The Process of Building a True Custom Home : Builder’s Advice
From time to time, I will be putting out a segment called Builder’s Advice to give personal thoughts and opinions on the process of building a true custom home. Within this advice column I want to touch on the latest high quality products or new industry technologies. The idea is to help make people understand what it is like to build for the first time in their lives with a custom homebuilder and focusing more on the start and lead up to the beginning of the building itself. Selecting your design team, what’s involved and when to start including the Builder is all important!
The process of building your home is unlike anything else that you will go through. The misunderstanding of what it takes to build a custom residence from pen and paper all the way to the final Certificate of Occupancy through the finishing steps of moving the client into the home can be a long and challenging journey. One like any other KTS Group is there to help you through each step making the process smooth and coherent.The process starts out with meeting with an Architect who is knowledgable, qualified and most likely has a portfolio of numerous projects that have been built and completed to demonstrate that they understand the requirements of a clients lifestyle and also code related items to successfully get the project built. Find an Architect that knows the local codes to where you are trying to build.
Since this is my Blog, I will plug myself and as both an Architecture Firm and Custom Home Building Company, we at KTS Group operate as a designer first to our clients should they need this service, then move into the building side of the project. I have had clients design their own plans and bring them to me or have someone else design their plans to have KTS Group only build it for them. I prefer to spend time in both the design and the build side of this industry. It’s the sole reason that I founded my company years ago. To me, only being able to design all day or the opposite and being stuck building it, would be very boring to me and not allow me to offer what I am truly trained to give to my clients. Numerous times in the building side, long after the Architect’s have been gone and paid, we find ourselves helping clients to redesign or change something that doesn’t look just right when it was created in the design phase. Happens to many projects and has for us as well, especially when we are attempting to do something that isn’t commonly built, so this ability of mine to be on both sides, truthfully makes KTS Group & Homes very different from most of my competition in my area.
Once an Architect is hired, it would be extremely beneficial to have your Builder also selected. Typically the interview process for both happens at the same time. If you hire one before the other, common practice would be to ask for a referral to the other, because Designing and Building this home is really about relationships with people and it takes a lot of them to get this done. I try and offer this in the same, but it does create challenges with clients sometimes and the one thing to remember is that there is a time for design and then that process ends. Then the build process starts and should the design team need to be used again to solve something or make a changes, it is imperative to remember that the design team is long down the road on other things and not sitting around waiting to fix or change things that a client may want half way through the build cycle. It is possible to do, but it takes time, thus delays in the building schedule depending on the requested changes. To my point of a long process to accomplish a custom home.
Let’s assume the design has been started and there is now an Architect, Landscape Architect, Structural Engineer, Mechanical and Energy Engineer, and Builder involved. Do yourself a favor and prior to deciding that this is something you want to build, do your homework. Go look at houses that look like what you want to build. Gather pictures and Ideas far ahead of ever meeting with your Design team. Do not bring 100 pictures of what you want and show each one to the designer in the preliminary meeting with them. Details take time to design into the overall project. Seeing 30 pictures of bathroom tile doesn’t help an Architect figure out the program of the design that you need in order to get to these tiles into the design. Gathering your Builder and Architect together at meetings helps to have synergy in the design and build process, but we all need a program that you as the client must give us. How many bedrooms do you need? How many bathrooms? Do you need a Pool, on and on. That is a program and what the Design team will follow once it’s provided from you as the client.
Now that the design process has started and underway, an assumption is made that you have either purchased and have your own site or are buying it from the builder. Either is the same and making sure all of your design team understands the new site conditions is very important. Beyond the design process and what an Architect needs to understand for surrounding conditions and sight lines, a builder must understand the existing conditions and all that is involved with your selected site, so they can properly prepare this area for construction. Much more is involved if you have a site that both parties are new to and now going to design and build for, but that’s for another discussion about site preparations. Making sure the entire design team understands the intended sight lines and what you want to see in the end is an invaluable meeting on the actual site. We have done design work without seeing the actual site, but it takes a lot of extra efforts through the use of technology and satellite use to fully understand all of the terrain and complications behind the existing conditions. Don’t forget the use of a very good Civil Engineer. They can save tens of thousands of dollars when you involve this professional into the equation over a simple surveyor to draft the boundary of the site. Understanding drainage, especially in Florida is a very difficult thing to learn after you have already started construction and find a problem you weren’t expecting. Do not cut corners in the design phase of the project. 98% of Builders have never had design training and do not know what they are doing beyond what they have built once before. Every site is different unless you are building in a sub-division and even then, the repeated sites are sometimes challenges due to Utility easements, drainage offsets, etc. I will say this again. A builder is not your Designer. Do not rely on them to know how to handle this part of the project.
Now that the team has the site, the professionals are all getting along and you as a client are sharing your wish list of things to have included, there is one last component to the design team that needs to be considered and truthfully should be back when you are deciding between Architects and Builders, but I left this at the end for this specific discussion, because we at KTS do this on some projects for our clients and sometimes we partner with another professional. This professional is subjective to budget, the clients desires, how the project arrived on our doorstep, etc.. Finding and working with an Interior Designer can be extremely difficult or the easiest part of this process. Many of the local Building companies in our area have started to take this service inside their own doors to get through the selections process with a client faster and start working on budgets sooner.
Selections are part of the process and the most time consuming part. Your budget is typically defined right here and where most people blow well beyond where they want to be. This is the only way you will be able to get a final budget together for your design. An Architect can draw and specify everything on a set of plans, but until you make all of the final and actual selections related to Cabinet profiles, Appliance features, Tile colors and texture selections, there is no way a Builder can give you a final number if that is what you require prior to starting construction. Given 98% of clients do not plan accordingly for the amount of time it truthfully takes to undertake this process, everyone is typically working in the weeds trying to make up time. Please understand that whomever you hire to complete this part of the process, will be like getting into a short term marriage.
It takes a lot, I repeat, a lot of time to do this part of the process and once you make a selection, it takes time for the vendor to get the pricing over to the Builder/ Designer once it is selected. If it’s something like Tile, there must be drawings that tell how much is needed and how it will be installed, so that the Designer/ Builder can give the vendor the proper amount of materials needed in order to get the correct price returned. Back to the point of making sure you have all of the drawings completed and all areas properly designed and thought out before you start spending time at the actual vendors stores. There is an exception to this and some client prefer to have run through the vendors to see what they like before the design team starts with the design, kind of like a buffet line to get an overview of all that is out there to select from, but this is not the typical way a project goes. When clients only hire a Builder and the Builder has no design experience, this last process happens. This happens because the builder relies on their vendors to make all of the design selections with the client and just wants a price and when to expect the materials for install. This is the recipe for a disaster project in the making. I know many associates in the local market that I work within and this is how they do it. The end result looks like every other project out there, because design is about experience and knowing how to mix things together to make a better outcome. Your local vendors that help you at the tile or cabinet stores, really only know what they have in house. They rarely take time to learn about all that is out there in the world or have the means to even get to new things, so trusting in the local vendor to design your home and have a builder sit in the meeting and give opinions about things they are not familiar with, will get you just another house and most likely with a lot of problems.
This part of the project is about putting it all together. Once you make a selection for any item requiring it, it will take time for the vendor to price it. Then time for a Builder to review and meet with the Interior Designer (if included) to make sure the selection is truthfully what the designer wants the client to see. Then time to present to the client in whatever program or fashion the Builder works within. Should you as the client not like the pricing, back to step one and so on and on until you get this one very thing correct. This is the part of the the entire process that holds up projects, causes problems, starts to make the client typically regret they ever started this. The simple reason is, they don’t understand how vast this world is and that there are so many options out there, that truthfully if you want hot pink tile for your daughters bathroom, we can get it for you. This is also why the national builders and even some of the local custom guys in our area have decided to bring the Interior Design side of things into the office. The process is much easier with a client if you limit their ability to see everything. It’s overwhelming for a client. Sometimes even the professional. By limiting your options to see when the selections process is being worked on, we get through this and onto pricing much quicker. This really isn’t what I consider the true way of a full custom house, but lets hope that when you bring your Pintrest Board or Houzz account to the meeting that you have done enough research to know what you like and don’t, or it turns into the long process that it doesn’t need to. Hiring the right design team will alleviate this problem, but let me touch upon one thing that I have yet to see a client do in their project. Once you pick something, whether it be a finish, a color, some cabinet style, please stick with it. Too many times I have seen the selections finalized, priced, and already ordered, and then the client see’s something in a magazine, visits with a friend who just remodeled, etc… and then we get the phone call and its back to the drawing board. This causes issues when the costs come in and the client can’t figure out why they are over budget.
There are many ways to structure a contract with a client as a Builder, most of which are done on some form of Cost Plus or Fixed fee with allowances for selections, but if you truthfully want exact pricing before the actual building and ordering begins, you will need to fully design and make all of your selections for the project. The Builder can then put together your true costs of construction. As a Builder, I can’t bid what is not drawn, so if you decide not to hire professionals that will provide details, the Builder will be forced to make guesses and have a lot of questions along the way, which will mean many many site meetings. Given everyone is busy these days, it only makes sense to spend the proper time upfront to get a good set of drawings together, so that everyone is on the same page. Whether the Architect does all of them or the Interior Designer provides some interior elevations to add to the plans, these are all needed, so the Sub Contractors understand what they are bidding, thus reducing the dreaded Change Order term and cost associated. This is usually where the biggest disconnect between clients and Builders happen. You can spend all of the money in the world working up the perfect contract with your favorite attorney and have a 100 exhibits attached with it, including a scope of work, but unless you are going to have the attached plans that go along with this contract outline all of the specific details that are supposed to be included in your project, there is no way you are going to get exactly what you thought you were. This is because no one has anything to refer back to except for the plans that sent out for Bid.
There are very different levels of Architectural Drawings. A permitted set of plans verses a great set of actual Building Plans in the Residential side of construction are vastly different. The municipality in which you will build, cares about building code compliance. They don’t care about what trim profile you are installing for base boards. A Builder cares because believe it or not, this can be a very big swing on your actual costs if you were say to be deciding between Stain grade materials verses Paint grade. It affects not only the trim, but also the painters proposal when sent out of bid. Im going to give you a term you should always remember when reviewing a proposal from any one involved in this process, except for the Architect. This term is – Proposal provided based upon the plans dated……!! What is no on the plans, is not included, so if your Builder has this in his contract and basing everything on a set of plans that you provided to him and it’s missing a ton of detail information, they will not be subjected to cover these things. This is especially concerning to you as a client when you enter a Fixed Fee type of contract. People are always afraid for a Cost Plus contract, but I will tell you, I have done both types and even hybrids fo these mixed into themselves and the Fixed Fee contract is always the one that costs clients the most when they don’t properly spend the time to design the project properly from the beginning and include all of the people and teams I outlined above.
The point of this overview of the beginning processes that it takes to design and build a custom home, is to show you that if you are going undertake this kind of project and hire professionals, you need to be mindful that there are many items as the client that you are responsible for to make the process as smooth as possible. You also need to trust your hired individuals. Too many times, clients think they are the professional and if you were, you wouldn’t need us. We as professionals do the same steps everyday, with many different clients. We understand what our roles are and what we must provide to you under our contracts, however it is not our job to teach you how to become us or what this entire process is, so you will need to spend a good deal of time learning about this process and there is no magic book out there that tells you these steps. Every Builder does it differently and no 2 people work the same. This outline is what most of the industry understands and the steps behind what it takes to get through the process, but again, there are many options for Builders, because everyone thinks they have a better way to accomplish the same path. I suggest to my clients all of the time, to go out and review other builders and their quality. In the end that is what matters the most. The process comes and goes, but in the end you want a house that is constructed to your expectations.
We at KTS follow our expectations and they always exceed our clients. Details matter and that is what the client sees in the end.