Choosing a Custom Home Builder: Pairing the Right Lot with the Right Builder

By Katherine Kopp

When deciding to build a custom home, the first step is to select the perfect piece of property. As the saying goes, “Location, location, location,” is the most important consideration in real estate. But determining the best location for you and your family will depend on your specific needs. “Think about what area you want to live in,” says Gretchen Coley, a real estate broker with Allen Tate in Raleigh. “What area or particular neighborhoods in your community will suit your family the best?”

For example, if proximity to a place of employment, to children’s schools or to the airport is essential, then a location that is within a reasonable distance to these is a prime consideration. But if you or your family’s most important need or goal is to live in a quiet retreat in the countryside, factor that in when considering home sites or looking at land that is available.

If you decide on a lot within a community, it is important to determine the amount of privacy your family desires. You may prefer a wooded home site or a more open view. The location of your home within the community also makes a difference. You may want to be close to the neighborhood amenities or if privacy is a must, then you may choose a lot that backs to the woods.

From a practical standpoint, you will also need to think about the type of house you would like to build before making a final selection on a piece of property. If your preferred architectural style leans towards the traditional, then you need to look for a lot that is relatively level and flat and suitable for the construction of a Colonial Revival or Craftsman-style home. If you lean toward more contemporary architecture, you might be able to purchase a lot with a steeper grade and then design and build a dramatic modern home that is adaptable to the topography of the lot.

Another factor to consider is the orientation of your home on the lot itself and what type of view you want to achieve from your rear deck or front porch.

In some cases, you may purchase a lot owned by a builder or land developer and then work with a builder who owns the lot or is approved by the developer to construct your new home. In other situations, you may purchase land owned by an individual and choose your own custom builder.

As you prepare to finalize a decision on purchasing land and selecting a builder, Jay Upchurch, builder member of the custom builder team at Preston Retreat, suggests asking a few basic questions: “First, do you like the builder?” he asks.  “Is there a connection? Do you like the style of home that they build? Are they listening to you and do they seem to have an understanding of what you are looking for? Can you see yourself working with them for 9 or 10 months?” These are all important questions to consider when planning to custom build.

Secondly, Upchurch asks, “‘Does the builder like you?’ This usually draws a chuckle from the buyer,” he says, “but by this I mean, ‘Does the builder think he/she can realistically meet your needs and expectations? Can they build the home that you need with the features that you want at a price you are willing to pay? If the answer to this question is no then it doesn’t matter how much you like the builder or he/she likes you. And if you meet with several builders and this answer is consistently no then you may need to re-set your expectations.”

Coley echoes Upchurch’s sentiment and recommends that one definitely consider the match between builder and buyer. “This is going to be a relatively long term relationship,” she points out, “generally lasting at least 6 to 9 months, or even a year, so it’s very important that you get along with the person you are choosing to build your home.”

It’s important that your builder be available and responsive to your questions and concerns. It’s also critical to consider the reputation of a builder you are considering, in order to verify that he or she has a reputation for quality work and a professional approach to working with buyers.

And finally, most buyers have a “dream house” in mind. “You need to ask the question ‘Can this builder build what you have in mind?’” says Coley.  “Every builder has a style and you need to choose a builder whose style is a good match for yours so that you can create something magical.”