The Custom Home Building Guide

Follow These 10 Steps To Nail The Experience

The Only Home Building Guide You Will Need



You’ve reached a point in your life where you’re finally ready to take the steps to make your dream home a reality. But sometimes it is hard to find everything you want in a home. The best way to ensure that you’re able to move into the home of your dreams is to build it yourself- with the help of homebuilders, architects, and other real estate professionals. Use this custom home building guide as a resource to ensure your project stays on time and on budget. 

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 1: Lot Diligence

Like with any investment or existing home purchase you should absolutely do your due diligence when buying a home- also, try saying that three times fast. You’ve got two main concerns when it comes to lot diligence- ensuring that the prospective piece of property can accommodate your home design and making sure that it is viable to build on, with ready access to (or the ability to add) things like sewer, water, electric, etc. 

Zoning Check

You’ll start by looking up the zoning for the land as well as the current condition of the land. In most metro areas, including the Denver Metro Region, there are very strict guidelines that restrict what you can build, how large the property can be, and what permits and fees you need to build. For home building, you want an area zoned for residential living, usually single-family, duplex, or one that is dual residential and agricultural. Zoning guidelines will differ from county to county and city to city, so you’ll have to do research for that municipality, county, and even the individual neighborhood- in addition to any environmental issues, which may be handled by the state or federal governments. 

Property Boundaries and Buildability

Additionally, you’ll want to look at the access and boundaries associated with a given lot. You want to make sure that the lot offers up the access you need. The nature of access to the property is a double-edged sword, it can provide you with all of the utilitarian and aesthetic benefits you need, but it also might create unwanted limitations- so review the lot carefully. In particular, you want to look at the condition of the road, whether it is paved or gravel, or what is required if you are responsible to install the road. You’ll also want to look for any easements or deeded rights of way across adjacent properties. Property information on the country or city websites are good resources to check. 

Most of all, you want to make sure that your prospective lot is suitable to live on- common problems that can arise include soil conditions (which we will cover below), hilly or rocky terrain, flood plain limitations, and any site development requirements that could impact the budget significantly.

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 2: Vetting Custom Home Builders

In the same way that you vet prospective lots on which to build, you’ve also got to take a serious look at any builder that you’re thinking of hiring for your project. Not only are you entrusting them with all aspects of your home build project, but you’ll also be working with them extensively throughout the process. There are several different ways that you can vet a custom home builder, including looking at their:



-Recent Projects

-Home Quality

-Value Offered

-Awards Won

-Past Client Testimonials

-Their Building Process

-Any Competitive Advantages

-Their Level of Customer Service

-Marketing Efforts and Campaigns

For an in-depth look at how you can properly vet your prospective custom home builder, check out this article: How Do You Find A Custom Home Builder (The 8 Most Important Things You Need To Know)

A Home Mini Golf Course With Wood Kitchen Counter

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 3: Vetting the Estimate

As part of the process of interviewing a builder, you’ll receive a rough estimate of the total cost of the project. Remember that estimates are “best guesses” based on the concept you present to the builder, intended to provide you with the information you need to help you make an informed decision on the project’s feasibility. With that being said, there are several categories that should be included in a thorough and sophisticated custom home estimate, including:

-The cost of the land/lot

-The scope and features of the home

-What is included in the price

-What is not included in the price 

-Building, labor, and materials costs

-Specs, if known

-Site work and utility costs (tap fees, electric and gas laterals, etc)

-Permitting and use tax fees

-Unknown costs

-Any industry volatility or supply chain issues to report 

If you’re interested in receiving a sophisticated estimate for the custom home you envision, we’re happy to assist you with determining project feasibility. Click this link to reach out to Thomas Sattler Homes today.

For a comprehensive guide to build costs in the Denver region for custom construction, check out FAQ On Home Building In Denver in 2022 (The 10 Most Important Custom Home Building Questions)

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 4: Start With a Soil Report and Survey

The state of your soil is an important starting point in your custom home building process. Since it will affect the actual build itself, it is important to get it right. Soil testing identifies the composition of the soil and determines the engineering required to safely support a foundation. The soil report will help the builder factor in the type of foundation needed in an initial estimate. It will also drive the engineering plans and is often submitted for building permits as well. 

Colorado Soils and Home Building 

The soil in the high-plains desert of Colorado can vary from nutrient-rich to sandy clay, depending on the location. For building, the soil’s potential for movement is the point of concern. High clay content soil will expand as moisture is absorbed, causing an uplift or effect. Also known as swelling soil, this soil can significantly damage foundations that are not specifically engineered to deal with its properties. 

To solve this problem, suspended structural slab foundations are poured over deeply drilled caissons, usually 30 to 40+ feet deep into bedrock, securing the home in place. This way, the uplifting soil pushes up into an empty cavity below the home, instead of pushing up into the home itself. You’ll find expansive soils throughout Colorado’s Eastern Plains and the Front Range. Learn more from the Colorado Geological Survey on expansive soil here

Who tests custom home lot soil?

A professional soil engineer performs soil testing for many applications. You can find a soil engineer on your own or have your builder coordinate the soil testing and report. Soil engineers, also known as geotechnical engineers, have relevant degrees in civil engineering and must hold licenses in the state of Colorado. They’re signed and sealed reports with their recommendations are required before any engineering plans can begin design. We do a deeper dive on soils here.

Why is a survey needed to get started?

In addition to establishing the legal boundaries of the property, the builder and architect will need the survey with topographical data to begin the design work. This important information will reveal things like the slope and grade of a lot, which help determine if a walk-out basement or garden level windows are achievable or not, or how many retaining walls may be needed. Topo lines will also help orient the home and determine the elevations for drainage around the home. The survey will outline the building envelope that the home’s footprint must within, per the zoning setback requirements. Typically the survey is ordered with the soils report, often times by the builder.

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 5: Cost Control & Designer Help

Benchmark Estimates

When a builder provides benchmark estimates at various project milestones, they help maintain cost control and give you a clearer snapshot of the budget as the project progresses. For instance, if an estimate is run after the architectural design and it comes in higher than expected, that is the time for the builder and architect to revise the plan, lowering the build cost back to budget. In this example, if the builder did not run an estimate at this stage and proceeded to engineer the plans, the unexpected cost increases would surface down the road, when it’s too late to change anything without adding significant expense and losing valuable time.

What is Cost Control?

The term “cost control” refers to the practice of locating and lowering related expenses to the construction of a property, including custom homes. Cost control is critical to keeping a project on budget and completing it as planned. Frequent purchasing tracking and allowance updates should be part of your builder’s cost control system. When costs have run over in a particular category, for example, interior trim, then the builder should provide value engineering recommendations. The target of value engineering is to weigh the cost-benefit of an item and maximize the value for the cost -not just cutting costs by deleting items. 

It may seem easy to manage your budget costs, but it’s very common to see custom home clients finish the design phase with a much higher projected cost than they expected. Building can be emotional, and sometimes one can get carried away with desire for various features, finishes, and materials that were not anticipated initially. Scope creep is a risk, but it’s something you can avoid with proper planning, discipline, and listening to your builder’s cautionary voice of reason. By leveraging the expertise of your home builder, you can learn how much each part of the project will realistically cost, and adjust your vision for the property accordingly. 

Designer Expertise

Homebuilding is a science, but it’s also an art. Particularly in the custom home space, where clients are able to tailor design and finishes as they desire. When building your custom home, you’ve got a wealth of options to choose from, and you’re only limited by your imagination- and your budget. While you may be artistically inclined, it will still help to utilize the services of a professional designer. A seasoned designer will be able to quickly define the style and look you are after, then begin to narrow the available options from what can otherwise be an overwhelming universe of choices. In addition to recommending best practices for massing balance, color blocking, contrast, and other design principles, your designer will help guide you to stay within your selection allowances budget provided by your builder. This is an important key to cost control in the selections process.

When you build with Thomas Sattler Homes, you will collaborate with our professional designers to guide you through all aspects of the selections process. This is included in our services at no additional charge, as it’s immensely helpful in marrying your selections choices to your budget.

See our award-winning showroom known as the Experience Center, where we centralize your selections with your designer.

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 6: Understand Contract Pros and Cons

When you’re building a custom home, it’s imperative that you understand the difference between a fixed-price contract and a cost-plus contract. Fixed-price contracts offer up a solid roadmap for project completion, with the aim of guaranteeing your costs prior to the start of construction. Cost-plus contracts, on the other hand, are based on building expense estimates, with the final cost remaining unknown. 

Cost-Plus Contract Defined

With a cost-plus contract, homeowners pay for labor, the building cost of materials, as well as a percentage fee on top which represents the contractor’s profit. Contractors will offer the homeowner an estimate prior to beginning work, but you need to keep in mind that the contractor’s profit will grow proportionally with expenses. This means that if work takes longer, and costs increase way over budget, the builder earns even more. In the wrong situation, your costs can grow significantly with this type of contract, with no incentive to the builder for cost control or budget accountability – so be aware.

Fixed-Price Contract Defined

On the other hand, fixed-price contracts are predetermined, including the final cost of building, which will also include any profit made by the builder. It’s the simplest and most popular form of construction contract for custom homes and is preferred by the lenders who will likely be financing all or part of your project. As opposed to a cost-plus contract, the builder won’t estimate but will create an accurate budget based on a defined plan for your new home construction. 

Fixed-price contracts allow you to determine your final construction cost by identifying and locking-in prices before construction actually begins. Any costs that may be experiencing volatility by market forces, like lumber, are usually put on allowances, acting as a debit-credit to the budget. Similarly, design selection categories will be put on allowance as well, subject to the homeowner’s discipline to the budget. Successful builders will use numbers from recent projects and work closely with their vendor partners and subcontractors to dial in accurate estimates for every facet of the project.

Custom Home Building Guide Tip 7: Make Time to Save Time

By investing time up front in the early phase of the project to thoroughly plan out details, you will start properly prepared and save time by avoiding costly mistakes.

Focus on creating the most detailed and accurate program outline possible.

Proper preparation is key when it comes to the pre-construction phase. Well-written design docs will notate the home’s design elements, style, materials, finishes, and features that you the homeowner want. These detailed notes and your inspirational photos of design, features and finishes comprise the program outline your builder will be estimating from and the set the baseline for your designer and the architect. Knowing this information upfront will help your build team to anticipate implementing your wish list and avoid cascades of change orders later on.

Take time to review the plans in detail and think them through.

During the architectural design process, you will collaborate with the builder and the architect to design every space of your home, from the interior to the exterior. This is the ideal time to slow down and review the plan in detail. Take the time to think through what daily life would be like in that home. You may find some elements are impractical, some spaces may be too big, or too small. This is the window to make revisions to the home plans, not during construction. 

Identify potential site development challenges.

Before you break ground, your build team needs to examine any possible site development issues that may end up with a change order down the road. Your goal should be to minimize these where possible, and if you can’t, develop a plan, like placing an expected but unknown cost on an allowance. This way, the cost can be accounted for in the loan, instead of an out-of-pocket change order. A baked-in contingency amount in the loan or budget is a good idea for any unknown expenses that could be encountered, like suddenly digging into a rock vein during excavation. This will not only help save you money, and time, it will help you sleep easier knowing you’re prepared for any eventuality.

Choose Selections Early On

For better or worse, building a home is a long-term process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your new luxury/custom home. However, a savvy builder will direct you to begin choosing selections with the designer early on, usually during the architectural design phase. This way, once the selections are decided, the builder can begin factoring those quotes into the benchmark estimate to make sure the chosen selections are within the budgeted allowances.

You can speed up the process by going in knowing what style and features you want, and then by being decisive. To ensure things move smoothly, prepare inspirational images of finishes you like. Things like the materials you plan to use, and any special features, colors, themes, or types of fixtures that you want. Being decisive and having a clear understanding of what you want will make the process go much smoother and will give your designer and builder the ability to plan ahead and help ensure the success of your project. Don’t second guess yourself!

Make Decisions Up Front to Avoid Change Orders

This brings us to our next point. As much as you can, try to make decisions upfront to avoid change orders down the line. Custom build change orders can end up costing you a lot of time and money once the project is underway. Obviously, things happen, some ideas come late, and you may need to make changes regardless, but you want to do as much as you can to avoid this through careful planning in the pre-construction stages. 

Change orders can tax the build team’s bandwidth, add time to the schedule, and increase costs. For these reasons, a change order fee is usually assessed, intended to keep change orders to a minimum. There are a few ways that you can avoid change orders prior to the start of construction.

A Kitchen Counter With White Marble Counter

Custom Home Building Guide Tips 8: Communicate With Your Builder

Throughout this entire process, you’re going to want to maintain regular communication with your builder- ideally once a week or more. It goes without saying that you’re probably busy, with work, family, or social events, but the only way you’re going to build the home of your dreams, without cost overruns, and on time, is with clear communication before and during your custom home build construction project. 

There should never be a time during the project where you feel like a bystander or onlooker. You want to be “in the loop” when it comes to new developments and knowing what is going on with your project. To do this you’ll want to receive weekly status updates from your builder, either through email, phone, text, portal or a combination of the four. The key is remembering that you need to be an active participant in the process. There are milestones that your builder will need your collaboration on for some of the fine-tuning that happens on-site during walk-throughs and problem solving. Your builder should set realistic expectations and be accountable to you throughout the project, which only comes from clear communication. 

Custom Home Building Guide Tips 9: Finalize AV Before Framing

Audio, video and automation setups are a must-have for a modern custom luxury home these days. Some client’s taste is more simple -sound in some areas, a surround sound setup, TV and internet in bedrooms and some security sensors or cameras. While others opt for full-home automation with lighting, climate, security, motorized shades, specialty speakers, and so  much more. These components need to be wired and framed prior to the framing being closed in with insulation and drywall in a new build. Some examples include;

-Recessed speakers

-Cavity for hidden video displays behind a mirror

-Cavity for motorized shades

-Cavity for hidden drop screens or projects

-Speakers hidden in the wall

-Compartments for hiding equipment stacks

In most cases, you’re going to meet with a low voltage A/V provider early on in the build to firm up specs and wiring design, typically during the architecture design phase. Then you’ll join the builder and A/V provider for a walk-through before insulation and drywall for any final field adjustments if needed.

Custom Home Building Guide Tips 10: Stay Engaged Onsite

Onsite Walkthroughs

Any builder worth their salt will schedule regular milestone site walkthroughs with customers. They will do this for several reasons, including keeping the customer informed of the build, and creating an opportunity for the client to get a feel for the progress and ask any questions about the build. Additionally, customers have the ability to make some on-site decisions on various items- like adding electrical outlets, or fine-tuning the framing or drywall detail on special features. Perhaps most importantly, it provides an opportunity for the builder to show that they are being accountable to the agreed-upon schedule.

Keep in mind that this does not mean clients can show up whenever they want. Each visit needs to be scheduled in advance, not only for safety and liability reasons, but also to ensure that work flows smoothly and the builder, contractors, and subcontractors are not slowed down or otherwise inconvenienced by the client showing up at random times. In many cases, builders will schedule walkthroughs at specific milestones during the project, including:

-During/after the foundation is backfilled

-At the end of framing

-During electrical/low voltage install

-At the beginning of the punch list

-After the punch list is completed, at closing when the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is issued

Punchlist Collaboration

In simple terms, a custom home construction punch list is a list of items towards the end that need to be completed before a construction project is completely finished. Builders and their subcontractors track these “to-dos” on a punch list to make sure that they’re able to complete each item, ideally on time and at or under budget. 

For example, let’s say you’re near the finish line for your custom new build in your community, but you’ve still got a couple of loose ends to tie up before you can put the project in the books and move into your new dream home. It’s not always easy to keep track of every single item, particularly if you’re not well-versed in the construction industry, as many clients undoubtedly aren’t. You can use your own list of tasks, aka a punch list, to compare notes with the builder and double-check that each item is completed before closing. This is usually a site walk with the builder’s superintendent or project manager and the homeowner, to identify and discuss the remaining items to be completed. Once all outstanding items have been finished, the homeowner will verify and sign off on a final site walk.

An Office Space With Grey Cupboard One

Taking the Next Steps in Your Custom Home Build

If you follow the steps listed in this Custom Home Building Guide you should be well on the way to making your custom luxury dream home a reality. Patience and planning will get you far. 

However, finding a trusted local home builder is just as important. Firms like Thomas Sattler Homes will not only deliver world-class results on time but will also act as a steady hand to guide you through the entire process- taking care of the little details and ensuring that you’re able to move into the home of your dreams, on budget and on schedule. 

If you still have any questions about the custom home building process in and around Denver, reach out to a member of our team today for a no-pressure, no-hassle consultation. You can also check out our blog linked below for a comprehensive deep dive into many other facets of the custom and luxury home building process. 

How Much Does It Cost To Build A Home In Denver?  

FAQ On Home Building In Denver in 2022: The 10 Most Important Custom Home Building Questions

How Do You Find A Custom Home Builder (The 8 Most Important Things You Need To Know)

Is Building A Custom Home Worth It (The 7 Reasons Why It is, They Will Surprise You)

Best Locations To Build In Colorado