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What Should Come First, the Drawing Designs or the Budget?

blog / October 17, 2016

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All of Your Dreams Can Come True, For The Right Price

By Ryan Siebert

When planning to build your dream home, you will likely find yourself at a fork in the road between designing your dream set of house plans, and planning your budget out.  Before you give the thumbs up to your architect on the third level finished basketball court, you may want to consider a few things.
Unless you found a magic bucket with an endless supply of cash you likely have a budget inside of your head that you want to spend for your customized new construction home.  Your builder and architect that you may be looking to use can do their best to guide you in the right direction to help you meet your budget.  However, some people do not want to lay down their cards on their budget up front.  It makes sense, if you want to spend $1.5 million, you may not want to let your builder know it up front, until you trust them.  On the other hand a builder with a lifetime full of experience most likely can’t predict your end budget until they have the time to correctly review your drawings from your architect.  If your architect doesn’t know you have a budget, you may end up designing something that could cost closer to $2.5 million and you could end up paying a LOT of money for a set of drawings that you have no use for.  At some point you will have to step up and make a decision.  Before you do there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Understand Builders Bidding Process – As you start your research for a potential builder asking them questions about their “cost per square foot” won’t get you the information that you need to make an educated decision.  Their cost per square foot of a home with basic finishes and a bland front elevation may end up being half as much as the uniquely designed, handcrafted, marble encased, double island, 12 ft ceiling basement home that you plan to design.  The important thing that you should understand is how your builder develops their budget.  In a more direct way, how is your builder going to get paid?  If they are planning to give you a “hard” bid, then you may not be privy to the cost of each room or detail throughout the house.  This could affect your ability to make the final decision on upgrades, or change orders once the project starts.  A “cost plus” bid will be more detailed to show you where your money is spent.  Your builder will be making money at an agreed upon percentage above and beyond the project costs (10-20%).  You typically have more clarity, with a cost plus bid, so you will have the ability to know when it is ok to splurge or not.  It is important to know this upfront so you can determine how involved your builder needs to be with your architectural drawings to help determine the final budget early, versus after you have already developed the plans.


  • All Architects Are Not the Same – The old saying is true, you will pay for what you get.  Developing a custom set of plans can be a basic plan set with just enough details for the plans to pass the permit review.  It can also be so detailed that the plans themselves will have details on how to install each piece of trim, and each handcrafted piece of molding throughout the interior and exterior of the home.  Sinking $200,000.00 into a set of plans versus only $10,000.00 will result in a detailed plan set, which will increase your budget to build the house.  The more details that your architect provides, the more work it is for your builder and subcontractors to review, and put the home and bid together.  The obvious positive of paying for detailed drawings is that you will have no question as to the final design of your home, decisions can be made on finish work before ground is even broken.  


  • Teams Play Better Together – If after talking with multiple builders and architects you find yourself wanting to pick an architect and a builder that have never worked with each other make sure they take time to meet each other.  The last thing that you want to find out is your builder and architect are not on the same page or have a problem with communicating with each other.  It is much easier to work with a team that has experience working with each other.  This way there are few questions as to the architect’s design ideas and your builder won’t miss out on the details provided in the plan set.  If you are paying a premium for your plan set, do not be afraid to have your architect review your contract from your builder to assure all details in the plans have been included in your bid, so you can avoid change order costs down the road.  


After you have done your due diligence make sure you have your financial house in order before you invest money into your custom home design.  Builders and your architect will want to know that you have the ability to follow through with the project.  If it is possible have your builder and architect talk through design options so you can put together a budget with them that fits your budget and gives your family all that you are looking for in your custom designed home.  Believe it or not the roller coaster ride of emotions that you will go through to design your dream home, and get the budget to the level you want it is just one of many you will have during the process of building your dream home.  Do your best to keep communication open with the professionals that you choose and make sure they can explain and keep you informed.  Communication will be the key to making your home building process seem like a ferris wheel ride rather than a roller coaster ride with twists and turns.