Custom Home Design: How to Start & What to Expect
Ready to begin the journey of building your Forever Home? You will need to start with land (of course) but also a detailed set of construction documents (blueprints) that outlines what you want to build and, on which, a construction budget can be created. These plans are required for city or HOA approval, construction loan approval and, ultimately to hire a builder and finalize your construction costs. So where do you begin??
For the couples I work with on house design, I recommend we first consider: 1) How much they want to spend, 2) How do they want to use the residence? 3) Overall style of the home (modern farmhouse, Mediterranean, or contemporary for example).
There is a direct correlation between the size of your new home and its cost. If you're wanting your new home to have a game room, media room, dining room, etc. then the home will naturally have a large total square footage and thus will cost more. So the first responsible step in designing a home is to talk about the cost to build. This is where my experience with being both a home builder and designer really shines. I'll start by working out a floor plan layout, then run an initial cost approach (before we get to the roof line & elevations) to make sure we're at the right price point before we all invest our time into continuing with a house that's possibly outside the budget.
The Floor Plan: Items to Consider
When first discussing a floor plan, I will start by trying to get a general idea of how the homeowner wants to use their space. How many bedrooms will we need for guests or
children? Where do we want these bedrooms in relation to the owner's suite? Will there be an in-law suite? Does all or a portion the house need to be wheelchair accessible? Beyond that we can start considering adding luxury spaces (that will add sq footage and thus costs) these items include: dining room, game room, media room, exercise rooms and outdoor living. Other considerations such as the layout of the common areas like the living room, kitchen and outdoor space all come into the conversion early so we can start an initial approach on the home's layout. We are also considering the lot's shape and topography at this stage. Important factors including set back lines and lot slope are important factors when designing the floor plan.
I always remind my clients that "they're not going to hurt my feelings" if they have changes to the layout. It's my job to brainstorm with the layout- and it's a certainty that some of my layout ideas will be dead on arrival and others will be a 'must-have.' It's all just part of the process.
Roofline & Elevations: Curb Appeal
Once we have a floor plan and initial cost-approach settled, then the fun really begins with bring the house to life. The home's roofline and elevations will be a function of the home's floor plan layout, but there is quite a bit a character we can add by making a two-dimensional floor plan into a three-dimensional rendering. This is where understanding the 'style' of home the owner's are wanting comes into play. Appling the owner's design characteristics requests to the exterior of the home and the roof line is the first major step in creating a vision of what we will be building for the homeowner- and it's a very exciting phase of design!
Typically a community's HOA will pay particular attention to the details listed on the elevation layout sheets. They are looking at the colors and type of exterior materials that are to be used and if they conform to the community's covenants and design requirements (no purple houses with pink roofs for example).
Site Plan: Does it All Fit?
It's happened on more than one occasion where a homeowner has come to me with plans for a house that simply doesn't fit on their 1+ acre lot. Many subdivisions and cities where I build have a combination of property set backs and easements that need to be considered. You would be surprised how quickly the length of a custom home can add up (especially when considering regulations like side-facing garages that also require flatwork for maneuvering into that garage.
Other important items including the septic tank and field location, propane tank location, driveway, sidewalk and other flatwork locations. The site plan is an important component to your blueprints. This is another sheet that your HOA and/or city will pay close attention to: ensuring that you're not building over a setback restriction and often wanting to know real-world distances (such as your home's location from the street or property line).
Electrical Plan: All the Little Details
Typically the electrical plan is the last sheet I work with my clients on. There are literally hundreds of details on this page. Every light fixture, plug and switch is shown on this sheet. Although it sounds like a monumental task, I can usually take care of 90% of this sheet without any input needed from my clients. It's only the last 10% that we collaborate on to get the final details dialed in.
The Final Result: Construction Documents / Blueprints
Once we have the site plan, floor plan, elevations. roof line and electrical sheets all finalized, then you're ready for a final budget, builder agreement and construction loan. It's at this point where you can also submit your plans to your local building official and HOA for their approval. It's extremely common for either the city building inspector and your community's HOA (ACC- Architectural Control Committee) to have questions or changes / additions to your plans. Patience is key during this process. Typically I can turn around changes or answer questions from these entities within 1-2 business days.
Your lender will probably not have questions about the plans you submit, however they will turn over the blueprints to an independent appraiser who will review them and assess an anticipated value of the improvement on your lot. This is done to ensure that the construction loan amount is in alignment with the home's anticipated value at completion. If the cost to build the home is too high in comparison to other homes in the immediate area, then the homeowner will need to either supplement the construction loan with their own funds or we need to work at reducing the cost of the build to get it in alignment with other homes in the area.
The design process is fun, but is also a lot of work; it is a collaborative effort that takes energy and creative vision. My construction knowledge and previous building experience is invaluable to my clients and I enjoy starting with 'a blank screen' and taking them all the way to the successful completion of their beautiful new Forever Home!