So, you’ve decided to build a custom home. Excited? Worried about the stories you’ve heard of projects turning into money-pits and builders gone rogue? It’s an interesting dichotomy isn’t it?
Designing and building a custom home is not to be taken lightly, that’s true. For many people it’s the greatest investment they’ll ever make if for no other reason than the emotions involved.
But you should be excited about designing and building your new custom home. I mean come on, let’s get real — you are creating your IDEAL home 100% from scratch! How awesome is that!!
With a new custom home, you have the incredible opportunity to convert a completely blank canvas into the perfect house. A structure that’s been perfectly designed to complement your family’s lifestyle and enhance the way you live every day you live in that home.
There‘s a lot involved in successfully designing and building your custom home. There are many pits you can fall into if you’re not aware of them. But nothing is more detrimental to you successfully ending up with the home you actually envisioned than taking the conventional approach to building a custom home.
Sadly, the conventional route taken by most owners ends up being the source of the very suffering they were trying to avoid.
The conventional approach
to custom home building
The conventional route to custom home building starts with the owner identifying the project they’d like to undertake. After identifying the project, the owner needs a designer and contractor to handle its’ construction. The owner goes through months of interviews and eventually hires both.
The designer and contractor both have an array of consultants and subcontractors and it’s at this very beginning stage of the process that the schism begins. A wall grows between the two sides each charged with fulfilling their own role. This wall over the last half-century has grown impenetrable. It is legal, cultural and adversarial.
There is real need for communication and strategic decision making across the wall, but the need for communication has devolved into a cumbersome legalistic attempt to avoid liability. When inevitable conflict evolves between the two sides the owner becomes the arbiter in an area where he or she has little or no knowledge.
The solution some have come up with is to merge the design and construction factions under the umbrella of a builder or into a single design-build entity. Most of the time these structures are led by the general contractor.
In this scenario the builder (usually a general contractor) takes the lead and brings in his or her own architect to handle the design supposedly easing the burden on the owner. But this attempted solution creates its’ own challenges.
The problems with a contractor-led
At first glance this contractor-led design-build structure may appear to solve the problem. But it is a flawed approach. Inevitably this structure places the design team as subservient to construction and unleashes a host of new problems.
1. A contractor now in the leadership role will typically make decisions and recommendations that are based primarily on budget or cost-efficiency. These decisions are often made to maximize the builder’s profitability while being positioned to the owner as cost-savings.
2. Contractors know construction. But they are not able to foresee the impact of making what they consider to be a simple “tweak” to the design can have on the aesthetic or function five steps down the road. Very often the contractor makes or allows dozens of these seemingly imperceivable tweaks without anyone noticing them as the project moves along. In the end this always leads to disappointment, frustration and worse when the owner isn’t absolutely thrilled with the result.
3. In the contractor-led design-build structure the builder has locked you into ‘their architect’ leaving you no choice as to whether this architect is the best match for your project scope. This structure also fails to mitigate the deficiencies architects generally have.
The bottom line is that the functional, practical and aesthetic aspects of the home are all determined by the design. And when the contractor is in the lead on your project it almost always means the design will take a backseat to what’s easiest in the field.
What about the architect
leading the design-build project?
A second less-common way owners try to build a custom home is to hire an architect and put them in charge. But this solution is fraught with its’ own pitfalls.
Architects are traditionally thought to be design-focused. While it’s true they are trained with a focus on form their primary design focus is on the building envelope. Architects often fall short on the details required to create a design that has both the ‘wow-factor’ and practical functionality when the design is actually built-out in the real world.
The typical architect sees his or her job as providing the client the structure the client wants. Then it’s up to the owner to work out the design details with an interior designer and the project costs with the contractor.
Many architects lack an understanding of the practical side of construction and the specific cost-impact a design choice can have. The result is that the owner often ends up with a plan that they can’t afford to build once they put it out to bid.
This lack of real-world grounding is exacerbated by the fact that architects usually don’t communicate with the contractor during design development stage to mitigate budget-busting design features. It’s at that design development stage when changes would have minimal negative impact on timelines and budgets.
The designer-led approach
The alternative to these conventional approaches is to merge the interests, knowledge and talents for design and construction into one design-focused leadership team. This is because the design of the project is what ultimately determines its’ success — functionally, practically and aesthetically.
In addition to being focused on creating and protecting the integrity of the design this designer-led team must at the same time have intimate knowledge of build costs and a thorough understanding of the real-world challenges that can arise during construction.
The result is that the owner is no longer stuck in the middle acting as judge and jury. This designer-led design-build process provides the owner one single point of communication. And the owner one single source of responsibility for management of the project.
This integrated process allows for the communication, knowledge sharing and cultural integration necessary for great design to actually get built as planned.
Taking the designer-led process
to the next level
With Studio 818’s designer-led process our design team takes the lead from conceptual planning, into design development, through construction — all the way to completion.
Before the first hammer swings every detail is pre-planned to control project costs and increase timeline efficiency. When construction begins we stand in the gap for you handling all the challenges that arise while protecting you, your design and your budget. Makes sense, right?
If you’d like to learn how Studio 818’s design + build management process can help you’re your custom home project a success, dig into the details here.
What if you don’t yet have a lot?
If you haven’t yet identified and acquired the lot you’re going to build your custom home on, we can help with that too. Thanks to our experience in the development of designer spec homes Studio 818 we can help you find, qualify and acquire the right property whether it’s an empty lot or an existing home that will be demolished.
It’s rare for a designer-led team to also have the expertise necessary to evaluate a lots’ potential for building. Thanks to our 25 years of real estate investment and development experience, Studio 818 can help here as well.
On their own owners typically have a hard time seeing the potential in both vacant lots and teardown homes. This can cause the owner to overlook lots that have great value hidden beneath the surface. And no matter how experienced, a Realtor is not the answer.
The property’s asking price, current neighborhood valuations, city and county planned improvement projects that will later affect the property, projected valuation after completion – these and other factors are all critical to analyze when pre-qualifying the best possible property for your custom home.
Analyzing a lot or teardown also includes evaluating issues like setbacks (which determine how far from the property lines the structure can be built), utility easements, topography, soil quality, title issues and public water and/or sewer hookups.
These are all challenges our team has the experience to help you overcome. If you’d like to learn more about our acquisition consulting to help you find, qualify and acquire the perfect empty lot or a property with a teardown home, you can learn more here.