Where do I start with a custom build?

Architect? Designer? Builder? Where am I supposed to start with a custom build? Building a custom home can feel daunting, and it can feel impossible to know where to get the process started. I’ve seen this question online here and there, so I figured I’d put in my $.02.

Why do you want to do this?

First, ask yourself why you want to build a home. I don’t think it makes sense to build a house if you can buy what you want on the market. More on the build vs. buy decision here. If you can find what you want on the market, it’s likely not going to be cheaper to build a version of the same thing yourself.

But maybe you have a piece of land that you love the views from. And another house obviously won’t have the same views. Or maybe you want a modern glass box in the woods and everything on the market is 70s A-frames or McMansions. So maybe it makes sense to build.

What do you want?

Next, figure out what you want to build. What do you like in a house? What don’t you like in a house? Work up a big list of design goals (these were ours; yours will likely be different). Get a big ‘ol pinterest board together. Read as many books as you can on architecture and design.

What do you want to spend?

Also, figure out a budget. What can you afford? That’s largely a personal decision based on your finances, but whatever number you pick, expect to spend at least that number plus 10%. Also, don’t fall into the trap of buying too much house. Most mortgage lenders and builders will want you to spend as much money as possible. Don’t set your budget so high that you wince every time you write a monthly mortgage check.

It’s worth checking that budget against other homes in the area that roughly match what you want to build in terms of finish level, location, and square footage. More on why that matters here. That process will at least let you know if you’re in the ballpark of being able to afford what you want.

Talk to Architects

So you have your list of wants/needs, and you have your budget. Bring that to some architects and talk to them about what they may be able to do for you. Pay special attention to architects who have done a number of houses in the style you want. If you want a modern glass box, an architect who builds a ton of craftsman bungalows likely won’t be a great fit.

If the architect knows what they’re doing, they should hopefully be able to design you a house that will fit within your budget. You may want to bring a builder into the discussion at the design phase, or maybe you want to shop the finished design around to builders. Don’t discount design-build firms either. More on evaluating builders and architects here.

Finally, take all of this with a grain of salt. We entered the design-build process in an altogether unusual way.

Book Reviews

I’m continuing some capsule book reviews. These two I didn’t love; I’ve listed my favorites over on our resources page.

Our Place: Improve Your Home, Improve Your Relationship: A mix of a pop psychology book and an interior decorating handbook. Does a messy room mean you have a disorganized mind? Are you looking for quizzes that you and your partner can fill out to figure out if you have compatible styles? Then here you go!

The House that Pinterest Built: I’m all about a big ‘ol pinterest board. It can be a great source of inspiration. But at the same time, it can foster the worst elements of envy and keeping up with the Jonses and their houses that look like nobody has ever lived in them or spilled a glass of red wine. This book fosters the bad side of pinterest (and is pretty ostentatious to boot. Like a two-page back-and-white spread of block letters that just read BED as a chapter heading).