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Making the Most of Your Custom Home Experience

Posted on Nov 10, 2016 in:
  • Seattle Times HomeWork
  • Homeowners
  • Build

By Martha Rose, Martha Rose Construction Inc.

Most homebuyers interested in purchasing a new home will go to a new housing development and select from a choice of floor plans, typically with few upgrades or options other than paint shades or choices in tile and carpet. Although these are customizations, there are very few and don't always give the homebuyer the options they require in what some call a "custom" home.

There are often personal reasons to have a custom home built where the buyer is involved at every level, from buying a lot to working with a custom builder from the ground up. While exciting, this process can be stressful and a bit overwhelming. Here are some helpful suggestions to guide you through this adventure so you can arrive at your new doorstep intact and satisfied with your experience.

Some custom builders offer homes that are designed but not yet built and they come with a greater choice of finishes and optional upgrades than homes that have already been built and are in the finishing stages. This format is relatively simple and frequently the buyer is able to look at other homes already built with the same floor plan. This choice allows you to personalize your new home on a tighter budget because there are fewer unknowns.

A from-the-ground-up custom home is a collaborative effort between the owners, the architect, and the builder. The home can be designed exactly for the site and will account for the terrain, orientation, and those features the owners deem important for their lifestyle. As one of the most expensive new home options, this choice allows a homebuyer to truly build their dream home.

No matter which kind of new construction is right for you, it's a good idea to start your journey by looking at many new homes to to get a sense of what you like and to become familiar with trends in new home construction. Interview several architects and builders and choose a team that reflects your values. Create a list of your needs and then a list of features that you'd like but that aren't mandatory. It is a rare homebuyer who can afford every item on their wish list, so it is important to prioritize. Your budget should include the cost of the land and utility installation, along with permits and other fees associated with putting the entire project together. While a custom home is tailored to meet individual needs, consider some features that have universal appeal. Here are a few examples:

  • Healthy materials coupled with a heat recovery ventilation system benefit anyone with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
  • Upgrade the energy efficiency of the home by adding thicker attic insulation and triple-glazed widows for a modest sum that pays for itself through lower energy bills.
  • Level entries, open floor plans, and wider stairs allow your home to accommodate family and friends of all ages. Wide stairs, for example, make for an easy addition of a chair lift, should it ever be needed.
  • Photovoltaic panels on the roof provide some of the electricity for the home and will qualify you for a federal tax credit and state utility credits.

Once the project is underway, it is best to make as few changes as possible. This enables the builder to keep the project ahead of schedule with material selections and keeps the process moving smoothly. Keep in mind, the world of construction consists of solving problems, one after another after another. A good general contractor is unfazed by these bumps in the road, which can be unnerving to the homeowner. Keep your sense of humor close by and expect the unexpected!

Once a home is completed, there are always a few details that fall into the if-I-could-do-it-all-over-again category, but with thoughtful planning, you will experience less of them and have a home you enjoy for many years to come.


Martha Rose is the owner of Martha Rose Construction Inc. Martha, known as the "Queen of Green," is a national leader in the green building movement. Her interest in energy efficiency and sustainable building practices dates all the way back to the 1970s and is currently her main focus. Today, Rose is striving toward building zero-energy spec homes. Rose is a contributing writer to HomeMatters, a consumer publication of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

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