How to Hire a Custom Home Builder: What to Keep In Mind

How to hire a custom home builder: foreman, architect, and engineer looking at floor plans

There are two kinds of people looking to be homeowners of a custom design. One, those who want to shape their dream home on their own and try their hand at DIY building. And two, those who want to make the most of the home-building process by hiring an expert — a custom home builder to construct a new home

If you’re the former, then you can DIY all the way to your dream home — but if you’re the latter, then you may want to know all about how to hire a custom home builder.

After all, we go to the experts when we want to have our teeth cleaned, our plumbing fixed, and more, so why shouldn’t you make the most of the design process by hiring the right custom home builder to bring your dream home to life?

Do I Need a Builder, Architect, Contractor, or All of the Above?

How to hire a custom home builder: contractor wearing a hard hat looking at a custom kitchen design

In design terms, a general contractor is someone who manages a team of subcontractors to help do various types of construction projects in homes. The Spruce explains the pros and cons of being your own contractor. Contractors are more viable if you’ve hired an architect, are a design expert or have experience in home building, or just looking to add upgrades to your home.

Architects are trained and licensed experts in residential or commercial design.

Architects and contractors work in tandem with each other, with the contractors doing the hands-on work for the architect — especially when home buyers have no experience in design and construction.

A custom home builder, on the other hand, is an expert at building a new custom home and about construction rules. They keep an eye on budgets, do all the groundwork and paperwork, and are crucial for when you want to build from scratch!

A home builder will usually have an in-house team to work on projects, to streamline the process. Custom home builders tend to shortlist people for and subcontract the jobs that require special licenses, like electricians or plumbers.

While many custom home builders start as general contractors, most cultivate skills over time and gather staff needed to complete projects confidently by themselves.

Companies like DEN Outdoors help streamline the building process for new homeowners by providing architectural plans and designs. If you decide to go with DEN plans then you can save the money you’d spend on an architect and contractor, and work in partnership with a skilled custom home builder to begin your dream home journey.

How to Hire a Custom Home Builder: Where to Start

So you’ve steered away from renting and buying after years of struggling with landlords and unsightly fixtures you just weren’t allowed to change — and you’ve decided to go the custom home route. 

You’ve managed to buy the perfect piece of land, so what’s next? Do you design your own floor plans?

If your head is swarming with stars like in a cartoon, breathe, and allow the experts to guide you in your home improvement journey.

DEN provides an all-online process, where you can browse through home designs and buy the architectural blueprints that’ll guide you on your route to building your new home.

First, skim through an array of designs — whether you’re looking for tiny homes under 400 sq. ft., or roomy, stylish homes that go up to 1,600 sq. ft. and beyond, DEN has designs for them all.

From DEN’s 196-square-foot Cottage Tiny House that sleeps two, or the massive 1,152-square-foot farmhouse called Barnhouse Plus — which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms — you’ll find a range of design ideas.

Once you’ve narrowed down a design, you can buy a Starter or Complete package. A Starter package is for research; it helps to determine a project’s feasibility, and apart from concise blueprints and cost estimates, it lets you interview potential builders and get higher-quality estimates.

Once you’re ready to build, you can apply the amount spent on a Starter package toward a Complete package.

Why the Builder Proposal in a Complete Package Is Crucial

Complete packages come with architectural blueprints for the builder, detailed structural plans, a project brief, a materials and fixtures buying guide, and even a handy cost breakdown spreadsheet. It also includes a request for builder proposal — this is what you send to potential builders to help them give you an accurate budget.

Custom home builders are ideal for those who are not experts at construction/design — and if you’ve dreamed of a beautiful customized home, then get the experts to do the job for you.

That’s why the builder proposal is so important. It includes a checklist (like a set of interview questions) of everything you expect a home builder to be doing at the job site, details on their past projects, past clients, and even projected timelines for your home.

DEN does the groundwork to help you find a custom home builder. If it’s your first time and you’re looking for a good builder, DEN’s Complete package helps communicate your exact needs with the builder.

Asking friends, family, and local realtors for recommendations is a good way to find reliable builders, or skim through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), as they provide a directory of local home builders across the U.S. 

You can also use Houzz, which has a directory of professionals that owners can connect with. Once you shortlist a few, you can cross-check their background with the Better Business Bureau.

What Does a Custom Home Builder Do?

Stack of documents

Here’s why you need a custom home builder, once you have a great design and architectural blueprints for your dream home:

  • A good custom home builder will have advanced knowledge of all building systems and is fully responsible for providing a design team, including subcontractors who’ll build according to the design plan’s specifications and according to building codes.
  • If you hire an interior designer, the builder will liaison with them, as the link between the home buyer and designer.
  • The custom home builder will be responsible for getting all the paperwork in order: permits, zoning licenses, approvals, final inspections, certificate of occupancy, and the like (we can hear you sighing in relief).

  • The builder will oversee all the building materials, fixtures, coordinate the ordering, approval, and installation of raw materials, and give you expert advice on making the most of materials.
  • As manager of the project until you move in, the builder will update you on systems and maintenance of the house.
  • Once built, the builder will work with subcontractors to resolve any issues, and once the certificate of occupancy has come in, the builder will hand over the project to you!

Think of a custom home builder as your building BFF, your subcontracting Superman through the construction process. They will take all the responsibility and deal with the tedious aspects of the work and leave you with the fun task of making all the final decisions and visual choices. 

We suggest you hire your builder early in the design process so they can help monitor and limit costs — and save you headaches.

9 Interview Questions to Ask Home Builders

Pro tip: DEN’s builder proposal highlights an extensive list of questions to pose to a prospective builder and is a great tool for making sure you spot red flags and get everything in writing! These are some the questions you should keep in mind when hiring a custom home builder:

  1. What experience do you have in building the style of home I want? And how do you guarantee your work (references, past clients)?
  2. What is your plan for sticking to my budget and timeline for the project? Will my home be ready on time?
  3. Do you offer fixed-price or cost-plus contracts? Make sure you get clarity on what all they will charge you for so you can account for it in your budget to avoid hidden costs.
  4. Do you have an in-house team or do you opt for freelance labor? Do you have a permanent business site/office?
  5. How will I communicate with you? It’s best to assess communication skills and styles, because you’ll want to be in constant touch with your builder. You definitely don’t want your builder ghosting you!
  6. What type of materials will you be using and where will you get them from? DEN’s plans give a checklist of all the materials used in our designs, which helps the custom builder exponentially.
  7. Do you offer a warranty (please detail what it covers)? Obviously wear and tear causes damage, but ask how the builder will handle it if something breaks soon after moving in.
  8. Will you handle all the paperwork? Builders have to get all the key permits, licenses, and certificates, so make sure you get in writing that they’ll take on this responsibility.
  9. How will you deal with unforeseen delays? (If Covid-19 nightmares come to mind, that makes two of us!)

Customizable Homes to Inspire You

House with a porch, surrounded by nature

Do you know what the best part of building a custom home is? Is it that you can have as many closets as you want? Is it the freedom to carve out each and every detail of the exterior and interior? Is it the chance to fill it with exactly the kinds of fixtures and furniture your heart desires? 

Well … it’s all of the above, and more. If you’re looking for inspiration to start designing your custom home, look no further. We’ve got a tiny home under 400 sq. ft., a gorgeous and airy 1,600-square-foot home, and more for you to get ideas from — or even make your own.

  • A tiny treasure: If you’re looking for a compact, sustainable structure to put in the middle of a green patch, look no further than the 270-square-foot A-Frame Bunk Plus from DEN that sleeps two. Fully equipped with a loft bedroom and bathroom with shower, the design plans can be customized by your home builder.

  • A mid-sized marvel: If you need more space than a traditional tiny home, look no further than DEN’s 800-square-foot A-Frame Retreat. A lofted master bedroom, a guest bedroom, a bathroom, and the chance to add custom details make it the perfect home or getaway.

  • A spacious shelter: For luxury seekers, we’ve designed the perfect dream home that can be nestled in the heart of nature. The 1,632-square-foot Eastern Farmhouse from DEN boasts a master bedroom, two guest bedrooms, two soaking tubs, a gorgeous wraparound deck, and even a roomy attic! 

Getting Started On Your Custom Dream Home

Living room with a spiral staircase

If you were wary of starting the admittedly intense building process, you now know all you need to know about finding the best design plans, as well as how to hire a custom home builder, why they’re great for you, and what to ask them before you shortlist them.

So if you’re ready to start work on your dream home, DEN's design packages are a comprehensive collection of everything you need to get started on the home building process.