We all want our custom home to be built fast and on-budget, with the finest finishes and furnishings. But custom-building is a year-long journey, and almost everyone will have to compromise at some point along the way. Design, schedule and budget are all connected. When you make changes to one piece, you affect how the other two fit together. You create gaps, and other things have to shift to fill in those gaps.
As soon as you start to consider a custom home in California, before you even hire your design/build team, you should also start deciding what matters to you. Will you prioritize design over everything, including money and time? Is staying within a set budget your primary concern?
If you’re building this home with a spouse or partner, talk it over. Things are easier if you’re on the same page from the beginning.
In an early meeting with each client, we ask them to choose one of three components that is more important to them. We start clients off with a “dream budget,” which is what the project would cost if they prioritize design. Then the client shares their priority, we nail down the scope of the work, and we create a more realistic budget, based on that priority.
Ok, so you’re on-board but not sure what you want to prioritize? Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons to each approach.
Many homeowners prioritize budget. Sometimes this means using more affordable finishes and materials, such as choosing quartz rather than marble countertops, or vinyl rather than true grasscloth. Often this means your home will take longer to build, since we’ll wait for the most affordable subcontractors to become available. The short of it? Focusing on budget could save you 10-15 percent, but it could also take 15-20 percent longer until you’re actually living in your new home.
Sometimes prioritizing budget means making structural sacrifices. If we’re $50,000 over, and a client wants pitched roofs, we can leave those roofs flat and probably make the budget. Sometimes clients think they’re willing to compromise design for budget, and then they back-step. In the case of those pitched roofs, the client decided to keep them in one room and drop them in others.
It may take a few rounds of discussion to get where you want to be, budget-wise, but we’re very happy to work with you.
Sometimes you’re ready to get your family out of a rental, or your current house sold, and the new owners want you out. Getting into your new home as soon as possible may be the biggest priority for you.
A full-build generally takes a year. Renovations take less time, of course. We can speed that year up by a couple of months, but rushing a project will inflate the final cost more than any other factor, including extreme design-consciousness. To finish a rush-project, we have to hire more subs. We have to work weekends and overtime. Our subs have to work weekends and overtime.
Recently, some clients wanted a ground-up built and a pool. We quoted 15-months, but they wanted to prioritize time. So we finished the project in 11 months, but it cost them more, in terms of dollar amount.
You could end up paying 10-15 percent extra if you speed things up. Do the math carefully. You may end up financially ahead by continuing to pay rent or mortgage for a few more months or moving into a short-term rental.
If a client needs a house fast, we will definitely work with you, but it is our least favorite way to manage a project. Doing things right and steady the whole time is always better than cutting corners you’ll have to fix later.
It’s the most fun for everyone when clients are able to prioritize design. When you have the time and funds to fine-tune as you go, you can get exactly the look and functionality you want.
We show design-oriented clients all the various material options. We use our A-list subs for all the work, from millwork to drywalls. We install and then re-install, taking as long as we need to get everything exactly right. We aren’t worried about budget or schedule—we just want to make sure all the details are perfect.
Once Hawlie, our head of design, was installing a handmade glass chandelier in a client’s dining space. Each layer of this piece had to be hung separately, and the client wanted everything exactly positioned, so that the light would catch the glass in the right way and throw a particular pattern on the wall. The installation took most of a day, and the client was ok with that.
We recently had a project where the ceiling was a few millimeters uneven. We discovered this when we installed printed wallpaper, and the print didn’t match up. If it were a painted-wall, it would have been absolutely unnoticeable. As it was, it was barely noticeable. Ninety-nine percent of our clients would have left it, but this client wanted things precise. We fine-detailed the drywall, which took an entire day. But at the end of that day, the ceiling was perfectly even.
With another client, we installed the agreed-upon white wooden window trim in a bathroom. But after tiling around the trim, we realized that it distracted from the seamless beauty of the tiles. The white popped, catching the eye and pulling it from the gorgeous, azure triangle tiles. So we pulled out the trim and tiled all the way to the window.
Design-oriented clients are more involved in the overall process and working with them is more of a collaborative effort. We give them our freshest ideas, and they take those ideas and push them to the limits of their comfort.
However, it costs more in terms of time and money to hire the best subs in the area and to redo something that isn’t wrong but just didn’t turn out the way you expected. Design-oriented projects often take a few more months to complete.
Design/Build Workflow & Communication
As the director of operations, I’m a client’s first point of contact when they call White Sands Design/Build. I get a feel for your project, decide whether or not we want to take it, and figure out who needs to be involved—whether we need an architect and/or an engineer and who from our team needs to be part of the initial meeting.
We’ll do a site-meeting, and then we’ll talk priorities immediately. Sometimes one spouse cares about budget or time, and the other spouse cares about design. When co-owners can’t agree, our job is tougher. Having open communication from the very beginning is helpful.
Before every meeting, our project manager sends an email with an agenda to everybody involved, including the clients. We also send out an estimated-cost email whenever something needs to be changed, and try to get an approved change order right away. We like to keep things moving.
This is where my experience as a former college basketball coach is relevant. You have to figure out what motivates each player, and you have to know how to use each player to their highest potential. I’m trying to figure out what motivates each client, what they prioritize, and what will become increasingly important to them as the project moves along. We’re basically mixologists, trying to find the perfect balance of “ingredients” for a craft-cocktail that matches our client’s tastes and personality.
Custom-building can be as stressful or easy-breezy as you make it. If you’re clear about your priorities from the beginning, you’ll have a much smoother ride.
Thanks for reading,