A while back, we built our custom dream home. It was a lot of work and decisions, but it was worth it. We learned a lot a long the way and we want to share our experience with you. These 20+ great tips on building a custom home will help guide the way. Here are all the tips when building a house we could think of.
Table of Contents
Make sure you have the time
Building a house is like a full-time job; it takes a lot of time.
If you are building a custom house, you need to understand that every decision about the home needs to be made by you. Of course, you can hire someone to help, like an interior designer, and your builder will have a lot in the way of helping your decisions in the home building process. But there are a lot of decisions involved when building a custom-built home.
That’s because everything in the house is unique to your taste and style, and there is no template to go off of. So every decision in the design phase of your forever home is time-consuming.
From picking light fixtures and where light switches go to room layouts and colors of paint and flooring, you get to decide them all, and you have 1 million options to choose from.
Most of these are done before breaking ground, but often more decisions need to be made on the spot and decided at that moment. That’s because people often work at your new home and need to know where a switch is going or how you want the finishing touches to look.
Don’t kid yourself. Building a custom home is a lot of work, and it starts with the floor plan and goes on until you move in.
If you think this sounds like too much or there or you are too busy to do it, hiring a track home builder can save you tons of time because they limit your choices to a few critical selections in each area of the home. If you are thinking a custom home and don’t have the time, ask yourself “Should I build a home now or wait.” Waiting might be the right answer.
Know what you want in a dream home
Building a house is a lot like designing your future. If you don’t know what you want, then everything looks good.
This won’t work when it comes to your dream house. Make sure you have spent countless hours on Pinterest and in design books, so you can show your builder exactly the type of look and feel that you want.
We spent a year gathering photos of how we wanted certain rooms to look and how things like the entryway you should feel, heights of ceilings, all of these things are better to know before you meet with a builder.
Know your budget
The first thing you should know about when it comes to building your home is your budget. It’s a good idea to have a range on the price of what you want the house to end up costing but at the same time; you need to be realistic when you start the building process.
Everything costs money when building a house, and it’s easy to add little extras to your budget along the way. You don’t want to get to the end of your build and not have enough left over for things like landscaping or furniture. Make sure you know how much work you can realistically afford and stick to your budget.
Money saving tip:
You can save a lot of money when building a custom house if you are willing to DIY projects around the home instead of hiring someone to do everything—doing things like painting or tiling yourself saves you money because you don’t have any overheads for labor costs. But you need to weigh those with the time it takes and everyone else’s timeline in the build process.
Design your dream house floor plan
When designing your custom home, one of the most important things you should keep in mind is how much living space do you really need.
Do you want a big family room? A media room? How about an office or library that needs to be separated from the house.
These are all questions that can determine what your final design for your new home will end up looking like.
A lot of custom builds include adding in little nooks hidden throughout the house. These are usually tucked away, but they make the rooms feel larger instead of them feeling empty or looking empty.
Related: Builder vs Contractor: Is There Even a Difference?
Draw up some plans
Once you know how many rooms you want and what kind of items you’ll have in them, you can plan out the layout of the house so all your furniture and other items will fit where they should.
Draw out each room and put them together, so your builder has an idea of what you are looking for. We took graph paper and did each of our rooms and glued them together, and gave them to the builder.
They were able to take this and put it into their plans and included all the things we wanted while making it look 1 million times better than we ever could.
Decide how many rooms and their purpose
This may sound simple, but it’s super useful for you. Look at other homes and get an idea of how many rooms you want, what kind of appliances are in them, etc. If you have a list of what you need in the space, it makes it easier for you to narrow down which style of home is best suited for your family’s needs.
Do you want a king-sized bed? Do two nights’ stands fit in the master bedroom? Walk-in closets?
Think about the different rooms in a house and what you want and what you will need them for; you may find that some rooms you don’t need and others you may need to make larger.
Related: Master Bedroom Square Footage: How Big Should It Be?
Give yourself plenty of time
From start to finish, building a custom home can take anywhere from nine months to two years, depending on the location, the size of the house, and what needs to be done.
Make sure that you can accommodate the timeline when you decide to build. You may also have to carry two mortgages, one builder mortgage and your current mortgage on your house. It’s good to be aware of this to avoid any financial stress that can come up.
Pick your appliances early
You will need to know what appliances are going to be in your house long before you ever move in. That’s because the cabinet makers and other finishing specialists need to know the dimensions and how they are going to fit. While it might be easy to give a generic size, a custom-fit is much better and looks amazing. We used Home Depot to pick our appliances, it’s so much easier buying online.
Buy them in advance and have them hold them in storage if possible.
Look at homes that are similar to the kind of house you want
Often when we see a house from the street, the curb appeal is the first thing that grabs us, but you need to see the house from the inside to know what it’s like.
A great way to do this is to go to open houses and see how things are and how the rooms are laid out this can give you a much better idea of how you want your future house. See as many houses as possible; it just makes sense.
Also, ask for help from people who already have houses that are similar to the one you want to be built – they can give advice and tips.
Be prepared for some disappointment
It’s normal when you start to design your dream home to want everything you can think of in it. When you meet with a builder, you will likely find that everything you want is out of your price range, and you will be slightly disappointed, read devastated.
This is all part of the process, it’s OK, and it will make you decide which items are most important and which ones can be done away with or delayed till another time.
Think of your daily life
When we get into building a house, we often only think about what we want inside of the house and not necessarily how we are going to be living in it. Early in the construction process, before breaking ground, look at your floor plan and imagine how it will be living in this house.
Ask a lot of questions. Where will you put the dishes in the kitchen? Does the refrigerator placement make sense compared to where the sink is and the dishwasher?
What about the traffic flow? Do you have enough counter space? Is there room to have a dinner table, or are you going to be eating on barstools?
These questions will help you make sure that your floor plan is efficient and maximize the available space.
Know where your furniture will go
It’s always good to have a rough idea of the sizes of pieces of furniture you will be getting. It can help you plan your space accordingly and pick out room size based on what kind of furniture goes into it.
When designing your dream house floor plan, one thing that often gets overlooked is where the furniture will go.
Make sure to measure out your furniture and get the builder to add it in so you know it will fit with ample space. This goes for your living room essentials, bedroom essentials, and every room in the house.
Hire an interior designer
This may feel excessive, but it’s worth every penny, especially if you are on a strict budget. The interior of your house will get almost as much attention as the exterior once it is finished. So it’s worth taking some time to plan your colors and design with someone who does this for a living.
Plan for more counter space
In my opinion, you can never have too much counter space in your kitchen. It’s something I always stress when doing custom builds, and at the end of the day, it really does make a big difference.
I like to plan out my house floor plans and think about where things should go first, and then put those pieces together as they fit best.
Plan the electrical and lighting
You will have an electrician to help you with this, your builder or general contractor will be able to assist you as well. As you think of your life in this house, think of where you will want to have electrical outlets and light switches and any other potential electrical plugs places you might want them.
An example is having a light switch by your bed so you don’t have to walk around in the dark. Little touches like this are a great way to make the house exactly how you want it.
You should also think about your exterior lighting and where those will be placed, as this will help to make sure that all of the bases are covered.
Don’t forget about smart home automation either you might want certain rooms to be lit or heated at different times of the day if you like having them that way. Maybe you need to control your home’s security system from any smartphone, tablet, or computer.
The idea is to plan ahead and make sure your electrical and lighting is well thought out.
Pick your fixtures
At some point in the hold building journey, you will need to pick out a light fixture or two that you love… along with electrical fixtures, plumbing fixtures (there are so many different types of kitchen sinks), as well as a host of other things like cabinets, flooring, siding, and shingles.
It’s a good idea to start shopping now for things that you like and understand their prices before you get in too deep with the house project.
Plan for space and storage
These days we all have a lot of extra stuff. It’s a good idea to plan for extra space in your house and outside of it.
Things like built-ins and an extra garage bay can give you a lot of extra room to store things without drastically increasing the cost of square footage.
Plus, if you ask a real estate agent, an extra garage bay always helps in the resale value.
Decide on heating and cooling
Furnaces and air conditioning have come a long way; there are so many choices out there now for both heating and cooling.
You can choose anything from a traditional furnace or air conditioning unit to heat pumps that will transfer the heat into your home, making it feel warmer without having to run the heater but at the cost of higher electricity bills.
Heat pumps are becoming more popular as they usually offer year-round comfort with proper insulation in the home.
We went with Geothermal (heat pump), and it kept our bills to a third of our neighbors. It was a more expensive upgrade but a really good investment at the time.
Check for grants
Your local government might offer grants for new builds and custom homes in your area.
They might be able to help you offset some of the costs depending on how much 100% financing they can provide. Remember that the more money you put down towards a conventional mortgage, the less you will end up paying in interest over time.
Remember to check with your county and state and see if this is something you are eligible for. They will provide grants to help with costs for new homes but might not be able to offer the same thing for custom builds.
Get an understanding of the building process
Ask your builder how things work and what can be expected. Know how they work with deadlines and what needs to be cited by win so that you can have all your decisions made early on in case any snags come up.
Understand building allowances
Depending on your builder, you will be given building allowances on your new build. This allows you to pick and choose certain materials or fixtures that work for you. However, they do come with restrictions.
This is usually where people in the building process spend more.
So it’s a good idea to be aware of your costs and what you want. Your electrical allowance, if not used entirely, could be used for your plumbing fixtures or rebated back to bring down the total cost of the house and vice verssa.
Make sure you talk with your builder to know how allowances work with them and what you can expect for allowances in each area when it comes down to choose your fixtures.
Choosing an architect
Before you choose an architect to help with your home build, know that your builder may need to draw the plans on their own and then submit them to an architect. There are many design-builders out there, and often, spending the money on an architect ends up being a waste because the plans need to be redrawn.
So hold off talking to an architect until you have a builder in mind for your dream home.
Use lots of natural light
As nice as light fixtures are, a house with lots of natural light makes it feel bigger, brighter, and more open all at the same time while not breaking the bank.
It’s also good on the eco-friendly side of things and makes the home more energy-efficient too. It’s best to put big windows in rooms that get the most natural light, like the bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Natural light is also a lot cheaper than using your light fixtures, plus it just looks better.
Square footage isn’t as important as layout.
When building a house, everything is by the square foot. However, the layout is 100 times more important.
We have seen 3000 square-foot houses feel like a 1500 square-foot house is because of the layout. We’ve also seen 1800 square-foot homes look like 3000 square-foot homes because of the proper use of space.
You can make a smaller house seem larger by rearranging furniture and moving rooms around. Use sliding doors to close off areas that you don’t need all the time but still want access to, like a study or reading room.
A great way to save on space is an open concept layout for your kitchen and living room so that they flow into each other.
This way, there are no walls to feel like the space is boxed in or closed off. Instead, it feels larger and more open.
Choose a builder for your project
You are going to need someone reliable who has experience building homes because you don’t want them making mistakes on your home that will cost you an extra few months.
You should always ask for referrals from friends and family who have built before. This is the best way to go because you know they aren’t just saying someone is good, but that they were happy with the end result of their work.
Another thing you can do to narrow your search down is checking through online reviews. These show how people feel about the company now and the past few years that they’ve been building. If you find someone with a lot of good reviews, then it’s a great sign that you can trust them to build your home.
Selecting a builder is a big task; you will be tied to them throughout the project and afterward as touchups need to happen. A good tip for selecting a builder for your house is to ask them for houses they built recently and then go to those houses and talk with the owners.
It may feel a little weird, and you can always call in advance, but it’s a smart idea to know what past customers are saying about their custom home builder. This can save you a lot of grief in the long run and make your home-building experience amazing instead of terrible.
Bottom line: interview several builders to get a feel for them and take your time choosing someone.
Know your must-haves, and you’re want to have
Every new house builder is going to ask you what your must-haves are in the new house. This is the early part of the process of building a house, and you need to know which items in a house you have to have immediately and which items you can wait on.
It’s important when you’re building a house that you focus on the items in the house plan that can’t be changed later on. Countertops are easy to replace when you are in an existing home; however, adding a third bedroom in year two is not anywhere near as easy.
When you get to the point of selecting your cabinets and other items like flooring, it is important that you know what’s a need-to-have and what’s a ‘this would be nice’ item. If you don’t know which is which, it can actually cost you money in the end.
Trading extra square footage instead of granite countertops may not feel like an easy choice at the time, but you can be grateful for it years later.
Plan with the basement and unfinished areas in mind
When you’re building a house, you may have areas that are unfinished, like a bonus space above the garage or a basement. Take the time to think about what you want these areas to look like in the future.
When you come back to them or when it’s time to do your home renovation and finish the basement or the space above the garage, you will be able to know exactly where things go and how they will look.
We did this with our basement and made sure the space was wide enough for a pool table and a movie theater in the house. That way, when we had the money to finish it later on, we knew precisely what we needed in the space and that it would fit.
Think about how long you will be in the house
One of the great tips we got from our custom builder and our friends who are general contractors was to think about the use of the house over our lifetime in it.
This took a bit of imagination since we had a two-year-old and another one on the way, but in doing so, we made choices that we are much happier with now that our kids are teenagers.
Things like separating the master bedroom and master bathroom from the kid’s area felt weird when they were young kids, but as time has passed in the house, we are much happier that we went the way we did.
Another item to consider is whether you should have a second floor. If your goal is to only be in the house for a certain amount of time and you won’t be growing, all the net going up and down stairs may not be such a hard thing. But if you are planning on this being your forever house, then you want to make sure that you will be able to get around it as you get older in years.
Get it all straight before you break ground
It’s important to know that everything can be changed until you break ground on the house.
Plans can be amended rooms can be shifted around, but once you start breaking ground on the house and the foundation has begun, you will be locked into your decisions on the floor plan layout of your custom dream home.
Because of this, it’s good to know that you need to take a lot of time, in the beginning, to make sure you are comfortable with your decisions and how you feel it will look before you commit to final plans and digging a hole for your new place.
Plan out the laundry room
Along with the theme of staying in your house for a long time, it’s important that you plan out the laundry room in your floor plans.
If it is just going to be you living there then, of course, this isn’t so important, but if you are planning on having many more people living with you at once, our kids grow up and have friends over often. Make sure your house has enough room for a washing machine and dryer and that it is near the space where you will use them.
Having a main floor laundry area has been a blessing, compared to our existing house where we had it in the basement, and laundry felt like a chore. Now with it close by, we can do a basket every other day rather than wait until the weekend and spend a day in the basement.
Ask your builder lots of questions
You are paying your custom builder a lot of money to build your once-in-a-lifetime house, they should be giving you white-glove service, and it’s OK to ask questions on the things you don’t understand.
That’s why you need to ask their job is to make sure you are completely comfortable spending your hard-earned money on these items and that you understand the home building process.
Consider resale value
If you don’t plan on living in your custom building for too long, it’s crucial that you plan the resale value of your house.
This means that all additions you make to the home (which ones are custom builder OK and which ones are not) need to take into consideration how they will impact how much money you can get when it’s time for selling the house.
I made a mistake going with our builder’s suggestion on the flooring in the main areas of our home, thinking that it would be OK because we were not planning on living there for more than a few years. When it came time to sell the house, I found out that because it wasn’t stock, this meant that people weren’t interested in buying all the extra work needed to replace or install them.
Make sure you go over all of this with the builder to avoid time wasted later on.
Decide if you are going to do things yourself
If you want to save some money when you are building your house, ask your builder if there are any of things that you can do on your own. We hired our own hardwood flooring crew since we knew people.
We also installed our central vac on our own because it was easy to do and only took a day or two. The savings might not be a lot compared to the total price of the house, but it can’t be an easy way to save money.
Building tip: Doing things on your own can save money, but can slow down trades and the timeline of your house.
Planning for future renovations
If you’re planning on doing some renovations in your custom home, it’s good to plan ahead and think about what items you will need in the house.
It is frustrating when home renovations take over your entire house, filled with junk you don’t need anymore. By planning your renovations down the road, you can avoid this hassle and make sure that when the time comes to remodel whatever space it is in your home that you have what you need on hand.
When we went to build a house, we got the basement finished up to the drywall, so when it came time to finish the basement ten years later, all that was needed was the finishing touches since everything else was already done.
Plan the landscaping
They say you should budget 10% of the total house cost for your landscaping costs. Don’t worry; you don’t need to do this all at once.
The best thing you can do is to get a landscaper to draw up a yard plan and work on it a little bit at a time. Knowing how your house is going to look from the outside before you begin is a great way to complete your vision.
Or, if you have room in the budget, get the whole thing done before you move in.
Decision fatigue will happen
Decision fatigue will happen: here’s what to do. You are going to have to choose so many different things in your house that at some point it’s going to feel like too much. Know that this is coming and that it’s normal.
The best way to deal with decision fatigue when you have 200 things to choose from is to narrow it down to a few that you like and compare the two together. Pick the one do you like more and discard the other one. Then pick one more and compared it to your last choice; pick the one you like most and then discard the other one.
This is a lot easier than trying to select one out of 100. Instead, you’re just selecting one out of two, and that’s how you narrow it down.
You will likely go over budget
We talked about budgets before, and as the last point, it’s good to know that most people go over their initial budget when building a house.
Either because they want to do certain things now rather than later, they can save money like better insulation or a better heating system, or things change in building costs go up from the time of your initial appointment with your builder to the time they break ground.
Final tips on building a house
Building a custom home is hard work, but it’s rewarding when you see the finished product and have wonderful memories of building your own space. And remember to have fun with the process getting to know all of your options for different types of cabinets, flooring, building materials, etc., can be both exciting and time-consuming at the same time.
Just remember to have fun with it, do some research, and be ready for when it’s time to break ground!