I know very little about building homes. However, I have a vision of what I want my next home to be like. But when I look at the websites of local builders and contractors, it looks like they only have preset designs and plans for the homes that they build.

Are there contractors that are flexible enough that I could just give them a home plan that I purchased online? Would they do a quality job? Are most contractors capable of doing this kind of a thing? Or would I need to find someone who is more specialized for the job?


Although David Moore is somewhat correct, there are a lot of varied explanations to your question depending on where you live, the market etc. In large markets, there are large corporate home builders that have multiple crews covering all trades and do a turn key package. Many do custom homes from your plans. Many however will only build your home on land they have and sell you. Mega builders are not as flexible as smaller builders.

In more rural areas, or areas where development is not large, the contractor pool is much smaller. In my area around Portland Maine and most of New England, custom home builders are mostly general contractors. They have preferred sub-contractors for foundations, framing, electrical, etc, etc, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a general contractor, in fact, they often are very competitive and build a great product.

The key to getting what you want is picking the right contractor based on research, referrals, and interviews with existing customers. Check with your local BBB, State licensing bureau or similar to see if the contractor is in good standing and financially sound.

When you sit with you contractor, the devil is in the details. Know exactly what you want. Don't fall for the "allowance" quotes. Be specific on what type, brand, model of everything you can think of, or pick from what the contractor has to offer. Example: lighting fixtures can be $15 or $80 each, plumbing fixtures can range from $50 for a bath faucet to over $300, counter tops go for $20/square foot to over $100/square foot. The same goes for windows, doors flooring, cabinets, counter tops, wiring devices, tile, the list goes on and on. Quality costs money, but spec grade materials can be very cheaply made. Insist on a full check list, specify all options, materials and grade/models of appliances etc. This is a big job, but if you want to be happy with the finish product, know what will be going into it.

A good general contractor is going to spend the time and help educate you and assist you in making these important decisions. The more specific you are up front, the more accurate your quote will be and less $$$ overruns. Change orders are very expensive.

Always be proactive, inspect materials before they are installed. Be sure the right stuff is being used and your specifications are being followed. Having an open line of communication with the GC is the key to assure a smooth job and catch problems before they happen. Good luck

  • 1
    I couldn't disagree more. Of course a GC is going to tell you to hire a GC. I think you could luck out and get a GC that has the experience and ability to do the job - but I think you are relying on your skills to vet and interview GCs for new home building. Anyone with experience in that? Shirlock is a smart guy and I am almost positive he is in the top ranks of GCs, but you will be lucky - very lucky - to get a GC that good. That is why I would go with a small builder specializing in custom homes. Big builder = you are low on list.
    – DMoore
    Apr 17 '13 at 14:42
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    Not sure why you have such a negative opinion of GC's. In fact, most custom builders are actually GC's. They may have their own carpenters and finishers. but often sub contract plumbing, electrical, HVAC, granite, excavating etc. They usually use the same subs job after job, so they know the quality of the work they are going to get. We may not be using the same vocabulary here. If they don't have every trade employed internally and sub anything out, by definition, they are a General Contractor. Apr 17 '13 at 18:34
  • Maybe it is regionally different. In the midwest there are people who specialize in custom homes. Quite a few people in my area. Generally they do the foundation, framing, roofing, hvac, and all major carpentry. Some do plumbing, electrical, drywall and finishing touches. A GC in my area would be subbing for pretty much everything - and not only would you be counting on the GC and his ability but also the availability of his "good" people. I have heard horror stories going down this road. I have seen lawsuits filed. And the GC changes business name and is out collecting $$ in a week.
    – DMoore
    Apr 17 '13 at 18:57
  • To expand on this answer: You need to choose contractors with experience addressing the issues that are important to you in a home. For example, if you care most about energy-efficiency, you'll want contractors with training and experience in energy-efficient construction. If all you want is a standard wood platform-framed home with a custom layout, most quality US contractors should be able to handle it. If you want log-cabin-style Passivhaus with an indoor pool and an underground bomb shelter, you'll be in the market for some very specialized and possibly hard-to-find contractors. Apr 17 '13 at 22:01

You are going to get lots of opinions on this but in general I would say people with experience building homes - maybe 30% (I think I am being overly optimistic) could do a custom right with no major problems.

General contractors - ha. You are looking at 5% if that.

You need someone with experience with custom homes. You need an architect to OK it. Not only are you going to be counting on the custom home builder in following your directions but also to help with suggestions in the planning stages and handling issues when they come up the right way.

You need to interview people, ask for homes they have built, and talk to these home owners about the quality and experience. This is a huge project. Not only do you need a custom home builder but you need someone who isn't always weeks/months behind and someone who can communicate with you. Also if the contractor has a crew you might be competing with other homes getting done.

You also need to worry about warranties and what happens if something isn't right. Who owns the issue if foundation cracks in 3 years? Most states have laws for new homes - as far as home owner rights. However after the first year there is usually very little the home owner can do except complain.

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