Custom Homes
Now that you’re relocating to the Chicago area, it might be time to consider building a custom home. Even with cold weather, building takes place year round in Chicagoland, but breaking ground and laying foundations are rare during the winter months because of the frozen ground. Once you meet with a few builders and review ideas, plans and budgets, you’ll get a timeframe of how long the process will take and can better determine if a custom home suits your lifestyle. Keep in mind that master-planned communities in the area also offer custom homebuilding options, which will provide you with built-in community amenities and additional features.

First, you’ll need to do some research. If you already have a real estate agent, he or she can help by recommending a custom builder. You also can visit the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago (www.hbagc.com), click on Find a Member under the Members tab and select the first letter of the home builder you have in mind to access their contact information. If you don’t have a preference, you can click on All to view lists of custom homebuilders in the area. To get ideas on what style of home you’d like to build, look at magazines that include custom home designs. Also start thinking about materials you’d like to use for the exterior, including brick, vinyl siding or other energy-saving materials.

GETTING STARTED
When you hear the word “custom” associated with the homebuilding industry, you probably think of a one-of-a-kind home with everything you ever dreamed, right down to the door knobs, at a price reserved for people with large, six-figure incomes. At one time, that was probably correct, but things are changing.

Today, there are myriad custom home options and different levels of custom homebuilders in the Chicago area. Full-time, custom homebuilders are those who build just a few homes each year, but there are higher-volume builders who will customize a home floor plan design by moving walls or adding square footage to suit your needs. There are even higher-volume builders who offer custom options in just a few areas of the home, such as kitchens with sunrooms or kitchens as part of the family room.

Keep in mind that a custom feature is not the same as an optional feature. Options are usually standard features that are perceived as adding value to a home like built-in cabinetry, granite countertops, crown molding or finished basements. Custom features are those that are very personal; what one homeowner likes, another may abhor, so the added value literally is in the eye of the beholder. Because of that, most builders will ask for you to pay for custom features upfront.

By expanding the definitions and boundaries of custom homebuilding, builders have given homebuyers more opportunities to build their dream homes without starting from scratch. To customize or not to customize hinges on two things: what you want and how much you are willing to spend. If you know what you want, have a budget in mind and do decide to proceed, consider the following important information at the beginning of the process.

HOW TO SELECT THE RIGHT CUSTOM HOMEBUILDER
Here are four basic requirements you should expect from a custom homebuilder.
  • Financial Security. You will want to hire a builder who is responsible and financially secure. Does the builder have an established track record? Ask for names and numbers of other clients and call them to ask about their experience with the builder. Contact the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against a builder. Usually, a clean record is a very good sign. Also check with the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago (www. hbagc.org) to search for custom homebuilder members.
  • Variety in Floor Plans. Does the prospective builder offer a variety of floor plans, and do they match your expectations? To get the home you most desire, select a builder who will offer a variety of floor plans and adapt the floor plan to the topography of your lot.
  • Buying Power. Is the builder active with multiple projects? The builder should have enough buying power to ensure that you receive the best prices for high-quality goods. You could save money on the purchase price of appliances, light fixtures, flooring and more. Find out if the builder maintains a design center where you can coordinate your cabinetry and other options. However, the builder shouldn’t be too busy; it’s not good if he’s spread too thin.
  • Good Warranty Program. The structural integrity of your home is an extremely important aspect, and you will want certain elements to be covered under a suitable warranty. The builder you select should be able to service the completed home and offer a 10-year warranty program on certain elements of your home’s structure.

If you know what you want, have a budget in mind and do decide to proceed, consider these four important steps at the beginning of the process.

Step 1 – Custom Builder Selection
The first step is to decide on a builder. You can begin by interviewing several builders who have been recommended to you by friends and associates who have built custom homes. Contact your local homebuilders association for a list or recommendation of custom builders in your area. Be sure to talk with the builders’ referrals and look at their work. Any builder should be willing to show off custom work they’ve done in the past. Make sure you feel completely comfortable with your builder before you tackle such a large project.

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