Spring is in the air and that means people are thinking about their homes. During the pandemic, many people have realized their homes don't meet their needs and so many have started online searches for ideas, plans, and architects. In light of the large number of calls for residential work we received recently, I thought I should address expectations and reality. As we all know, the internet is a wonderful source of information, but it's important to have a complete picture before making a decision. Let's hit the home market.

Let's start with production homes. Around here, they are neighborhoods where the builder owns the land and offers 4 or 5 different models that they will build on a plot of land. Yes, they can customize the plans, usually on a limited basis. Most likely, these customizations are to finishes, adding a "bonus room" or a porch/patio. These customizations are pre-vetted additions that are tacked onto the basic home model. This type of home offers a benefit of scale because the builders can get materials in bulk for the entire development, so there are some cost savings. 

a series of houses that are all the same
The customization here comes from paint, shingles and plantings. Image by UpstateNYer, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The next option is to buy some plans. You might think this is a new concept, but it was possible to buy a home from the Sears catalog in the early 1900s. Yes, for $900-$2,000 you could order your home from the Sears catalog and have ready to assembly parts delivered to you, complete with blueprints. How's that for a DIY project? Fortunately for those who struggle to put together IKEA furniture, the modern option is to go online, find a floorplan you like, pay a few thousand dollars, and voila - a home you've selected ready to be built on your land. The benefit of online plans is they do offer more floorplan and customization options than production houses for a reasonable price. You are responsible for finding your land and builder, so the economy of scale savings are lost. 

home available in the Sears catalog
An actual home available to buy from the Sears Catalog. Image from

Finally, there's the custom home. In this case, you are working with an architect that understands your property, including the views worth taking advantage of, then listens to what you want and designs a home that responds to all your needs. These plans are original and specific to you and your property, so a home for you 3 blocks down might be entirely different because the home is responding to the land differently. Like online plans, you are still getting the property and builder on your own, though an architect probably can suggest some good builders. Architects’ fees vary based on the scope of work, their expertise, and the region they work in, but this is also going to be the most expensive option since it is custom.

Rendering of a home
Custom homes may give you multiple options on the same property. Our Facebook page often showcases the multiple schemes we presented. 

So the question I get all the time is, "can you modify online plans?" because they never seem to be exactly what the client wants. So can the plans be modified? Sure, but it's probably not in your best interest. Inevitably, the changes people ask for are often not compatible with the plans they provided. Something as simple as moving a bathroom can cause a cascading effect of changes to get things working right again. These seemingly little changes are going to burn through whatever you saved by buying online plans.  

In the end, all three options will put a roof over your head. However, there is a clear continuum of customization and cost, with production homes on one end and custom homes on the other. Remember, if you hire an architect, they are designing your home and the cost of those services are solely covered by you as the homeowner, not shared among hundreds of homeowners that purchased those same plans. At the end of the day, you need to know your goals, needs, and budget because your home is worth the investment.

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