Many people dream of building their own custom home, and with the right builder and proper planning, that dream can happily become a reality. At L. Patten and Sons, we have been building quality custom homes since 1958, and we have learned a great deal about what makes the process successful. We can also help you avoid the pitfalls that can make it a disaster. So, let’s look at the 10 things you can do to help make the experience a good one. And remember that in the end, everyone has the same goal: a beautiful custom home that stands the test of time.
1. Do your research
Drive around the neighbourhood, explore online, ask everyone you meet. Find out all you can about the builders that work where you want to build. If possible, talk to previous clients. If the builder can take you through some of the houses they have built, then it is likely they still have a good relationship with their clients. That says a great deal. Make sure the builder has a Tarion Warranty. Find out how long they have been in business. All the details matter.
2. Know what you want
It’s important to have a good idea of your budget, and to have a list of things you really want to have in your new home. Most people can’t have it all, so be sure you prioritize. Do you want a traditional home or a modern one? A comfortable family home or a dramatic architectural showpiece? Even the best custom builders can’t give you your dream if you aren’t able to define just what that dream is. Some builders will specialize in a particular style, so make sure your builder has experience building the type of house you desire. Custom home galleries are an incredibly valuable tool, so have a portfolio of the things you love to help the builder get it right. Houzz is also an excellent resource, and you can create a portfolio online to share with your builder.
3. Find a builder with strong design capabilities
Many builders will work with architects and draftsmen to draw up your dream home, so you don’t have to arrive with plans already in place. Having the builder involved in the design stage has real advantages, as they can provide information about the logistics and costs of specific design elements. Ask if your builder will work with you to create a design, as this can really streamline the process. And, when there are established connections between the builder and the designer already in place, the operating dynamic becomes considerably more efficient. Look closely at the houses the builder has had a hand in designing, and that should give you some understanding of their design sensibility.
4. Ensure that the builder is upfront and transparent about costs
A custom home is a big commitment. It’s critical that you know what your costs will be before you begin, so you don’t find out halfway through that you can no longer afford to finish. A good builder will wait until your plans are fully complete before providing you with pricing, any other format is just a guess and we all know how accurate that can be. Two houses of the same size can vary dramatically in price because they are CUSTOM homes, and no two will be the same. This is often the most frustrating part for clients, as gathering full pricing details can take weeks of steady work. But it is worth it in the end because you will know exactly where you stand. If possible, talk to previous clients and ask if their homes were on budget, and if there were any surprises. If you have chosen your builder wisely, you will have a very definite idea of pricing for your home, and you can trust that last-minute, panicked meetings at the bank will not be necessary.
5. Understand what is NOT included
Many builders will not include certain items in their budgets, as they are not within the builders’ control and are highly variable. These would include things like development charges, hydro connection charges, appliances and final landscape charges. These costs can end up being significant, so ask your builder for guidelines and be prepared.
6. Determine how the builder will manage changes along the way
Despite your best efforts, there will likely be some changes made along the way. As the house goes up you may decide you want more space in one room, or windows moved in another. Your choice of finishing materials may change. Your kitchen design may evolve. All of these things will likely mean a change in costs, and you should agree up front as to how this will be handled. The most precise way is to have all changes priced out and signed off on, but in reality, this is rarely feasible. You should try and have a good sense of what the extra costs will be, and KEEP TRACK. A good builder will do this also, and provide a breakdown on the billing. Your contract with the builder should state specifically what costs are included, so it should be fairly simple to note the changes and extras.
7. Find a builder who will keep the lines of communication open
Building a house is an extremely complex task, with hundreds of hours, tons of material, numerous different trades, and unpredictable weather all playing a part. Ask your builder to provide updates, and include pictures as well if you are not able to get to the site regularly. If you have spent the time in the design process then it will not be necessary to be on site all the time, and generally, those working on site prefer if you are not. It is recommended by most builders that homeowners come after hours to check on the progress; it is very difficult to work while someone is watching, and chatting with the homeowners can take up valuable work time. Remember that building a house takes time, so daily visits may not show great progress. You can expect to meet the builder on site at different stages of the build, so there will be lots of opportunities to do walk-throughs together. When you first interview a builder, ask if they provide regular progress reports, and be sure you both agree on the time you want to spend on site during the build. Establishing a good routine early will help things run smoothly.
8. Find a builder that acts fast and keeps your job moving
Every builder begins a job hoping that the timelines set out for the build are met and that everything runs smoothly. Reality often interferes, however, and any number of delays may be faced along the way. A good builder will always be flexible and work consistently to keep the job moving. They will have alternative trades, extra labourers, and creative solutions. A custom build is a complex dance, and you want your builder to be fast on his feet. Talk to previous clients, and ask how the builder coped with the unforeseen challenges.
9. Ensure the builder bills regularly
The costs of a custom home are significant, and it is generally beneficial to have the expense spaced out over the course of the build. A good builder will do regular statements, usually monthly. Some will be very large, others just odds and ends. They should cover all work done to date, and be well laid out and clear. Some builders will include all of the backup material, others will keep it on file for reference if requested. Whatever the case, it is important that the amount outstanding be billed and paid in a timely manner. Have your builder be clear on their billing policies, and be comfortable with their system.
10. Enjoy the ride
It may not always be easy, but building your dream home can be incredibly rewarding. It’s important that you do your research, and choose the best builder for you and your project. Skill and experience are critical, and personality matters as well. If you have done your due diligence, you should have peace of mind knowing that your builder is on your team. With the right preparation and the right builder, the entire process should be exhilarating. Enjoy the build, and the years of happiness your dream home will bring.
Service, detailed quality, it's our calling in Collingwood
If you are ready to work with a custom builder, ensure you get the best service and experience with L. Patten & Sons. We deliver on each of the top 10 dimensions of a great custom home build experience. We specialize in developing properties in the Blue Mountain and Collingwood area. We're so focused on your satisfaction that you can expect a call back from us to ensure everything is in tip-top shape. We don't just build a big property, we focus on the small details that you'll appreciate for decades to come.