What to consider before building a custom home
Story by Jamey Bradbury
Photo courtesy of Judy Patrick Photography
Choosing to build a custom home means that you’ll live in a house tailored exactly to your taste and your family’s needs. But taking a house from blueprint to reality isn’t for everyone. Before you commit the time and money necessary to achieve the house of your dreams, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration – starting with your own mental fortitude.
Talk It Out
How do you handle interpersonal relationships? Are you okay with unknown variables? Do you have a hard time making decisions? These might sound like questions from a psychological exam, but they’re worth onsidering before you build your own home.
“Not everyone is mentally, physically or financially able to handle a custom home build,” says Mark Ivy of Ivy & Co. Architects. “There are so many unknowns to the design and building processes. It puts people out of their comfort zone.”
“Things are always going to come up, so you need the ability to adapt,” advises Stacey DePriest. When she and her husband built their home in the Valley, they relished the opportunity to exercise their creativity. But they also knew a key to the success of their build would be communication. “You’ll end up having some frank conversations. You’re going to have to be honest and direct. It helps to have guidance from people you can talk to.”
Interview for You
“These are people you’re going to be working with regularly for a long time, so you want to make sure you’re comfortable with them,” says Catherine Call of Blue Sky Studio. Once you’ve determined that you can handle the stress of a build, you’ll need to find people who will help you achieve your dream, and that starts with your architect and your builder.
Get suggestions from your friends. When you see a house you admire, find out who built it. Look at architects’ websites. DePriest, who recruited Call’s talents to design her custom home, recommends setting up interviews with potential architects and builders. “It’s not necessarily them interviewing you; it’s you seeing if they’ll be a good fit.”
Once you’ve found the right people, you’ll need to take the time to foster those relationships, says Ivy. “I always advise my clients to show up, so when you’re in the building stage, your subcontractors know you’re involved.” Making time to swing by your new house as it comes together, piece by piece, not only boosts the subcontractors’ morale, it helps you keep abreast of how things are developing.
Once you’re in the later phases of the build, your patience will be a virtue. “It can take a year to build,” explains Call. “Houses where decisions haven’t been made, those can take beyond a year, maybe two. It takes time to do something well.”
A custom hillside home built by JADA Construction Co.
The Cost of Custom
Part of good communication involves good planning, and one major piece of your plan will be the budget. “People tend to think their budget will go a lot further than it does,” according to Dave Doolen of JADA Construction.
Do research to understand what the cost will be. A fair estimate for building in Anchorage, for example, can start as low as $100 per square foot, but can be as high as $500 or $1000, depending on your wants and needs. Balancing those two things against the money you’re willing to invest will be part of what dictates your design.
“Start by thinking about what makes you feel good,” advises Doolen. “People often think they need more space than they really do.” Doolen suggests keeping a folder of ideas you may come across in magazines or catalogs. And, he says, carry a tape measure with you: When you like the feel of a particular room, measure it and take note. Through good planning – and the occasional compromise – you can cut down on the decisions that will need to be made later.
“The process of choosing everything is exhausting,” recalls Beth Stuart. When she and her husband Scott built their Sand Lake home, planning ahead made the process a smooth and enjoyable one – until it came to choosing. When you build your own home, you don’t just get to decide on every last detail – you have to.
Different couples devise different strategies for making thousands of decisions about their homes. You may want to consider what will work for you before you dive into the build. The Stuarts worked according to a schedule: They devoted one week to thinking only about fixtures, then dedicated the next week to lighting, and so on.
For the DePriests, it was all about filtering. “My husband didn’t want to have to choose between a million things,” says Stacey. She served as the first line of defense, narrowing down the options so John would only have to choose between three or four possibilities.
Or there’s the divide-and-conquer method that the Boyettes used when they built a log home in Bethel. “I picked out the ‘guy’ stuff, like the roof tin,” says Dan Boyette, “and my wife picked out the ‘girl’ stuff – carpeting, finishes. Otherwise, you can go back and forth on every decision forever.”
There are endless factors to consider before deciding to build a custom home, not the least of which is how you and your partner work together. But once you’ve made the decision, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying experience, says Call.
“Living in a home that fits your sights and your family is such a joy and a privilege.” Taking time to plan ahead and find the right collaborators can make the experience all the more joyous.