For those who have the time and stamina, and possibly a flexible budget, designing and building a custom home can be a joy and a proud achievement.
If you don't wish to go through months of planning, thinking and imagining, starting from zero, and not seeing what you are getting in the end, then you should buy an existing home!
Those are the basics, but let's break down the pros and cons:
WHEN SHOULD YOU DESIGN AND BUILD A CUSTOM HOME?
- The location, site, views, etc. in a particular part of town or street are ideal but there are few existing homes for sale. You would have to wait for the ideal house to be listed but most for sale now are undesirable.
- Existing homes for sale may have underlying problems concerning age, quality of construction, potential foundation or roof issues, etc. that you do not wish to deal with.
- Remodeling or fitting into someone else's dream is not your thing.
- You are tired of seeing the same style in your area and want to stand out with something that is not typically seen.
- You have specific needs that no house for sale at the preferred location can meet, and a remodel will not work.
- Your 'Dream House' needs to be special in every way and remodeling an existing home will not do.
- You do not like inheriting someone else's problems (like buying a used car). You want brand new.
- You have imagination and creativity: you can start from a blank sheet of paper and venture into the unknown, but can 'see' the outcome and are willing to undergo the design process.
- You have patience and time. Designing and building can be an 18 to 24-month proposition depending on the complexity of the house and site. Factor in unfavorable weather, an economic bust, a lack of labor or materials due to a booming economy, etc. and in the worst case, you may be waiting for a three-year build-out. If you love taking vacations and are very busy or you have precious family time that can't be compromised, the adequate time for planning and going through the process may result in a less than optimum outcome.
- You like making hundreds of decisions: you love options and are inventive. You will have to decide overall style and size from the beginning (best), and select materials (flooring, cabinets and countertops, plumbing and electrical fixtures, roof, door and window manufacturer, colors, appliances, knobs, etc.) The architect and interior designer will recommend, of course. But you will make the final decision.
- You have a strong marriage. You both see eye to eye on a new project and are willing to work together to make your goal and dream come true.
- Your budget is flexible: a particular style not seen in your area means costs likely will be higher. A traditional house that is not the regional favorite may be more expensive as well. A very unconventional design pushed to the limits may cost 50% or more than that which is typically built in your area.
- You are confident and can overcome minor or major setbacks. The fear of the unexpected will not deter you.
- You like seeing your vision made into a reality. You are creative and positive minded.
- You enjoy working with professionals who must guide, advise, and execute your vision. Often there can be friction between the homeowner, architect, interior designer and builder.
THE CASE FOR BUYING AN EXISTING HOME FOR SALE
- The perfect house is on the exact street on which you want to live. You love it and cannot see any other option.
- You have to see and walk through spaces to experience the rooms, layout, overall feel, lighting, views, etc. You have to see it and feel it in order to make a decision to buy.
- You do not have the time to build. You must move now.
- You do not want to make the myriad decisions required to undergo a custom home process.
- You can remodel to suit if necessary but you do not want to start from scratch.
- Your budget is fixed with little flexibility.
- You want to get your children into a particular school and must have an address that will work in your district. Building now is not an alternative.
- You've heard of the horrors of custom design and construction and do not wish to take the risk if you have to deal with contingencies out of your control.
- You are happy having a home inspected and are confident of the quality you will receive.
- The time required to build from scratch may put you into a different zoning category or stricter land use and you should buy now.
- You love older houses and don't mind a little bit of fix-up to suit.
- You do not like collaborative design/build efforts.
- You want to eliminate as many contingencies as possible when considering a new house.
- You do not have the capacity or interest in making the many decisions required to create a custom home.
The Bottom Line
There is a time and place for everything and possibly anything. Most people buy existing properties rather than building anew. The reasons are sound. It takes a leap of faith to build from scratch. You have to have a clear vision, a real need or want that cannot be met except through a custom design and build process; you must have the time and money to cover any unforeseen circumstance, and the stamina to stick it through to the end. I have seen many custom homes sitting unfinished due to a variety of reasons. They will be sold at a huge loss.
Those that go the custom route will report that many things were unanticipated and the stress at times was challenging. Perhaps it took a little longer and cost a bit more. But in the end, the satisfaction of having built something you envisioned and followed through to the finish is a badge that you can wear for a long long time.
Some will argue that building from scratch gets you more house for the money. This is difficult to estimate and can be true in some cases. If what you build takes advantage of the lot, views, and microclimate -- if it fits nicely into the neighborhood -- if it is not out of bounds price wise in comparison to the existing homes... then you may have created something more valuable in the end.
An existing home purchase has its own ups and downs. Yes, it can be in perfect condition and priced well. Or you may have a few things to replace or fix to get it up to snuff. It is rather immediate and you have actually walked through and experienced the space, layout, views, environment, etc. You have found something the closest to your needs and wants. It is a form of immediate gratification. Some people like the challenge of a small remodel or fix-up. But starting from zero can be quite daunting.
The comparison between selecting a used vs. new car is not totally fair either. You can buy a new car as quickly as a used one. The investment is much less; you can make a mistake and quickly recover, etc. But purchasing an existing house can be as much an impulse buy as putting down some cash or credit on an automobile, used or new.
A home inspection is crucial in any used home purchase. Unfortunately, even the best inspectors have been known to miss a few things. A Chubb agent went through a house a few years ago and claimed it was the best-built house he had ever seen. There were already termites chewing through the walls of a double sheathed wood wall! In the end, this million-dollar property had to have every exterior wall replaced. The custom made windows also leaked. The contractor convinced the owner, who wanted to super insulate the house, to install Tyvek on the inside and outside of the stud walls. They caulked between the studs even. During the hot and humid summer and due to the extended time of construction, the leaky windows and moist wood attracted the termites. It was over a million-dollar fix. This is a real horror story but not typical
With a reputable architect, contractor, and interiors team, a custom home can be a joy to create and collaborate on its construction.
For those who cannot take the risks, buying an existing home that best fits their time, budget, and wish list can be the best bet. It may not be perfect, or maybe it is!