Step 2: Choosing the Right New Build Home

You made the decision to build a new home. Great! That was the first in a series of many more decisions to come. From blueprints and lot plans to cabinetry and flooring, building a house requires so many early-stage decisions that it could start to feel overwhelming. With a little planning now, those choices will be easier to make. Let’s review some of the things you’ll want to consider before heading out to find a builder.

Do You Want a Custom, Semi-Custom, or Spec Home?

First, you’ll need to decide what type of new build you want. Even here, you have several options. There are three main types of new builds, and each has its pros and cons. When choosing, consider your budget, your time frame, and your personality. For example, when you go to a restaurant, are you the type who knows exactly what you want before you even walk through the door, or does it take you 20 minutes to order after changing your mind a dozen times? Save yourself a ton of stress and frustration by choosing the option that fits you best.

Take your real estate agent with you to meet builders. They can help you decide which builder is right for you, and they have knowledge of the industry. Even so, do plenty of research on builders to make sure they have a good reputation and positive reviews.

Custom homes:

With a fully custom home, you have total control over everything — from the floor plan right down to the number and location of outlets. You’ll find your own architect and builders, and the house can have any style and features you can dream up. You won’t be limited to a certain neighborhood, either — you’ll be able to buy any plot of land for sale that fits your budget. Custom homes are great if you enjoy making all the decisions, overseeing the process, and are willing to put up with a high level of uncertainty. You’ll also want a healthy budget, as building a custom home is the most expensive path to owning a new home. You’ll also need plenty of time.  A custom home can take a year or more to build, and you could encounter a variety of delays.

Semi-custom homes:

A semi-custom home is typically located in a new subdivision or community established by a builder. You’ll select from floor plans already created by the builder, and you’ll be able to tour a model home to see what the finished house will look like. You’ll choose from several options for things like flooring, countertops, and finishes, but your options are limited to what the builder offers. There are often other add-ons, such as a screened porch or deck, but those come with an extra cost. A semi-custom home is a great middle option if a fully custom home is too overwhelming and expensive, but you still prefer a new house over an existing one. A semi-custom home is less expensive than a custom home, and since there are fewer options, you won’t have as many decisions to make.

Spec Homes:

If you love the idea of a brand-new home but don’t love the idea of waiting for it to be built, or if the idea of making endless decisions seems dreadful, a spec home might be the ideal solution. Sometimes, home builders will build houses based upon speculation that they’ll be able to sell the house at a profit (hence the name “spec house”). These homes are often quite well done because the builders evaluate the area’s real estate market and build according to the pricing and trends for that location. With a spec house, you get a move-in ready, new house that’s much more affordable than a custom or semi-custom home. You won’t have to wait for it to be built unless the house is still being completed, but even then, the house will probably be very near completion when you look at it. However, you won’t be able to choose your location or your floor plan, and you’ll have limited customization options.

Make a List of Your Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves

Once you decide on the type of build you want, there are a few other things you’ll want to consider. First, how long do you plan to live in the home? Do you consider it a starter home that you’ll sell in a few years, or is this your “forever” home? Knowing how long you intend to have the house will help you plan not just for what you need now, but also what you may need in the future. For example, you may love a soaring front staircase now, but if this is your forever home, think about how difficult those stairs might be to navigate when you’re well into your retirement years.

On the flip side, if you plan to sell in a few years, you might not want to add too many niche customizations that may not appeal to future buyers. You’ll also want to be careful about adding expensive upgrades because you may not be able to recoup that money if you end up overbuilding for your neighborhood. If you have questions about what upgrades may not be worth the expense for your area, ask your real estate agent.

Now that you’ve thought through how long you plan to keep the house and you’ve considered your present needs as well as your future ones, make a list of your critical must-haves. These are the deal-breakers. For example, if you have kids or pets, a quiet street or fenced-in yard might be a must-have. You may need a main floor ensuite for aging parents or a home office. Perhaps a mud room or a laundry room with a sink is crucial. Making a list of your essentials will help you remember what’s important when all the features and options begin to inundate you.

Finally, make a list of your wants. This is your dream home, after all, so dream a little! If you’ve always wanted a house with a screened-in porch or pool, write it down. Even if you think the amenity is unattainable, add it to the list. It will give the builder a sense of who you are and what your priorities are. For example, if most of your dream amenities revolve around the kitchen, this shows the builder that having a great kitchen is important to you. These lists become guidelines that help your builder bring your dream home to life. 

Choosing the Size and Style of Your Home

The larger the house, the more upkeep it will need — along with higher costs to heat and cool it. However, a house that’s too small can quickly get cluttered and may make you feel boxed in. So how do you determine how big your house should be? The standard rule of thumb is between 600 and 700 square feet per person. So, a family of four would need 2,400 to 2,800 square feet of living space. The average home today is roughly 2,680 square feet, and anything over 4,000 square feet is considered a large house.

If you plan to stay in the home for many years, consider your future needs, as well what you need right now. Perhaps you’re planning on having a larger family or maybe you’ll eventually want space for an aging relative. In addition to the overall square footage, plan for a bedroom for each family member plus a guest room or office. If an older parent will eventually live with you, consider building a home with two en suites.

How large do you want your kitchen to be? If you enjoy cooking and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you may want a larger space. Do you want an open kitchen? An island? What about windows or a door that opens to the yard? Aim to dedicate at least 15 percent of your home’s overall square footage to the kitchen.

Conversely, you might want to forgo spaces you’ll likely never use in favor of a smaller home. For example, you may not get much use out of a formal dining room. Consider adding a larger eat-in area in the kitchen instead. While open floor plans are all the rage, consider whether this trend works for you and your family. Perhaps having dedicated, private areas would fit your needs better.

Once you’ve determined the size and space you want, start looking at styles. If you aren’t sure what appeals to you, start by looking at houses and noting which styles appeal to you. Do you like the classic look of English Tudor homes? The curvy, intricate design of Victorians? How about eye-catching modern designs? Perhaps you prefer the no-nonsense traditional style. Keep track of homes that catch your eye, both online and as you drive through neighborhoods.

Now that you know how you want to build and what type of house you want, it’s time to find your land!