Top 10 Best Steps To Building a Custom Home

Top 10 Best Steps To Building a Custom Home

Hi everyone! Bart and I are building a custom home; our dream home! I have been planning the design of this home for about 10 years now. Needless to say, it has evolved over the years and every time I sit down to draw a layout it gets better.

I can sit for hours sketching layouts and floor plans. Mind you I have ZERO background or education on how to do so. I tried using fancy computer programs but nothing was more satisfying than sitting down with my graph paper and pencil and sketching away! 

We are about halfway through the process of building a custom home. It has been wonderful so far and I am so excited to share it. I have learned so much over the past year about the process but it definitely can become overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. Today I am going to share everything we have experienced during each step and what I have learned about what comes next. From choosing the perfect piece of land to putting the key on your front door for the first time it is all an exciting process!

Step 1: Finding the perfect lot

We were finally ready and had saved enough money and were ready for the process of building a custom home!  First item on the agenda was finding that perfect lot.  There are so many things to consider when picking your lot because this is where your family will spend a great deal of time. Here are some key questions to ask: 

What size lot will best accommodate your outdoor activities? 

Will you possibly want to build a pool or an outdoor sport court? 

Is the view important? 

Do you desire to have neighbors close by or do you prefer more privacy?

Is the lot located in an area close to retail shops?

dream homebuilder
This is the view from our backyard. Lots of green space and the pond sold us on it!

My first requirement was that I needed to be within 5 minutes of a Target! We all know how I love Target so that was not negotiable! Bart grew up on a lot of land so he wanted space. We had lived in a very tight neighborhood with houses basically on top of one another for 18 years. 

After many days of driving around towns, we stumbled upon the perfect lot and got exactly what we wanted.

Step 2: Purchasing the Lot

Finding the lot was super fun, but purchasing the lot got complicated. This is when we reached out to Bart’s friend who is a realtor, and he helped us tremendously! There were so many important questions that need to be asked and we had no idea where to start. I would highly recommend brining a realtor in for this step. They have the know-how to ask the right questions on your behalf. Several things may need to take place after the lot is purchased to get it ready to build on. 

Dirt may need to be brought in, you may need a septic system, and there are many rules on where exactly a home can be placed on a lot. The landowner will answer important questions, but having a knowledgeable realtor on your side is very useful and highly recommended! We are so happy we took that precaution. Best part of all….our realtor was able to negotiate the prices down quite a bit and saved us tons of money! We would have never known to negotiate like he did. 

Step 3: Researching the types of custom homes  

This step is so important because it sets the ground for everything going forward. There are soooooo many choices when it comes to style of home (cottage, rambler, modern, traditional, etc). Bart and I had a very good picture of the design and style of home we wanted. I spent hours and days and weeks over the years searching websites and home magazines. We knew what we wanted for both the interior and exterior of our custom home. This was one of my favorite parts of the process. Doing the research ahead of time saved so much time and money. 

Step 4: Finding a dream house builder

While we were in the process of purchasing the lot, we started to look for the right people to be our dream home builder. We spent a lot of time over the years touring the Parade of Homes in our area. It was one of my favorite things to do every spring and fall (and still is….although not Bart tells me I’m not allowed to go anymore because we aren’t building again!). I got so many fantastic ideas of what we definitely wanted (or didn’t want) when we were building a custom home.

During that process, we learned which builders had our same style throughout their homes. We learned who seemed to have an organized process and what their people were like to work with. I would highly recommend going through the parade a few times before deciding on a builder. 

We finally brought our top two favorites picks onto our land and interviewed them. We picked their brains on ideas they may have for the lot. Not yet completely settled yet on exactly what we wanted our house to look like. We were really looking for a “personality” because we knew we would be spending a lot of time working with these builders. We definitely wanted someone who was organized and could provide everything we needed. 

After meeting them both, the decision was easy! After explaining what we were looking for in a home, one of the builders said “Let’s call in Minnesota Modern”. Bang! Decision made. He hit the nail on the head and knew exactly what we wanted. 

There is one other very important reason we chose the builder we did. They have everyone in one shop. The have their own architects, designers, landscapers and so on. We did not have to go out and find any of those contractors on our own. This was the biggest reason we chose them and we have been so happy about that decision every single day. It has taken so much work off us and has made the process seamless.

Step 5: Deciding on a budget

We had a very specific budget number in mind when we decided on building a custom home. However, we knew it is very easy for that number to creep up and up and up very quickly. So when we gave our budget to the builder, we started low, which allowed us plenty of wiggle room. We still ended up a bit higher than expected, but we knew it would be well worth it for years to come.


Bart used to do home mortgages on the side (he’s had about 45 jobs in his life by the way….the list is endless. He’s done it all!). This expertise gave us a really good idea what we could afford as far as payments went. We needed to keep in mind taxes, insurance, and so many other fees involved with building a custom home. So don’t forget about all the little things because they add up quickly! 

Step 6: Timing is everything

When we found our lot it was May and we chose the builder by June. We wanted so badly to be in our new home by Christmas and we begged and pleaded for that to happen. We knew it was crazy but I was just so excited to be in our new home so had to ask. 

Sadly, we were told it would be about a 1year process from design to completion. In reality we knew that was the case…..and were actually super happy we got to have one last holiday in our current home.  In addition we were planning to put a pool in so we were happy to be in by summer. 

In spite of the best efforts of our builder, the weather did not cooperate over the winter. The darn snow kept coming and coming and the frost and the winds just kept putting us further behind. 

A year quickly turned into 15 months. Luckily, there were some unforeseen circumstances in our lives and moving in August was actually a blessing! 

In general, plan for about a 12-16 month process for the building of a custom home. 

Step 7: Deciding on the Size

Before we could begin designing the exact layout of the home, we had to decide on a square footage. Our current home was 3500 square feet and it was a perfect size, but it had a horrible layout for our family. We decided we wanted to go no smaller, and maybe a bit bigger for re-sale. 

We think there are a few key things to keep in mind when deciding on square footage size:

How many bedrooms?

What size garage?

What are our storage needs?

Howe may entertainment areas should we have?

Bart knew he needed a very BIG garage. He spends a lot of time building things and with the big lot he needed a lot of told to maintain the property. Plus our other business had zero storage so we needed space for that reason. 

This was a good time to decide how many bedrooms we needed. We have three girls but just one left at home plus a lot of family that lives out of town so we needed a couple bedrooms for when they visit. We decided on four bedrooms and through that was a good number for re-sale someday. 

Lastly, we knew we needed at least a couple rooms for entertaining and watching tv. Our current home has three areas for this purpose, and one went completely unused at all times. We decided two would be perfect so Bart and I could relax in one area and our daughter could have friends in another.

Sticking to a square footage plan wasn’t too difficult. If we decided we needed one room a bit bigger, other rooms could be adjusted.

Step 8: Designing the layout

Here was the best part! We were finally getting to the details. During this time, we sat down with the architect for probably 5-8 meetings. We went over everything from room to room designing the layout. Did we want a laundry off the master or in the mud room? What size bedrooms did we want? What height of ceilings? 

building a custom home
This is our main level detailed drawing. It took several drafts to get it just perfect!

We really needed to think hard about our lifestyle during this process and decide the best layout for the most efficiency and our view. We have a beautiful pond out back and wanted a few great areas to relax and enjoy the view.

This was a great time to get the sketches out! The architect was floored when he saw all that we had created. It made his job much easier (and saved us money) because he had a really good idea of what we wanted. All the hours of work paid off and it ensured we would get exactly what we wanted!

Step 9: Picking the details and selections

This is where Bart stepped back. He said “all I care about is the garage so you do the rest”. Music to my ears! 

The interior designer and I had several meetings together. Again, I was prepared with so many pictures and idea boards with my vision. I had already had an excellent idea of what tile, carpet, paint colors and cabinets I wanted. Before meeting with her, I though “ what do I need an interior designer for? I got this!”. I was sooooo wrong! She was so incredibly helpful and she kept track of every single little item I chose.

building a custom home
This is one trip to the flooring store. We picked hardwood and carpet that day.

From lights to knobs and pulls to ceilings….she kept track of it all. Without her it would have been a complete disaster keeping track of it all. She had a lot of great things to choose from in her shop, but we also ventured out to lighting stores, flooring stores and beyond making choices. She was incredibly instrumental in helping me coordinate it all. True, I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to make the puzzle all fit together. I am so thankful she was part of the process.

Step 10: Let the digging begin!

It was finally here! Dig day! The builder had a little ceremony for us and we cut the ribbon to what would become our dream home and lot. Building a custom home was now truly a reality for us and there was no going back! 

We had found several lots over the years, and had contemplated building many times. But this time everything came together so perfectly from the lot, to the realtor to the builder and his team. We could not have been happier with the process. 

Building a custom home is making our dreams come true!

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