Building the Best Team for Your New Custom Home

Building a new custom home is, for many homeowners, the largest purchase that they will ever make. The custom home building process can last from eighteen months to three years depending on the size of the home and its level of complexity.

Many new custom home projects begin with the client researching, interviewing, and ultimately selecting a builder. The builder may have a team, either in-house or industry partnerships, who become part of your team. If the builder has a design staff, and if the client is design savvy and confident in their vision, this approach can work well.

Other clients benefit from assembling a team of professionals with specialized knowledge who contribute to both creating the vision and executing on that vision. We wrote this article to guide the second type of client in selecting their design and build team.

New Construction Open Plan Great Room by Morris Lare

How do you know if you need a custom home building team?

There are several questions you can ask yourself to determine if you should hire one or more team members, beyond the builder:

First, are you struggling to find a floor plan that meets your needs and style? 

Second, do you lack a strong vision for the materials, colors, finishes, and lighting for your home? Do you need help understanding how they relate to each other and flow from space to space?

Third, do you have a site that requires special considerations such as:

  • retaining walls;
  • water mitigation systems;
  • relationship to the street;
  • views of adjacent properties;
  • and privacy screening?

Finally, do you have any special requirements for your home such as:

  • Living in place or a strong desire for a fully accessible home;
  • High energy efficiency leaning towards passive construction;
  • A strong preference or sustainable or locally sourced materials;
  • Or a design aesthetic that requires out-of-the-box thinking, creative use of materials, and/or customization of millwork, cabinetry, and other design elements?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you might want to consider assembling a specialized design team for your build project.

Potential New Construction Team Members

Contractor/Builder

Think of your custom home builder or general contractor as the quarterback of your new build team. Your home builder is going to lead the construction and coordinate all of your sub-contractors, the build schedule, and the overall budget. You will want to hire a builder who is open and excited to collaborate with other design professionals on the custom home build. Builders with staff designers or architects may not want to work with outside professionals, so it is important to clarify their process up front.

The Architect or Architectural Designer

If you have a floor plan you like as is, then you may not need an architect. However, if you want to design a customized home that is personalized for you and your lifestyle, you should consult a residential architect.

We could write an entire article solely on the value of hiring an architect to design your new home. We love partnering with architects on new construction homes because they can raise the project to an entirely different level. An architect brings a holistic perspective to a project that includes both the exterior and interior aspects of the property as well as its relationship with the surrounding landscape.

A good architect will listen to your desires and needs for your new home and create a narrative that guides the design for the home. They will provide advice on values-based decisions, such as sustainability and accessibility. An architect’s expertise goes beyond material selections and involves the construction and systems of the home.

Interior Designer

You may or may not wish or need to hire an interior designer for the entirety of your new construction project. The level of help that you desire may influence the type of designer you ultimately hire. Some designers prefer to get involved at the beginning of the project so they can influence the floor plan and architectural aspects of the design. Other designers like to start once the plan is complete or mostly complete, when it’s time  to select materials, finishes, color, and light fixtures. And, some designers focus solely on the furnishings and decoration of the home.

If you are struggling with creating a vision for the interior of your new home, an interior designer can benefit you. The designer guides you in narrowing down your style preferences and clarifying how you want your home to feel. She will help you balance style with function to ensure the selections you make endure.

The interior designer will establish a concept for the home including furnishings, accessories, and artwork so the choices you make during the build process harmonize with the decor.

The interior designer will act as your advocate throughout the design process to ensure that your desired vision, quality, and detail are realized.

If you plan to furnish your new home with new furnishings, your designer can design and select those pieces in tandem with the architectural design. She can plan for furnishings well in advance of the home’s completion so you can move in with at least some of your new furnishings already in place.

Professional Landscape Architect or Landscape Designer

Landscaping and exterior living spaces are a major piece of the puzzle that is the new custom home, but clients often overlook them at the beginning of the process. You can benefit from engaging a landscape architect from the earliest stage of the design process in several ways.

If you would like to address costly issues during or after construction, the landscape architect (or designer) can assess your lot (even before you purchase it). They may collaborate with the architect and builder on site design and positioning of the home on the site. They may also advise on maximizing views and connecting the interior and exterior living spaces.

Landscaping can be a significant portion of the budget for the home. The sooner that you discuss budgeting with your landscape professional the better. If landscaping is a high priority for you, then it is critical to understand the true investment to meet your expectations.

In Iowa, landscaping companies are only active, or can only complete certain types of work, during a limited portion of the year. Therefore, their schedules can fill up even a year in advance. If you can bring your landscape architect into the process early on, they can plan their resources for your project accordingly.

Specialty Team Members

In addition to the builder’s subcontractors, the team may include cabinetry designers and millwork designers, lighting designers, and audio/visual specialists. If your interior designer does not provide design drawings of cabinetry and custom millwork, you might work with a cabinetry designer at a local showroom to design all of your cabinets.

For clients with specialized lighting needs or extensive art collections, a lighting designer will advise you on the best possible way to show off your collections and create atmosphere through light. Audio visual specialists will help you understand your technology needs including whole home automation, security, entertainment and more.

vaulted living room cast stone fireplace des moines interior design
New Construction Vaulted Living Room Designed by Morris Lare. Custom Trim & Millwork by SJM.

Questions to Ask Potential Team Members

The following list of questions can help you determine if the design professionals you interview would be a good fit for your project. This is not a complete list but rather a way to help you start the process of interviewing for your custom home design team.

What type of projects do they typically work on? What projects would they like to work on? Is your project the type of project that they get excited about?

Do they have a preferred style that you enjoy or do they work with clients to understand their own personal style? Are there certain styles they do not work with?

At what point in the process do they prefer to be engaged? What is the value of bringing them in at the beginning of the design process vs. later in the construction phase?

How do they prefer to communicate both with you and with the rest of the team? Do they use any special communication or organizational software?

How do they present their ideas? Do they provide visuals of their ideas either in plan views or in three-dimensional views?

How do they document the information that they specify for the project?

Will they share information and resources openly with the other team members?

How do they bill for their services? What is their payment structure? Do they offer full service (ie. they provide the goods or materials and install them) or do they only provide the design?

How do they allocate time in their calendar for your project? Do they have adequate capacity to work on your project at this time or do they have a wait list?

How often will they meet with you? Do they need advance notice for meetings, and if so, how much? How long does it typically take them to present their deliverables? How much advance notice do they need for change requests or revisions to their deliverables?

Perhaps the most critical question is: Are they not only willing but also excited to be part of a team and collaborate with you and the rest of the team on your project?

Mudroom Lockers White Oak Bench Top
Custom Mudroom Lockers Designed by Morris Lare
Home Bar Design Des Moines Iowa Interior Design
New Construction Home Bar Designed by Morris Lare with Sarah Wolfgang of Wolfgang Atelier

Summary

Building your dream home is a journey, and it can be a stressful journey mentally, emotionally, and financially. Building a house can take months, if not years, and you can experience highs and lows as you maneuver through both the design and the building phases.

It may seem like hiring a additional professionals will add expense to an already costly project. However, your investment in that team will pay for itself many times over by helping you achieve a beautiful home that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.