A kitchen in a McLean home, designed and built by AV Architects & Builders. Photo: Bob Narod

House Proud

Navigating the custom home-building process

The idea of building a custom home can be both tantalizing and intimidating. Architect Francisca Alonso offers a detailed guide that will help you do it right.

Choose Your Architect—Work with an architect/builder who will be with you through completion of construction. This way, buildability, budget and design issues can be considered and addressed as they arise.

Select a Location—Consider choices such as urban, suburban or rural locales; school districts; proximity to the city versus nature and privacy; and lot sizes and costs. Remember, for example, that a quarter-acre lot in Alexandria will require you to build up, while a five-acre lot in Great Falls will allow you the leeway of building out.

Decide on the Size of Your Home—Obviously, a 4,000-square-foot home will require a significantly different budget than that of a home measuring 9,000+ square feet.

Find Your Lot—In the greater Washington area, it is preferable to hunt for property where there is an existing house to tear down. Not only is there more inventory, but utilities are already in place and the lot has already been cleared and graded.

Work with Your Financial Institution—Interview your lender. Make sure they understand that you are looking for a loan that will go from land to construction to mortgage as the project evolves.

Obtain a Feasibility Study—Include a contingency for feasibility so issues like setbacks and topography don’t interfere with building your dream home.

Finalize the Design and Budget—Complete the design of the house before its foundation is built, making 90 percent of your decisions on materials like light fixtures, tile and flooring at that point. Waiting until construction will slow the schedule down and increase the cost. If you’ve already made those decisions, there will be less uncertainty and need for allowances, and your lender will be happier.

Create Permit Plans—Your architect and engineer should work together to create plans that will pass the permitting process on the first go-round.

Construction—The length of the construction phase will vary depending on the size of the house. Once framing is complete, consider hiring an interior designer who will be able to order items that can take months to arrive. This way, move-in can occur upon completion of construction.

Francisca Alonso is a founding partner at AV Architects & Builders.