Choosing Custom or Semi-Custom Builder

Planning for a new home can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many builders to choose. One of the biggest decisions you’ll find on this trek is whether to work with a smaller custom home builder or a higher-volume production or semi-custom builder.

Both types of manufacturers are great options, and each can deliver a beautiful new home for you. How many choices and how much design input during your home’s construction process will weigh heavily in your builder choice.

The difference between a production builder and a custom builder is relatively straightforward.

A production builder simultaneously builds many homes based on a limited selection of home plans. You will get to select from several options and personalize your home by selecting products such as appliances, cabinets, countertops and flooring. Most builders also offer variations in bedrooms, dining rooms or a study.

A custom builder typically creates a one-of-a-kind home that provides an even greater range of design choices and is built on a single lot. Buyers who wish to have a more distinctive home on a location of their choosing with a more hands-on approach will often select a custom builder.

The differences between custom and production builders will help determine what product and design choices you’ll make and also shape how you and your builder will work together.

In Colorado, particularly in medium to large cities, production builder’s account for most new homes built. In other areas more rural or mountain properties, custom homes comprise a much greater share of new homes. Here’s what you can expect from both builders:

Production Builders

Typically you’ll find two types of production builders: locally based/regional firms and national companies.

Locally based production builders construct homes in multiple new home communities in a particular city or region. National builders build hundreds or even thousands of homes per year in the major master-planned communities throughout the country. Both local and national builders typically offer 2 or 3 Series of homes in broad price ranges from low to higher priced plans. Within the Series, various projects are ranging from low to higher prices. Each Series also offers many options to choose from so that you can personalize your home.

Most production home builders:

  • Offer home and land as a package. Better and larger lot locations add a “Premium” price.
  • Offer a range of home styles, and elevation plans to choose.
  • Allow you to select their distinctive style/designs from a menu in their “Series” products.
  • Build homes priced for first-time, move-up and luxury buyers.

A production builder delivers the same size home for less money than a custom builder. The volume purchasing power when buying building materials and land with a systematized approach to construction make for a more affordable price.

Purchasing and zoning the right type of land is a big part of a production builder’s strategy. Many large developers construct homes in larger, master-planned communities. A production builder’s scale and access to a huge number of lots allow them to develop enormous neighborhoods and to fine-tune production for greater efficiency.

Higher volume builders can also pass on cost savings to you. They can use their size to order materials for hundreds of homes at a time, often at lower prices.

In addition to using size to generate cost savings, production builders are focused on quality. The top companies deliver carefully designed, highly engineered, solidly built homes with components and systems that are designed and optimized to work together. With up-to-date, appropriately sized heating and cooling systems, these new homes are much more energy efficient and comfortable than older homes.

An advantage of large new home communities is that the developer will often give careful thought to protecting open spaces. The developer may also provide an enticing array of community amenities – such as a clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pool, hiking trails, sports fields and more.

The community developer also works in close cooperation with each builder to ensure an attractive mix of homes. In addition to mixing models or floor plans from several builders, each home plan typically offers multiple elevations to vary the look of the front of each home. By changing the placement of windows, gables, and the size and shape of the front porch, a single floor plan is built for several different looks.

For further design appeal, each elevation has a differing type and color of the exterior. A model home can be constructed with various brick, siding, stone or stucco and varying shades of color to offer diversity and individuality.

As you work with a production home builder, you’ll typically start by selecting a lot for your home and your personal floor plan from the builder’s library of ideas. The next step is to choose an elevation. Many production builders also offer the opportunity to specify the use of a bonus room; based on your needs, a bonus room is an extra bedroom, a study or even a media room.

Now, you and the builder will work together (often in a design center) to further personalize your new home by selecting design options.

Manufacturers vary in their selection process. Typically you’ll pick your favorite style (such as contemporary or traditional) and your favorite colors and finishes for your home such as appliances, cabinets, countertops and carpet and flooring. In most cases, you’ll also select bath, kitchen faucets, sinks, and fixtures as well as lighting fixtures for your home.

If you choose a production builder, usually you cannot change the basic structure – the floor plan, the layout of rooms or square footage. Each model has a wide array of attractive options to choose from to personalize your home. Also, many builders offer a series of “good, better and best” options at similar price points to help simplify your product choices.

Most production builders work hard to make building a new home fun and exciting. In addition to model homes where you can experience the look and feel of the various rooms and options, many larger home builders also have a well-defined set of steps to help guide you through the steps to buy, design and build your new home.

Custom Builders

If you have your eyes on a particular piece of land, want to build in an established neighborhood, already have a set of floorplans, or want to be heavily involved in each step of your home’s design, you may want to consider a custom home.

As the name implies, the process of building a custom home is less scripted than a production home, because there are no pre-defined choices or menus to select. With custom homes:

  • You can build on land you own or land that you acquire.
  • You can pay an architect to design a set of home plans from scratch.
  • You can work with a separate architect and builder – or with a design and build company that manages both the design and the construction process.
  • You’ll be more involved in the process and have the opportunity to make many decisions customize the home to your exact taste.
  • You can pick from nearly any product within your budget rather than select from a defined menu of choices.

You’ll likely pay more for a custom home than a production model of similar size and floor plan. The typical custom builder does not have labor shortages that a production builder typically has. Your actual price will depend on many variables – the most obvious being the size of the home, the intricacy of its design, the building products and materials you select, and the land you purchase.

While you might associate custom homes with huge and expensive homes, a custom home can range from a simple ranch-style home to a more elaborate and multi-story floor plan designed around your lifestyle.

Since most custom builders create homes in a variety of architectural styles and price ranges, a great place to start when selecting a custom builder is to ask to see photos of the former homes they’ve built. Many custom builders maintain strong relationships with past homebuyers, so you should also be able to work with a custom builder to set up an appointment to visit a home they’ve previously built. Make sure to get references and reviews from the builder’s past clients.

Once you choose a custom builder, be prepared to select custom woodwork and nearly any type of appliance, flooring, and cabinetry. You will be able to choose most details of your home within the framework of your floor plan. You can work in close collaboration with the architect and builder to choose your home site and to design a floor plan that works around existing trees on your land and that places your windows to take advantage of your best views.

The main issues with building a custom home will be your budget and building code or zoning limitations. If you think that freedom to create a home from scratch will be exciting, then a custom home is likely for you. Just know that a custom home will consume a tremendous amount of time and energy – but the outcome will be worth it.

Equipped with the information above, you’re should be ready to decide if a production or custom builder is your best bet. A good production or custom builder will each deliver a high-quality home that’s personalized for you with much better energy efficiency and indoor air quality than a typical resale home.

The difference boils down to how many choices you’d like to make to determine the unique look and feel of your new home.

Cindy Belhumeur, ABR, SRS

Cindy Belhumeur


Home Source Group
Residential Real Estate
7728 Vance Drive
Arvada, Colorado 80003