You’ve been dreaming of building your own home for a long time. The picture in your mind is clear – a home on your own land that is designed uniquely for you.
But the harsh truth is that building a custom home on your own land is a long and difficult process that comes with a lot of questions.
We get it.
That’s why we’re here. In this article, Design Tech Homes wants to help you think through all the important steps of building a house on your lot. As a bonus, we’ll give you some tips on choosing the right builder to work with during the whole process.
The best part?
This all comes directly from our 20+ years of first-hand experience in the construction industry. In other words, these aren’t textbook theories – they are tried and true, proven methods that come from our field experience at Design Tech Homes.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
What to Look For in a Home Site
Before you start planning and building your home, you need a lot to build it on. Just this first step can prove fairly complicated!
Here are a few things to look for when searching for a good piece of land.
Quality Deed Restrictions
Deed restrictions, often called “restrictive covenants,” are contained in a deed and limit how you can use a piece of real estate and what you can build on it.
Rule #1 concerning deed restrictions is simple: Read them!
If you fail to read the deed restrictions about your home, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. After all, you don’t want to buy a piece of land that turns out to be useless to you!
For example: maybe you’d like to build a 2,500 square foot home but your deed restriction limits you to a 2,000 square foot home. In this case, you’ll want to look elsewhere for a lot to build on.
If you don’t like deed restrictions, look for a neighborhood that does not include them.
When a large plot of land is divided into smaller sections for easy developing, the sections are called subdivisions.
When choosing a lot, make sure that your subdivision has a good plan in place for development.
What does a good subdivision plan look like?
It should certainly include the following:
- A geotechnical study – In other words, make sure the land has been studied and approved for foundations, roads, etc.
- A phase 1 or phase 2 environmental study – This means that the developer has made sure there are clear titles on all the properties and that each piece of land is environmentally clean. (No former oil wells, dumps, etc. on the property)
- Drainage plans are laid out ahead of time.
- Water, sewer, and septic plans are clearly laid out ahead of time. (Take note: water wells and septic systems can’t be placed within 200 feet of each other. If nobody created a good subdivision plan, certain lots may not have a water well or septic system.)
Just make sure you ask about all of these things before you purchase a property. The last thing you want is to pay for a lot and find out afterward that it is not right for you.
Flood Plain Locations
A flood plain is an area that is subject to natural flooding from a nearby waterway.
When you choose a lot to build your home, make sure you ask for a flood plain certificate. The certificate states the flood zone status of the lot so that you know for sure if you are in a flood zone or not.
Needless to say, you do not want to be in a flood zone. Flood damage is a pain in the neck to clean and repair!
If the lot you are considering is in a flood zone, you’ll want to investigate further and find a different piece of land.
Long-term neighbors may know even more about a property’s flooding conditions.
Sometimes, even if a lot is not officially in a flood plain, the land still floods. Long term neighbors are almost certainly aware of this, and they can help you decide if the lot you are looking at is a quality lot.
Another thing to look for is good drainage away from the home site and property. Standing water on your property is sure to have adverse affects in the long term. In fact, the number one reason for concrete slab failures is inadequate drainage.
The further the distance you have to run your utilities, the higher the cost.
For example, in Texas, an overhead electricity wire to your home is free (up to 150 feet), but an underground electric feed costs money to install.
In other words, the further you have to run utility lines, the more you pay. Lengthy water, sewer, and power lines can significantly add to the cost of your house.
Is it worth the cost? This boils down to your preference. A house 200 feet off the road is quieter and more private than a house 50 feet off the road. However, a house 50 feet off the road costs less when it comes to running utility lines.
The important thing is to make an informed decision. Make sure you know how much utility feeds will cost you, and decide from there.
Driveways and Roads
Driveways, just like utility lines, grow in price as they increase in length.
It’s worth mapping where you would like to see your driveway and figuring out how much it would cost. Also think about how convenient your driveway will be in different kinds of weather. You don’t want your driveway to get muddy or flooded in stormy weather, or icy and treacherous in the winter.
What to Look For in a Custom Home Builder
Finding the right contractor to build your home on your lot is almost as important as choosing the right piece of land.
Choose the wrong builder, and you’re in for a serious headache.
Choose the right builder, and the process of constructing your home gets a lot easier!
But what do you look for in a good builder? Let’s take a look at a few things to consider:
Full Service, One-Stop-Shop Contractor
Some builders offer only limited services.
For example, they might not be equipped to install a septic system or water well.
If you can, it is most convenient to find a builder that can help you throughout the entire process from beginning to end.
In particular, make sure your home builder is equipped and ready to assist you with:
- Lot site evaluation
- Lot site preparation – road, septic, wells, lot clearing, and building pads
- ACC approval (architectural control assistance)
- Permit acquisitions
- Design center – this allows you to pick out your home selections before you start building and stay within budget.
- Mortgage services
In short, a full service, one-stop-shop contractor takes ALL the details and processes of building a custom home and makes the process easier for you.
Lot Site Evaluations and Preparations
We already mentioned that a builder should assist you with lot site evaluation and preparation.
But what exactly does that look like?
First of all, your builder should come to the physical location of your planned home and help you evaluate your needs.
While looking at drawings or renderings of the lot is helpful, it is essential to actually see the lot in order to make a good evaluation. When your builder sees the lot, they should be able to give you valuable advice for the specifications you want.
They could help you with things like home placement, outbuilding placements, or how to work a pool into your plans. They should also help you plan the best location for your septic, water well, pool and utility line placements. They have more experience with this and should be able to give you good advice.
Home Quality Standards
Quality standards are the most important thing to look for in a builder. After all, you want your new home to be built to last!
Does the builder hold themselves to high standards? Are they going above and beyond, gifting you with an amazing home, or are they doing the bare minimum, so you get an OK home?
Here are a few things in particular that prove a builder is operating by quality standards. Ask your builder if they do these things:
- Perform a soil test. A soil test is a process in which the builder collects soil samples and sends them away for testing. This allows the structural engineer to design the foundation of your home in a way that is compatible with the soil present there.
- Has options for energy-efficient homes.
- Uses quality materials and workmanship
- Utilizes independent inspections by third parties
Good Customer References
Getting ripped-off, whether it’s with money or faulty equipment, is always infuriating.
But it’s doubly exasperating when you know you could have avoided it.
As the lot owner, you bear some responsibility when it comes to finding a good builder. Unfortunately, you can’t simply snap your fingers and have the best builder in town at your doorstep.
You have to do some research.
First, check the builder’s references. It can be a pain, but it’s good to actually call their references. This is a quick way to see how others have experienced this builder and the work they do.
You can also visit homes under construction by the builder. Observe the quality of work being completed, and visit there model homes or homes they have under construction.
Finally, check to see if the builder is a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). A builder that is not a member of the BBB is not necessarily a bad builder, but those who are members of the BBB are held to higher standards.
It may feel like a bother to thoroughly vet your builder, but it’s worth it. Like we said, you will be working closely with your builder to complete your home, and your builder may mean the difference between a great experience and a nightmare!
Energy Efficiency Home Construction
Everyone wants an energy-efficient home – and every builder in the U.S. is supposed to construct houses according to the national energy code.
Make them prove that to you–a builder doesn’t build energy-efficient homes just because they say they do, or because they try their best.
There are actual steps a builder should take to make sure your home is energy efficient.
For example, your builder needs to complete a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) test. This means your builder sends the house plan to a HERS rater, and they score the energy-efficiency of your home. The lower the HERS score, the better.
Unfortunately, most builders do not abide by the national energy code unless they are building in a situation where they know they will get checked.
Because building to ENERGY STAR standards is extremely difficult.
But you definitely want to find a builder willing to put in the hard work and make your home energy-efficient.
So, please be careful.
If your builder isn’t testing and inspecting your home to certify that it is energy-efficient, you have no way of knowing the truth.
At Design Tech Homes, we guarantee that your home will be ENERGY STAR certified. When we’re done, you receive certifications from the Environment Protections Agency and The Department of Energy, proving your home is energy-efficient.
Full Disclosure Practice
A good builder should have a full disclosure practice. In other words, they should be completely open about every aspect of your new home.
You should get a contract that includes specifications and options in writing. “In writing” is the critical part of that. Every builder technically has a contract, but if it’s just in their head or in your head, you aren’t guaranteed a thing. You’re setting yourself up for a “he said, she said” kind of argument, that often results in a lot of heartache and maybe even hiring a new builder.
A full disclosure practice also means that a builder should clearly show the options you have chosen on the house blueprints. If, at any point, changes are made in the house blueprints, you should receive an entirely new set of plans showing these changes.
Before you close your loan and start building your home, arrange a final meeting with your builder. It’s important to make sure you are on the exact same page.
And finally, make sure there is a clear understanding between you and your builder on what you have purchased and what you are expecting of them. To be fair, this should also be an opportunity for them to articulate what they hope to get from you.
Compliance With Applicable Laws
Compliance with applicable laws comes directly on the heels of full disclosure practice because your builder is required by law to give you a full disclosure statement.
There are other laws that a good builder should be following as well.
For example, builders are required by law to give you a list of suppliers and subcontractors that they utilize during the building process. If they make any changes, the homeowner must be notified.
Make sure to inform yourself on local laws and codes and check with your builder to make sure they are following the laws.
The Right Home Warranty and Customer Service
Always make sure you get a copy of your home builder’s warranty before signing a contract. Then, carefully read the warranty – even the fine print.
Not all warranties are created equal. If you aren’t happy with the warranty your builder provides, ask for something different, or look for another builder.
Note: Every builder in the state of Texas is supposed to be responsible for your slab and structure for ten years after construction.
Here’s the tricky part – if your builder goes out of business, you no longer have a warranty. Some builders change the name of their business every couple of years so that their warranties are voided.
You definitely want to make sure you avoid builders that operate under those kinds of standards! Even if it’s not technically illegal, it’s unprofessional and low. It’s not the type of behavior you want to see from your builder.
Also, when it comes to customer service regarding warranties, check to see if your builder has a 24-hour emergency warranty service.
In other words, will your builder fulfill their warranty obligations anytime, anywhere? Or, is the warranty based on a “when we get to it” kind of agreement?
Hire Quality Licensed Contractors
Your builders will utilize a variety of contractors to complete your home. It is important that they are hiring competent, qualified people to ensure your home is built to the best quality. Reputable contractors are supposed to be honest and open with you about who they hire as contractors.
Believe it or not, homes built outside city limits do not require licensed and insured contractors.
That’s why many companies refuse to build any homes within the city limits – because their contractors are not licensed!
At Design Tech Homes we make sure all of our contractors are licensed and insured – so we can build your home anytime and anywhere.
Yes, building your own custom home can be a daunting process.
And even though building a brand new house on your own lot is never easy, knowing what to do and having the right builder makes it much easier.
We utilize our years of experience and work hard to build the home of your dreams – walking you through every step of the way.
We look forward to meeting you. Get a quote today to get started!