Determining if building a semi-custom home is the right choice for your homestead can be daunting. It isn’t as easy as buying a home to be built in a typical neighborhood. After going through the process, we found that there are 7 key questions you should ask the builder to help you make the best decision:

  1. What floorplans are available and what do they cost?
  2. What standard features are included?
  3. What options are available and what do they cost?
  4. What options are frequently chosen?
  5. What items aren’t included?
  6. Can we tour homes in progress?
  7. What is your current completion time?

1. What Floorplans Are Available And What Do They Cost?

Semi-custom builders are able to keep costs lower because they only offer a limited portfolio of floorplan options. We did find that our builder offers many more floorplans than a home builder in a typical suburban neighborhood. Our builder had a sheet that listed the base price for each floorplan offered.

Since this isn’t a fully custom home designed just for us, we had to make sure we viewed the plans with flexibility in mind. For example, since we live far from stores, a large pantry is important to us. None of the floorplans in our size and price range had that feature. There was one that had an office just off the kitchen/dining area. That space is perfect for my pantry!

2. What Standard Features Are Included?

Before you can consider options, you need to understand what standard features the builder includes in the home. Luckily ours had a brochure that detailed all the standard features, all the floorplan options, and popular options. We referred to this brochure often as we did our research and planning. I will also use this list to make sure our build meets these standards.

When you understand what features are included, you get a quick idea of whether the home will meet your needs within your budget. We were very impressed that our builder includes many features as standard that are important to us so we didn’t need to add many pricey options.

3. What Options Are Available And What Do They Cost?

We found the amount of options offered by our builder was more extensive than any builder we have used in a neighborhood. We did not feel that the list was too limited.

Along with getting the list of options offered, you also want to know what they cost. Adding options will increase the final price for your home. You may be able to purchase items after your home is built from another contractor or do it yourself cheaper. For example, staying with the standard counters and upgrading later could be cheaper overall.

4. What Options Are Frequently Chosen?

Reviewing a long list of available options can be overwhelming. Asking your builder what options customers frequently choose helps identify important items you might overlook. This question can also lead to specials or packages offered as incentives by the builder.

9-foot ceilings are one of the most popular options buyers choose from our builder. At the time we signed a contract, our builder was offering a package that included 9-foot ceilings and other trim upgrades. Since we use ceiling fans almost all year here in the desert, this was important to us. We also found that many people added garage bays. This allowed us to expand the included garage for significantly less money than a similarly sized metal outbuilding.

5. What Items Aren’t Included?

As we found during our evaluation of manufactured homes, there were items that were not included in the purchase price and were not available as add-on options. These items added significantly to the cost, so you need to make sure you include them all so you can make sure you can pay for them. Our builder had a thorough checklist and even provided local ball park figures to help us make a final decision. Some of the items not included were:

  • Land (you need to have the property purchased)
  • Building permits, impact fees, other government fees
  • Electrical service to the house
  • Well or other water services to the house
  • Septic system or other waste management service
  • Site prep – preparing the property for the house build
  • Driveway appropriate for material deliveries
  • Interior and Exterior paint
  • Exterior concrete – patios, steps, walkways, etc
  • Construction site trash removal
  • Appliances

Because the builder isn’t responsible for these items, you need to do the work or contract professionals to do the work. It is an opportunity to save money if you can do the items yourself or have friends who can help.

If you contract professionals, you need to coordinate the work with the builder’s project manager. You will need to be able to be on-site to manage the contractors you hire. Make sure you understand the time commitment required and that you are able to be on-site as needed to get these jobs done on time and correctly.

6. Can We Tour Homes In Progress?

As we were doing our research, we didn’t realize this was an option. Our sales representative suggested it to us. Once we toured the home, we realized how helpful it was.

We were very impressed with the quality of the work our builder provides. We could see in person all the energy efficient construction methods and ask questions on how they worked. Many of them would not be seen in a completed home.

We also could see standard features as well as options the homeowner chose. We saw options that weren’t on the most popular list. With all the possibilities beyond what was included on the most popular list, we realized that we could really customize our home to best meet our needs. The options were far beyond the list of options we had when purchasing a new build home in a subdivision.

7. What Is Your Current Completion Time?

If you have a tight timeline, understanding how long it will take to complete your home is critical. While they can’t guarantee a precise completion date, the sales rep was able to tell us the current typical completion time for them in our area was 14 months. This was the typical time from signing a contract to completing the build.

There are several major areas that could delay the process and it is important to understand what they are. We found the most common areas causing delays are:

  • Changes made by the homeowner during the design phase
  • Permit delays
  • Homeowners not prepared to complete items they are responsible for
  • Subcontractor delays on prior projects

No home build goes smoothly as planned. Delays and problems are inevitable. Make sure you understand the typical bottlenecks and plan to move in later than expected.

Making Our Decision

We spent 4 months actively researching, touring, and meeting with sales reps to make our decision between a manufactured home and a semi-custom home. I created a detailed spreadsheet to compare our favorite manufactured home floorplan to our favorite semi-custom home floorplan. I included all items needed to have a fully functioning home. In the end, the semi-custom home was the best choice for our needs.

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