Should you custom or project build a new home?

At the moment you are probably dreaming over a parcel of land that is simply graded dirt.

At the moment that dirt is pure imagination.

At the moment that dirt could become anything you want it to be.

At the moment every decision you make leads you closer to your own personal and practical version of comfort and cadence – better known as home.

Man looking at plans

Dreaming and decision

Dreaming is an important part of all creative processes.

While it sounds esoteric, it is actually a serious activity that requires research and study to discover what you desire and the style you would like.

Once you have created a dream list, you can start making selections between the must haves and the wish-upon-a-star list.

Dreaming and decision making is a process, the dream list will probably be razed away based on site restrictions and budget.

What you will be left with is the essential style and approach that you will be looking for …. and that will inform the next part of your process.

Choosing between a custom built and project built home.

What is a Project Build?

A project built home has been designed and planned by a builder. Each builder will usually have a selection of home choices that will suit a wide range of styles, budgets and needs. Within each design there will be limited options for new homeowners to choose a variety of plans to customise to their needs although the basic design will remain the same.

Builders will generally update the house designs to suit current trends within the industry in both style and materials and will fit typically sized blocks. The builder will usually offer a more upmarket range for a variety of needs including double-storey buildings, duplexes and acreage blocks.


A project builder will often have a display home that you can tour before a build so you are able to get a sense of the size, proportions and placement in real size before you start. This means that there will be no shocks when the final product is revealed. A project home will usually be the most economical option as the builder will be able to bulk order all materials, prepare materials in a central work area and rotate contractors around a variety of sites. You will also save on architectural fees as the plans have already been drawn up and been incorporated into the original cost.

Once you have decided on a builder, you won’t get any nasty surprises as the price has been set based on whether you choose the basic to high range package. The builder will usually be able to build the home within a specified time period and budget.

New home owners can often feel bombarded with the amount of decisions they have to make. However, once the initial planning decision has been made with a builder your decisions will be all superficial decorating choices.


What a project built home gains in budget savings, it loses in flexibility. While you can choose options to increase passive solar design, views and land contours, most project homes are designed to make the most use of the available space on site. A project home will not be able to meet the needs of anyone who wants an unusual design.

A project home design belongs to the builder who designed it. Once you have agreed to the home you are also agreeing to work with that builder through the whole process. You will also be signing up to a limited amount of finishing options as the builder saves money through economies of scale and giving you access to a small range and list of suppliers in each price category. Each price category will have a selection of decorating choices – so each price point will incorporate all the tap wear, lighting, flooring and appliances within that same range. Any deviations from this range will result in increased costing.

Sloping sites can be difficult for project homes and needs to be assessed carefully. Some builders will not build on these sites while other builders will cut away at a site to create a flat surface and create further problems with natural site drainage.

You might also find that there are several houses in your area, especially a new subdivision, which have the same or similar facade creating a degree of homogeneity that you may not comfortable with.

What is a Custom Build?

A custom built home is designed specifically for the individual client and the specific site. It can be designed by a builder, draftsman or architect after consulting with the client; therefore, it is usually a one-of-a-kind version that will meet the stylistic preferences and needs of the client.


You will have control of the whole process starting from project managing or engaging a builder. You will then remain involved throughout the whole process with builders often having an on-site consultation during the build which might also give greater flexibility and adaptability to make changes to the project as the design progresses.

You can make the corresponding decorating choice and fit out choices throughout the whole house. This can help you choose where you can save or splash out on different options within the house, for example you can decide to minimise the laundry but splurge on wool carpets. You can also add additional details to make your home an individual masterpiece.

Without a doubt, the biggest benefit is the ability to design your home to suit your individual choices and style. Importantly, you can also have a house that complements the site and makes the most of environmental considerations. Individualised plans will be able to suit difficult sites such as ones with overlooking neighbours, steep sites and busy road accesses giving your home better on-sale value in years to come.


The cost can make a custom built home inaccessible to many homeowners. The initial cost will include architectural fees that have been custom designed for the individual client and site. You will need to create and manage a budget and keep costs from spiraling out of control. It can be easy to get caught up in the buying process and find yourself under budget stress if you continuously choose items beyond your budgetary restrictions.

A custom made home can take longer to build as each home is individually designed and crafted, and it may also incorporate detailed finishes which require additional time and craftsmanship.

The final word on project vs custom build…

As the dream enfolds into reality it usually becomes obvious which decision you need to make. If you have budget and time constraints then you will want to choose the economically viable and efficient project home builder; however, if your block has an unusual shape or slope then you will need to choose a custom builder.

However, it is not all a choice of the have and have nots. Builders offer a selection of beautiful products in a variety of price ranges with a selection of price points within those ranges. The more exclusive the home the less likely that another home will be built nearby.  It is also possible to have a custom built home designed to a specific budget that has the added benefit of suiting individual needs.

Once you move into a house you have taken the final step in the creative process. Inside the walls you will add colour, pictures, furniture, gardens and all the original design solutions will blend into the background. No matter the process, it will always be your home.

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