Building a new home – custom design versus off-the-plan design

Deciding to build a new home is an exciting point in your life. As part of deciding to build, a key decision you need to make is whether you will develop your own custom design through a designer, or whether you will seek an off-the-plan design from a builder’s range of home designs. Here we provide a short discussion on the advantages, disadvantages and pitfalls associated with this important decision.

custom home design


Off-the-plan home designs

Off-the-plan home designs are those designs that you see in the newspaper or on a builder’s website. These designs are not custom, although they can be customised when you engage with the builder. These types of home designs are generally useful when you don’t wish to make too many modifications and you are generally satisfied with the design. However, making too many changes to these house designs begins to increase the builder’s price very quickly. Off-the-plan designs can also be useful if you want to begin building quickly without designing a new home from scratch.

The biggest disadvantage with these off-the-plan designs is that they belong to the builder who designed them and so whilst you can ask another builder to price based on that design, since copyright to the plans belongs to the first builder, no one else will be able to legally build the home for you as this will infringe on copyright. The business model revolves around signing up clients early and locking them into a contract based on the design they have chosen.

Once locked into a building contract you obviously lose some leverage, unable to obtain competitive pricing from other builders and also once you begin to make changes here and there, you may see the cost of building your home increase very quickly. We have heard many a story from our clients about how the price of their home skyrocketed due to changes beyond their expectations when they started to make changes to the home design.

When considering an off-the-plan design, make sure you understand exactly what is included in the building price, try and make any changes you want to the design before signing a contract and see what impact this has to your budget. Do extensive research with other builders as well to see how prices compare.


Custom home designs

Some people associate ‘custom’ with more expensive, but this is not generally true. A custom design allows you to be the master of your destiny so to speak. You control the design process and you get to tender out the design to a number of builders to seek the best value for money. You can do this as you have not locked yourself into the one builder from day one. A custom designed house also suits those people who have specific needs and wants.

Unlike an off-the-plan design, you are able to work closely and collaboratively with your chosen designer to develop a home design that suits your lifestyle and needs. If you make the decision of developing a custom design and controlling the design documentation, it is important that you choose the right designer. Enquire as to how much experience they have designing homes, which builders they have worked with before and get them to show you examples of their work.

custom home design

You do need to pay for your design before signing up to a building contract. Whilst this might seem like you will be paying more in the long run, it is important to note that you will get better value for money as you get a design that meets your needs exactly and you are able to competitively tender out your design to builders whereby you will get a very competitive price for building your home. Furthermore, builders with off-the-plan designs carry the cost of their designs in their overheads anyway, so you will still be paying for design work somewhere along the line. Design costs vary according to the size and complexity of the home you are designing and designers have different models for charging, so shop around.

Designing a custom home also won’t take too long. If you choose a competent designer, it can take as little as a couple of weeks to develop floor plans and elevations of your home and then submit for planning approval to your local council shortly thereafter. This timeframe obviously depends on how many changes you make and the back and forth between you and your designer.

Many people are put off by the ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses and the seemingly daunting task of managing the design of your home, but if you choose the right designer you will be in capable hands. Furthermore, with a custom home design you will end up with a superior home design and by tendering the design out to a number of builders, you will be confident that you have obtained the best value for money to build your home instead of locking yourself into to the one builder from day one.

Louis Gonzalez is a registered builder and certified project manager, and a director of Broadwater Builds, a Perth based building company specialising in custom homes, renovations and residential developments.
Broadwater Builds provides free and friendly advice on all aspects of the building process. Feel free to speak to us today about any building related queries you may have.