Hiring an Architect & Builder for a Custom Home

Hiring an Architect & Builder for a Custom Home

This is the fourth in a series of articles targeted towards potential home buyers looking at building a custom home and the topics or questions they might face. Read the last article about Selecting a Custom Home Lot in Tucson – Part Two. While these articles will focus on the typical issues of building a custom home in the Tucson, Arizona metropolitan area, many of the issues may well be similar throughout the state and other parts of the country.

As we discussed in parts 1 & 2 of the Choosing a Custom Home Lot articles, seeking the assistance of an architect and builder can pay dividends during the lot selection process. Engaging with these professionals at this time also allows you to communicate frequently enough to help determine if you’d feel comfortable hiring them for the rest of the build process. A good working relationship is critical to the success of your custom home. Not only will the process be much more fun and devoid of extra stress if you get along well with these professionals, but the costs can be lower and the time it takes to complete the home can be less.

Hiring an Architect

First, it’s worth noting that those buyers who are looking at a mid-range price point may not utilize an architect at all. Hiring an architect can be an expensive proposition for a truly one-off custom home. These buyers will frequently find an “off the shelf” plan that’s been previously designed or built which will be much more price effective. Others may find a builder who possesses floor plans that suit their liking to save on costs. These plans can also be modified by a draftsman, who can also design a full home too for a less expensive price than a well known architect.

Prices for an architect will of course vary based on the size of the home you’re building, market conditions, the availability of the architect, time spent on the project, and the portfolio or prestige of that architect. However, it’s not uncommon for a one-off custom home design to run upwards of $60,000 for a completed set of construction drawings. An architect at this level will also work closely with your builder throughout the project to ensure everything goes smoothly and any needed modifications are addressed. Architects in this realm will assist with the initial home design, landscape design, HOA design requirements if applicable, and often will partner with an interior designer too. There often is some overlap in the duties of the architect, builder, and interior designer, so it’s a good idea to make sure the professionals you choose have a good working relationship with each other. Asking how many homes they’ve worked on together before is a good idea and speaking with their past clients can also reveal useful information.

Some of the most prominent Tucson architects are Marc Soloway, Ron Robinette, and Kevin Howard. These architects have designed countless homes in premier custom home neighborhoods like Stone Canyon, Pima Canyon, and Canyon Pass. In the last ten years or so Marc Soloway has stood out as the most prolific architect in Northwest Tucson especially. Many other architects of course are available in Tucson too, but these three have exemplary portfolios that span many different styles from contemporary & modern to Spanish & Mediterranean.

Again, it can’t be overstated that regardless of who a buyer chooses it ought to be someone who they feel comfortable communicating with so the end result matches a buyer’s desires. A high level architect can bring exceptional ideas to the table and translate a buyer’s vision into a reality that’s also highly functional. A good architect will consider the lot’s characteristics and make sure to work around the natural topography while maximizing views at every opportunity.

Hiring a Builder

While buyers may or may not use an architect, nearly each and every one will hire a builder. Just as with the architect, it’s vitally important that you have excellent communication with your builder. Countless hours will be spent throughout the design and build process with the builder so make sure you have complementary personality types. Ultimately you want someone who you feel is extremely trustworthy and reliable. For nearly every buyer, quality construction is the number one priority when going through the custom home process.

Therefore, when interviewing builders make sure to ask who they use for their subcontractors and how long they’ve used them for. While of course circumstances can force occasional changes, many of the best builders maintain the same tradesman for many, many years. This may mean that builder isn’t the least expensive option, but they’ll tend to have more control over the final product when it’s a familiar subcontractor doing the work. Builders who constantly bid projects to get the lowest cost may end up with a subcontractor who has less experienced tradesmen or who are more prone to cut corners. Unfortunately in Tucson there can be at times a lack of skilled tradesman who really are artisans at their craft.

Similar to the process of hiring an architect, it’s a great idea to speak with a builder’s past clients if possible to find out their experience with that builder. An expert builder is a craftsman who knows the business inside and out and doesn’t sacrifice quality. Some builders themselves aren’t skilled craftsmen and instead are more schedulers and sales personnel. Finding a builder with exceptional building techniques and industry knowledge is crucial. You can also check a builder’s record with the Registrar of Contractors to inquire about whether any complaints have been filed against them. As with any business don’t necessarily take a complaint as a sign of a poor builder since we all have experienced unreasonable customers too, but at least take the time to investigate the issue to your satisfaction.

One thing to be very cognizant of when speaking with a builder is the quoted price. All too frequently we’ve heard stories about buyers who are told by a builder that a project will cost a lower amount, knowing full well it will exceed this amount, simply to get the buyers to sign a contract. Even when they add in a contingency fund for overages it’s not uncommon for the final amount to exceed this total number. In fact, we’ve had buyers who’ve unfortunately stopped during the design process because costs have gotten too out of control, and they ended up selling their lots and buying a resale home instead. Be wary of things that sound too good to be true! The most reputable builders may not be the least expensive but honesty goes a long way! It’s those individuals who you want to align yourselves with to receive a premium home.

Team Woodall currently represents John Herder Building at The Estates at Tortolita Preserve project near Dove Mountain in Marana. John exemplifies the best qualities sought after in a builder including his honesty and integrity. As a fourth generation builder with extensive knowledge & experience, John is a craftsman who prides himself on superb quality. John utilizes many proprietary techniques in constructing a home and has built relationships with the best trades in the industry who’ve worked with him for the last 20 years. This close relationship allows John to seek the highest quality from these other trades while maintaining a competitive price for his clients. Unlike some builders, Herder Building’s quoted prices aren’t a bait and switch game to get a contract and then increase the price. While this may cost him the occasional project when buyers are looking for the absolute lowest quoted prices, John simply does business the right way. His easygoing demeanor also makes it a pleasure doing business with him.

Another aspect of choosing a builder that demands mentioning is their warranty and service after completion. This is another area where John Herder excels offering a wall to wall two year warranty on his Tortolita Preserve builds. When potential customers ask him if he offers a 10-year structural warranty like other builders, John simply responds that he stands behind the structural integrity of his homes for life. Read the details of any builder’s offered warranty to see about exclusions as many are more smoke & mirrors than anything else. A truly reputable builder will not be afraid to stand behind their product.

As with the rest of the custom home building process Team Woodall is here to assist our clients in this process of selecting an architect and builder. Ultimately it’s most important though to find professionals who YOU feel comfortable with and can communicate effectively with for many months. Even the best builder in the country isn’t the right choice for your home if you can’t communicate well together as the process will become frustrating and stressful.

Next up in our series of articles on custom home building will be: Wells & Water Issues.

Stephen Woodall
REALTOR, GRI @ Long Realty Company
Stephen has made real estate his full-time career and passion since 2008, primarily specializing in the Foothills & the Northwest Tucson areas of Oro Valley and Marana. He is a multi-million dollar producer, representing both sellers & buyers. Stephen has tremendous experience in new home sales, listing & selling primary residences, listing & selling vacant land, listing & selling luxury homes, investment properties, rentals, and real estate development parcels.

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