Custom Homes

Building Your Custom Dream Home
Now that you’re relocating to the San Antonio area, it might be time to consider building a custom home. One good reason is that you can build a larger house with many extras at an affordable cost, particularly compared to building costs on either coast. A regional advantage is that due to our temperate weather, building takes place year around. 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 home building options, which will provide you with built-in community amenities and features.

First, you’ll need to do some research. If you already have a Realtor, he or she can help by recommending a custom builder. You can also visit the Greater San Antonio Builders Association (www.sabuilders.com), click on Find a Builder and select the county and community where you’ll find lists of custom home builders. 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 – brick, Texas limestone or other materials.

Another great way for San Antonio residents to begin the custom-home building process is to visit the Greater San Antonio Builders Association New Home Information Center. Located at 3625 Paesanos Parkway, it’s a one-stop shop for consumers to pick up a variety of brochures and information on San Antonio’s area builders, communities and developments. It can also serve as a centralized meeting location for the builder and consumer to meet and discuss their future home plans. The New Home Information Center is open to the public from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday - Friday. For more information, visit the association’s website or call (210) 696-3800.

Getting Started
When you hear the word “custom” associated with the home building 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 a variety of different levels of custom home builders in the San Antonio area. There’s still the full-time, custom home builder who builds a few homes each year. There are higher-volume builders, who will customize a home by moving walls or adding square footage. 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, such as built-in cabinetry, granite countertops, crown molding or finished basements. Custom features, however, are very personal. What one homeowner likes, another may abhor. So the added value literally is in the eye of the beholder. This is one reason why most builders will ask for you to pay for custom features up front.

By expanding the definitions and boundaries of custom home building, builders have given home buyers 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 these four important steps at the beginning of the process.

How to Select the Right Custom Home Builder
As part of your search to find a quality home builder, consider these basic requirements.

Be sure the builder has an established track record and a good reputation in the community. Ask for names and numbers of other clients and call them to ask about their experience with the builder. Is the builder a member of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association? Call the Better Business Bureau to determine if there are any complaints against a builder. Usually, a clean record is a very good sign.

Does the prospective builder offer a variety of floor plans and do they match your expectations? That is important as choice is one of the main reasons why you’re building a custom home and not a tract house. The builder should also be able to adapt the floor plan to the topography of your lot.

Is the builder active with multiple projects? This is a good sign and indicates he has buying power, which can result in 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 could coordinate your cabinetry and other options. He shouldn’t be too busy, however, that he’s spread too thin.

Look for a good warranty program. The structural integrity of your home is an extremely important aspect, and you will want certain elements of it 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.

— Custom Builder vs. Production Builder
What are the differences between custom and production home building companies? Here’s a quick run-down from the National Association of Home Builders on how to differentiate the two.
Custom home builders generally:
  • Build on land you own. Some custom builders also build on land they own.
  • Build one-of-a-kind houses. A custom home is a site-specific home built from a unique set of plans for a specific client. Some custom builders may offer design/build services.
  • Build single-family homes.
  • Are generally small-volume builders (those that build 25 or fewer homes a year).
  • Tend to build high-end homes.
Production home builders generally:
  • Build on land they own.
  • Tend to use stock plans, but usually offer a variety of plan choices and options.
  • Build all types of housing – single-family, condos, town houses, and rental properties.
  • Are large-volume builders (those that build more than 25 homes a year).
  • Generally build for all price points – entry level, move up, luxury, etc.

— Choose a Lot
By choosing your builder first, you get the benefit of his or her assistance as you make decisions about the lot, the architect and the financing. Have the builder evaluate the lot you’re considering and comment on its appropriateness for the home you have in mind. Working with your builder to select the right lot can help ensure you don’t discover any unexpected problems or costly modifications that need to be made to it before you start building. Involving your builder up front can also prevent you from overspending on the lot, building type or size of home you were planning.

— Design Plans
Most architects are happy to include builders in the planning process. The design/build team of owner, builder and architect allow all three to comment during the design phase and make innovative suggestions. Your builder can be extremely helpful to you as the plans are being drawn; commenting on construction details and costs to help keep the home within your budget parameters.

— Research Financing Options
Once you’ve selected a builder, the lot and the architectural plans, you’ll need a construction/permanent loan in order to finance their dream home. The banks will reserve the right to approve the builder you choose. Many banks offer loans that initially finance the lot and construction and then convert automatically to a mortgage loan. These construction/permanent loans have made it very easy to finance a custom home. Some custom builders may be willing to purchase the lot for you. When the home is completed, you can roll the amount of the home and lot into your mortgage. With some research, careful planning and a little know-how, building your dream home can become a reality.

What to Expect During the Building Process
If this is your first custom home building experience, it’s important to know the steps involved in the process. Once your lot has been cleared, and it’s time to begin the construction of your new house, there is a sequence of events that will involve you. By embracing the project and being aware of the steps, you will be a participant and not an outsider. This information is from the custom home building resource, Custom Home Key.

— Laying the Foundation
There are several different approaches to foundation; basement foundation is the most common. Other techniques include slab-foundation and pole and pier foundations. Slab-foundation is common in areas where soil conditions are not suitable for a basement. Pole and pier foundations are a necessity in areas such as coastal states, where homes are sometimes built either partially over water or in floodplains.

If you chose any kind of basement foundation, you will likely see a crew arrive on site first. They will begin by digging a hole that is larger than the foundation to accommodate workers doing their job around the foundation forms. Poured concrete is the most common basement foundation method, but treated wood, brick or concrete blocks are also used. It all depends on your location and soil type. With poured concrete, you’ll see the foundation forms go up and reinforcing bars go into the forms. You will also see openings being marked for windows and utilities.

After the concrete is poured into the forms, anchor bolts are placed into the still-soft mixture. These bolts are responsible for securing the exterior walls to the foundation. Once the concrete hardens sufficiently and the forms are removed, you will probably see waterproofing measures being taken. Such measures include an impermeable membrane or asphalt coating being applied to the foundation wall to prevent water from seeping in. After the waterproofing measures have been done, the surrounding soil is backfilled against the exterior of the foundation wall.

— Constructing the Framing
Framing is the next step of the building process. Floors are framed first and then the walls. If you have a basement foundation you will notice a subfloor will be installed first. Subfloors consist of joists with 4’ x 8’ flooring material nailed or screwed to the joists. If you have a slab foundation, the exterior walls will be mounted directly on the slab.

The framing stage provides a glimpse of the future shape of your home. In many ways, framing is the skeleton of your home. You will see holes for windows and doors appear in the building’s envelope and the interior will begin to show its form as well. The interior walls and closets will be framed within.

Framing follows an upward progression. The walls of the first floor are framed, then the second floor and the second set of walls (if there is a second floor), and lastly the roof. Roof trusses are placed on top of the walls and then linked to the exterior walls by metal straps. Next they are tied in to each other by 2 x 4s. Roof sheathing, usually 4 x 8 sheets of plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), is nailed to the roof trusses. This provides a deck on which the roofing material can be fastened.

— Installing the Roofing
When it comes to roofing, an additional step is needed for those that live in colder regions. For colder regions, the first thing to go down on the roof deck is an adhesive, impermeable membrane, which is placed along all the eaves. This membrane prevents ice-dam-trapped water from backing up under the shingles during the winter. It costs more than asphalt paper or roofers felt, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run. Once it is put into place, asphalt paper is applied to the rest of the deck.

Roof covering is the next step. Asphalt shingles are most common. They are designed to last 25 or 30 years, although longer-lasting (thicker) shingles are available. Additional roof-covering choices include clay tiles, slate, cedar shakes and sheet metal. Prices will vary among them.

— Putting Exterior Trim in Place
Now that we have the skeleton of the home in place, its time to give the home some skin! Exterior trim is the home’s skin. This step is often performed while the roofers are still carrying out their duties on the roof. The same sheathing material that is used on the roof is used to cover the bare exterior framing studs. At this time, a vapor barrier is stapled to the sheathing to help prevent moisture and air from seeping in and rotting the studs. This is also when the windows and doors are installed, as well as fascia boards and soffit boards.
Exterior cladding is the next step in the exterior trim process. This could be cedar siding, stucco, brick, stone, vinyl or cement fiber siding. Once the cladding is up, gutters can be installed. Keep in mind; it’s a good idea to wait until the roof is complete before you begin installing the gutters. You wouldn’t want a workers ladder to ruin your new gutter system.

— Mechanical Systems
The mechanical systems include your heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. They are better known as your HVAC systems. This procedure is completed in two steps, the first being worse then the second. The first step requires the workers to install the internal components that will be hidden once your house is complete. These components include your house’s water pipes, ducts and wiring. The second step is when the subcontractors return at a later date and time to install the light and water fixtures and heat registers.

— Insulating the Home
Insulation is a huge step in the building process, and it plays an important role in the comfort of your home, not to mention energy savings. This step requires the exterior wall cavities between the studs to be filled with whatever type of insulation you specify. Popular choices include fiberglass batts and blown cellulose, but a growing number of home builders are using foam insulation as well.

For those of you interested in “Green Building”, there are environmentally friendly insulation choices. A popular environmentally friendly insulation choice includes UltraTouch, a batt-type insulation made from reclaimed cotton. Other choices include insulation made from newspaper and low-density concrete.

— Putting up Drywall
It is now time for the drywall. Drywall is hung or nailed to your interior walls and ceilings, providing more structure to your home. After the drywall is hung, you will notice the builders spreading a thin, fibrous tape over the seams between the sheets. Joint compound is then spread over the tape. Typically, about three coats of the compound is applied, allowed to dry and sanded smooth before the walls are ready for the final step.
It is now your turn to decide what kind of walls you want. For example, do you want to paint, wallpaper or apply a textured effect to your walls? If you aren’t going to paint or wallpaper, then now is the time where you can have a texture applied to your walls as a nice finishing touch.

— Putting Interior Trim in Place
Interior trim begins with your doors. Lengths of trim wood are applied to the outside edges of the door openings and base molding pieces are applied to the walls where they meet the floor. Crown moldings cover the walls where they meet the ceiling. Once the doors trims are finished, other trim needs such as stair rails and fireplace mantels are installed.

— Painting and Staining
We are now approaching the final steps to the completion of your new home. It is now time for the painting and staining processes. Any trim pieces that were installed unfinished can be painted or stained and any untextured walls can be painted or wallpapered. Be sure to prepare all of the areas that you plan to paint or stain. Sometimes the drywallers leave compound joint on the walls and it should be filed down before you paint or stain.

— Finish Work
The end is almost in sight! It is now time to bring in your beautiful kitchen and bath cabinets and maybe that granite countertop you’ve always wanted. The tiles, the carpet, the blinds and curtains, the appliances, the furniture and all the other aesthetic touches are now finding a place within your new walls. This is also the time when the subcontractors come back to install the heat registers, light fixtures and water fixtures.

— Cleanup and Landscape
The final steps include your driveway and/or sidewalk being installed, the landscape being created and the process of clean-up beginning. Try saving a few bucks and tackling the clean-up on your own. This process can be made easy if you call your garbage company and have them drop off one of those oversized trash receptacles to throw away any remaining debris that you find.

Green Building Tips
People everywhere are beginning to understand the importance of recycling. Some are consistent about separating brown and green glassware, saving the cans, bagging the newspapers and rinsing out empty milk cartons before carelessly disposing of their collection. Many even choose appliances and products for their homes that are environmentally friendly.

However, most people don’t realize that the opportunity to live in an earth-friendly home begins before the day the builder even breaks ground. It’s becoming increasingly popular for builders to minimize and recycle job-site waste during the building process. Furthermore, builders are trying to use building products made partially or completely from recycled materials. Whether you call it environmentally friendly, green or ecological, the interest to build new homes with Mother Earth in mind is growing. Choosing the right building materials can make your home more environmentally friendly and economical to maintain.

If you are in the market for having a new house built, you can easily limit the toll your building project takes on the environment with a few conscious thoughts. Start by carefully selecting your building materials. Products made partially or completely from recycled products are now available and they can be used on the foundation, the framing, the rafters and much more. Below are some examples of products that are now recycled and used in the home.
  • Ceramic tile is being made from old light bulbs.
  • Carpeting is being made from recycled soda bottles.
  • Interior wallboard is being made from newspaper and gypsum.
  • Recycled concrete is used for drywall.
  • Newspaper is being used to make insulation.
  • Reclaimed cotton is being used for insulation.
  • Sheep’s wool is being used for carpet.
  • Decking materials can include recycled milk cartons.
  • Low-density concrete can be recycled and used for insulation.
  • Paint is being made from old paint.
  • Shake shingles are being made from aluminum cans and nails from melted-down cars.
  • Fly ash from burned coal can be used to make concrete.
  • Bricks can be made of tightly compacted earth, clay and straw.
  • Linoleum is a natural flooring covering material made up of linseed oil, resins and wood flour.
  • Steel is 100 percent recyclable and an extremely durable building material.

It’s important to pay close attention to the price of some of these products. Sometimes the cost of these materials can be significantly higher than their non-environmentally friendly counterparts. Do your research beforehand and choose the right building materials without adding to the cost of construction.

In addition to “green” building products, another important consideration is waste disposal. Reducing waste at the job site benefits the environment. The materials used and wasted during construction and demolition account for an estimated 28 percent of municipal solid waste. Waste disposal can also account for a significant portion of building fees. By simply reducing and recycling job-site waste you can save an outstanding amount of money.

Home Warranties
As with any product, your home should come with a warranty. A warranty will prevent any unpleasant surprises in the first years after your move-in. When having your home built, in a development or on your own land, you will need to be familiar with builders’ warranties. Other warranties associated with a new home include contractors’ warranties, manufacturers’ warranties and third-party insurance coverage to back the builders’ warranties. The information below from Custom Home Key, a custom building resource, focuses on builders’ warranties.

— What’s covered and for how long?
Generally, builders’ warranties will cover such things as workmanship, materials and structural defects. When having a home built, the warranty will take effect either when you close the sale or when you move into the home. The majority of builders’ warranties cover workmanship and materials for one year, however, some builders offer warranties for two years or longer. Structural defects, such as uneven floors and cracks in the foundation, are usually covered for up to 10 years.

Choosing a reputable builder will make your warranty period a much more pleasant experience. Even the most skillful builder will make some mistakes during the construction of your home, but a reputable builder will be sure to fix any problems that are covered by the warranty and while your warranty is still in effect. If you are experiencing minor defects, your builder will probably address them at scheduled times.
In addition, most manufacturers provide a warranty for the products or appliances used in new homes. At the time of closing, you will receive these warranties and owner’s manuals.

— What isn’t covered?
Builders’ warranties generally leave out problems caused by adverse weather, negligence or failure to conduct proper maintenance. Basically, such things as damage caused from lightning, floods and earthquakes are not covered. Animal damage also falls under this category. Furthermore, if you forget to change your furnace filter or repaint your home’s exterior then your builder will not be held responsible. Keep in mind, any defects that arise in items that were not part of the original home will not be excluded under the warranty coverage.

— Warranty claims
When problems arise, your builder may prefer that you call him or her so that specific needs can be addressed. However, in some cases, your builder(s) will give you a list of contractors and their telephone numbers to call directly in the case of an emergency.

Emergencies would include plumbing leaks, gas leaks and the total loss of heat, air conditioning, water or electricity. Also, roof leaks are sometimes considered emergencies, but they can only be repaired in dry weather.

Keep in mind, severe storms may cause roof damage, but that should be reported directly to your homeowner’s insurance company because weather-related damage usually isn’t covered under builders’ warranties.

Be sure to report all defects that aren’t emergencies to the builder. The builder will schedule the necessary repairs and use the complaint to monitor product quality and customer satisfaction. On the other hand, if you notice major structural problems such as uneven floors, cracks in the foundation or drywall, or ill-fitting doors and windows, you should contact your builder immediately to arrange an inspection. These problems can be costly and time-consuming to fix.

Overall, you should now that all warranties have limits. Be sure to ask about the standards to which the builder will adhere when determining the validity of warranty repair requests. You should understand and make good use of your warranty coverage because it is a major part of your home care plan.

Don’t Forget Landscaping!
It’s not uncommon that by the time a custom home is completed, the funds have run out for landscaping. That’s a shame because the landscaping on your property is important. Especially in Texas, trees can provide shade benefits to keep your home cool during the hot summers. Then there’s the resale value – some surveys have put this increased value in the range of 10 to 15 percent. In addition to shade, trees can produce food, firewood or just a beautiful scene. They can also attract birds and other wildlife.

Work with an expert who can help you select tree species that are native to the region and will thrive under local conditions. By planting trees that grow naturally in your area, you can be pretty sure they will be successful. Consult a local nursery for suggestions on trees that will thrive where you live.

Location on your property is another important consideration. Choose spots with adequate sunlight and water, and make sure the trees are protected from possible pests. A mesh fence can do much to prevent animals from injuring your saplings. Try to estimate how long the tree will take to become fully grown and what the tree will look like at full size.

Trees are most vulnerable in their first years of life and should be tended with special care. Newly planted trees should be watered deeply and on a regular basis. Allowing a hose to drip at the base of a tree for several hours will permit the water to soak deep into the soil and encourage deep rooting. This will give the tree a better chance of surviving drought.

Many personal decisions go into tree planting. In areas with hot summers and cold winters it is best to plant deciduous trees. These trees will provide shade in the summer but will allow desired sunlight to pass through in the colder months. Some trees are better than others for providing a buffer against noise and unwanted views. Also, personal expectations should be considered.
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