architect draw your plans vs a design-build firm.
Do your due diligence and find out anything you can about each team member.
Narrow your choices to those you get along with the best NOT to those that seem to be cheapest.
Once you decide on a team member (architect, builder, etc.) based on the correct criteria (experience, record, references, awards, media coverage, level of enthusiasm of past-clients' endorsements, BBB record, etc. AND rapport) then enter into final price negotiations.
This way you will end up with competent team members that you get along with AND with competitive pricing.
If you are interested in reading more about this subject, we posted several articles on this subject on our blog Remodeling University. You can find some of the articles here: http://www.megabuilders.com/blog/page/2/
Good luck!
2 Likes   May 28, 2013 at 10:37PM
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I'd echo what's been said by Megabuilders and say do your homework. The plans themselves and the ideas are in some ways of secondary importance because those details will be hammered out in the design development phase anyway. But I'd definitely research some good architects (lets face it in most jurisdictions you will be working with an architect even at a lot of design+build firms) so find someone with a good residential track record and who is experienced. Large single family residences are both simple and complex and tricky. Each has a set of quirks and weird issues that someone, or a very experienced team will help you work through.

Finding someone who works well with you and is enthusiastic about helping you craft your dream is as important as costs (probably moreso in a lot of ways). A design+build firm may be able to do things slightly cheaper since everything is largely consolidated, but an architect offers other advantages (like potentially having built up relationships in the community and really knowing the ins and outs of who to work with and who not to, etc - not to mention the years and years of school and internship and rigorous licensing required just to even call themselves 'architect' legally). There are a million factors to consider beyond having some vague ideas and a lot, and its important to have someone on board who wants to consider and develop those ideas with you and for your budget. Building any project is a team effort. Architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, interior designers, landscape architects and so on all have to be working well together to get what you want so extreme care should be taken in assembling that team (this doesn't get into any community standards you may have to address or code issues).
1 Like   May 28, 2013 at 10:52PM
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Jordan Collins
Great advice... Both of the builders we have interviewed are design and build firms... Can someone give me more pros and cons of a design + build vs build only?
0 Likes   May 29, 2013 at 10:59AM
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Mega Builders
The main difference is that in the 'build' model, you have another team member - the architect, who is separate from the builder.
The advantages are:
You have an informed third party, working for you, that reviews the builder's performance, progress and billing (depending how involved your architect is, which is a function of how much you are willing to pay him/her).
You also have direct contact with the project's designer and hires him/her specifically bas on their design competency and your rapport with them.
The disadvantages are:
You have a larger team that sometimes may have incompatible personalities, clashing egos, etc. in other words, an added complexity is added to this project.
Costs will inevitably rise - both due to design/architectural fees likely being higher AND because a design-build firm is note likely to design to your budget (they are, after all, interested in building your project as their end-goal, vs an architect who's main focus will always be the plans)

You need to decide which is the critical issue for you.
Sometimes having a competent architect involved in critical and outweighs all other considerations.
Yet, for other projects/homeowners, having tightest controls on costs, centralized accountability and a streamlines process trumps all other considerations.

Both approaches can and have worked countless of times.
With the correct team members, whichever way you opt to go should prove the right way.
Best of luck!
0 Likes   June 5, 2013 at 8:06AM
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Jordan Collins
What questions are "must ask" questions when interviewing custom home builders?
0 Likes   June 5, 2013 at 9:53AM
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Here are some questions that you should ask the home builders you interview:
1. Are there other homes with similar scope of work (size, finish level, price point) that you have built?
2. If not, what makes you qualified to build my home? (there are many instances where a good builder did not build a similar home to yours, but they could still be the best builder for you based on their previous projects and experience).
3. Review their basic contract during the interview process. Your contract will be tailored to your particular project, but many of the terms will be consistent throughout all their contracts. These include payment terms, what happens if completion date is missed, etc. Its possible that you go through the entire interview process, select your builder and then not be able to agree to the terms.
4. Ask them how their selection process works. Do you go to one design center and select all your finishes or do they send you to various showrooms?
5. What system do they have in place for changes made during the construction process? They should have a clear change order process where you get to review the change and its price, sign off on it, BEFORE its made. This way everyone is on the same page.
6. Ask them if they have a preferred architect that they work with? This may enable you to package the design and construction together.
7. Ask them how they strike a balance between building to your expectations and you not being too micro-managerial? When a client starts micromanaging, the project never turns out well and both parties are not happy at the end. However, your standards will also need to be adhered to. How do they accomplish this task?
8. How ofter will you be allowed on site? How many official inspections do you get (where the builder walks the house with you), how many unofficial ones?

There are many more questions and items that need to be addressed when interviewing a prospective builder. I hope the several questions above are helpful to you.
0 Likes   June 10, 2013 at 5:36AM
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Go look at an actual house that the contractor has built. Look at the quality of the workmanship...does it meet your expectations? Ask the builder what is wrong with the house...if he says there aren't any issues with the house, don't believe him! The point of the question is not to find out exactly what the problem is, but rather to discover how he deals with problems. I've never seen a custom project yet that was built entirely to the plans without running into some field changes, problems, design issues etc.
0 Likes   June 10, 2013 at 5:50AM
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