Cover story: Custom homes fulfill dreams

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“A private lender can usually be more flexible, especially if they are financially healthy,” he said.

Obtaining financing for a custom home also requires an appraisal, which can be complicated when there are few comparable homes.

“Some buyers are adding square feet to their home just to make sure they appraise at the right price because appraisals are based on quantity, not quality,” Mr. Rill said. “If you are paying cash and don’t have to qualify for a loan, you can build something smaller if you want. If you need an appraisal, you need to be aware that you’ll get a higher appraisal for adding a 12-by-12-foot bedroom than for $100,000 of built-ins.”

Building a completely custom home can take from as little as six months to more than a year, Mr. Prendergast said.

“We spend as much time as possible before beginning construction because our goal is not to have a lot of change orders,” Mr. Prendergast said. “We do complete design plans and customization, and we can also work with customers who have plans that they want us to modify.”

Mr. Prendergast recommended that customers collect photos and ideas of what they like. He said he and his wife, an interior designer, try to make the process of creating a custom home as much fun as possible.

Mr. Rill said, “My clients start with a blank piece of paper and a lot of ideas, but they are often scared it won’t be right. Our job is to stay on task and get it done so that they enjoy what they are designing and can afford it.”

Though custom builders often will build anything in any style for their clients, many builders specialize in a particular architectural style. For example, Creighton Enterprises has built mostly European-style homes for the past 10 years. They currently are building a 20,000-square-foot French chateau at Creighton Farms in Loudoun County. Apex Custom Homes also builds homes with a European influence and does not usually build contemporary-style homes.

“Every client is different, and every site is different, so we focus on our client’s desires,” Mr. Rill said. “We’re very flexible and have built contemporary, traditional, Craftsman-style homes, really anything the customer wants.”

Most custom builders include environmentally friendly and energy-efficient features in their homes simply because these typically represent good-quality building practices.

“We use passive solar design as much as possible and focus a lot on insulation, indoor air quality, geothermal heating systems, insulated windows and low-VOC paints and caulks,” Mr. Rill said. “We don’t necessarily always go for LEED certification because we want to be both economically sound and environmentally friendly.”

Mr. Prendergast said many of the larger homes built by his company have utility bills as low as a smaller home because of their use of highly efficient heating and air-conditioning systems, cocooned insulation, better windows and 2-by-6 planks for the walls. Apex Custom Homes uses reclaimed hardwood and lumber as well as local stone for interior and exterior walls.

If you have decided to work with a custom builder, Mr. Brown recommends checking referrals and visiting homesites where the company has properties under construction.

“Not every custom builder is financially healthy, so you should be careful to do some research and talk to past customers,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Prendergast said consumers should interview builders to find one who matches their architectural style as well as their communication style.

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