The 3 most common mistakes people make when building a custom luxury home, and the solutions

People who can’t find what they’re looking for in existing homes for sale usually have two choices; either stay in the home they’re currently in or decide to build a custom home that has the floor-plan and amenities they want.  Having been a custom luxury home builder for a little over 22 years, I’ve noticed a couple common and consistent mistakes people tend to make when pursuing this direction.  It’s understandable in that deciding to build your dream home can lead to a euphoric state of mind

1.  People have a tendency to spend too much money on the lot or building site.  They don’t analyze the real cost of one building site verses another.  Costs like excavation, back-fill, trenching, how far are utilities, do I need a septic or is there sewer available (how much will a septic system cost…$10,000 or $50,000), are there any protected main fees to hook up to utilities, what municipality is it in (some areas of Tucson require additional engineering that add costs), and is the land flat and easy to build on or is it steep and rocky?  Some things are obvious, but some are not.  A great lot, from the standpoint of spectacular views, may be difficult to build on…and difficult just means more costly.

The solution to this is to choose a custom home builder who’s had experience building on various kinds of sites to get valuable feedback on what the real costs may be or the “build-ability”  of one site verses another.

2.  People also tend do things one step at a time instead of taking a team approach.  What I mean is they buy a lot, get with an architect and design a house, and then get the plans out to a builder or a couple builders, and then can’t believe how much it’s going to cost.  The builder is expected (or perhaps it’s just a hope) to be able to perform some type of magic and find subcontractors or suppliers that can build, say, a $1.3 million dollar home for $800 thousand.  Using all the lowest numbers and building a custom luxury home for the lowest possible price is fraught with problems (the topic of another blog or article entirely!)  Suffice it to say the client will not get what they’re expecting which can lead to years of problems.

It’s not that the architects are doing anything wrong.  It’s that they don’t know how much things cost, and are more motivated to produce a fabulous plan that the client is excited about and meets the entire wish list.  I think most architects are very aware of this and are trying to design a fantastic home within a client’s budget.  They would like to see their designs become reality as much as the client.  As I mentioned earlier, designing your custom dream home leads to a very euphoric state of mind.  It’s easy to draw lines and pick out what you want (well not that easy) but coming up with the budget to pay for all of it is sometimes very difficult or impossible.  I don’t recall what the actual number is, but it’s a fairly high percentage of custom homes that get designed and never get built.  The architect and engineers of course get paid because their work is done…they should get paid.

The solution to this common mistake is to assemble a TEAM of professionals from the outset: Architect, Builder, Interior Designer, and Landscape Designer.  Yes even the landscape designer.  How the house works on the site and interacts with existing vegetation as well as what landscaping will be done in courtyards and disturbed areas is critical to it’s “curb” appeal.  Unfortunately the landscape budget is the one that tends to get whittled down the most because it comes at the end of the project. People tend to think, “Oh I can do that a little at a time, just get me in the house”.  Experience has taught me that the house absolutely comes alive when a good landscape plan is fully installed and executed.  You landscape architects out there can thank me later.

3.  Lastly, people tend to pay too much attention to how much their home is going to cost per square foot.  It’s the most asked question custom home builders get, “how much do you build for per square foot”?  I think most of us can see it coming a paragraph away.  OK so there is a general range, but it’s very wide.  To select a builder based on the answer to this question or to cut back a couple feet on the size of a bedroom or another room, just to hit some home size target thinking it’s going to help the overall budget is, well, misguided.  The cost per square foot is an interesting number once the home is designed, all the ingredients picked out, and the home is fully totaled up.  It should not be used to skimp on room sizes.  Space is the least expensive part of the house (warehouse vs. structurally complicated and highly finished custom luxury home).  Difficulty of the building site (flat easy vs. steep rocky difficult), the complexity of the structure (spans, cantilevers, etc.), type of construction (frame, masonry, steel, alternative), and of course the finishes or ingredients (no I’m not just talking about gold faucets), are the main things that impact the cost of someone’s home.  Ingredients are everything from doors, windows, cabinets & built-ins, audio/video distribution and equipment, tile, granite, appliances, closet shelving and cabinetry, light fixtures, lighting controls, to pools, spas, water features, landscaping, and…oh yes…types of faucets, shower valves, body sprays, shower heads, steam showers, whirlpool tubs & valves…just to name a few.  A custom luxury home has a lot of stuff.  There’s more cool stuff available all the time…and during that euphoric state I mentioned earlier…you want it all.  In the audio / video home theater category alone a person can easily spend $50 to $150 thousand.  So you see, evaluating the cost of a home by guessing at the cost per square foot is fool hardy.  It’s like comparing a red Ford Taurus (do they still make that car?) to a red Ferrari…they both kind of do the same thing…well you know what I mean.  When I’m asked how much I build for per square foot; the only true answer I can give is, “It’s up to you”.

The solution to this is to be aware of everything that goes into a truly custom luxury home and select your builder at the outset of the design process to work with you, the architect, and interior designer to help keep you headed toward a target budget.  More importantly, develop a realistic budget with some wiggle room so you don’t push the edge of the envelope.

LJ McCreary

Principal, McCreary Homes, Inc.

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