Fall NAHB Builder 20 Meeting

Builder 20 Meeting

Last month Bart attended the fall NAHB Builder 20 meeting in Santa Barbara hosted by DD Ford Construction. Doug Ford’s company is the premier luxury custom homebuilder in the Santa Barbara area. Our nineteen custom homebuilders from Florida to Seattle to Durango shared best practices for successful custom homebuilding. The exceptional knowledge, experience and common sense shared at these bi-annual meetings provides our members with a wealth of information. The kind of information gained only through living with and working in the complex world found creating a new custom home. While in Santa Barbara, Doug Ford provided us with a tour of the most beautiful, finely crafted beach house imaginable. This exquisite new home, built on a hidden beach for a software developer, provided all of us with a house full of design ideas, examples of fine custom work – delicate carpentry, mechanical tricks, plumbing magic and exemplary painting technique. Seeing such a standard of
excellence inspired all our members to achieve that same level for our clients.

Building Success 101

Q: Should I have an architect help me select my builder? 

A: If you have already engaged an architect to draw the plans for your house, by all means ask that person to suggest possible candidates and to join you in interviewing builders; most know and have worked with local builders in the past who might be a good match. However, it’s often best to find a builder first, essentially to work with a design professional to help ensure that your budget is considered through the design process. It’s heartbreaking (and leaves a bad taste) to invest time, effort, and money into architectural drawings that you find out later — from your builder — are too expensive to build. Better to have the whole team together from the start.

Making Sense of Allowances

For best results, narrow down the options up front before building your Custom Home. 

Allowances–that is, budgeting general costs for items before the specific items are chosen–are a fact of life on many custom home projects. Some homeowners have trouble making decisions before work begins, most commonly for appliances, cabinets, floor coverings, and plumbing and electrical fixtures. In those cases, the custom home builder can allocate a dollar amount to each category and let the homeowners choose specific products later.

That doesn’t mean homeowners can postpone thinking about these products altogether. For an allowance to serve the homeowners’ interest, it must be based on accurate numbers. For example, the homeowners should at least decide what grade of products they want. That decision can require legwork as well as self-awareness.

How Can The Custom Home Builder Help?

The builder can provide average dollar numbers based on past experience with similar projects, but this is only the first step–the homeowners need to ask follow-up questions. For instance, the builder may suggest a $6000 allowance for light fixtures. How many of what kind of fixtures does that represent? Does it include bulbs? Recessed cans, sconces and chandeliers come in a range of prices, so it’s important to be realistic about like-to-haves versus must-haves when building your custom home.

Or take the example of tile. That $5,000 shower allowance might cover a large-format ceramic or porcelain, but what if the homeowner really wants travertine? It’s best to decide up front and budget for it, including finding out whether the price includes labor.

Some people go online to compare products and prices, but the results can be misleading. Although internet pricing may show the relative costs of different grade levels, the quality and warranty coverage may not match that of products sold by a professional supply house.

In most cases, the best way to create an allowance budget for your custom home is to visit the builder’s recommended supplier or showroom. The builder can work with the showroom after the initial visit to generate a realistic number for the grade of products the homeowners want. The time invested in this work will yield allowances based on real-world numbers, not on guesswork or wishful thinking.

How Can The Homeowner Choose the Right Builder?

The homeowners should also consider allowances when choosing a custom home builder. Ask the builder’s references if its allowances were realistic. Professional builders make sure customers understand what their budget will and won’t cover because they know the customers will be happier in the end.

When soliciting bids from more than one builder, make sure that each uses the same assumptions for each allowance item. If one bases its cabinet allowance on particleboard boxes while another assumes plywood, it’s hard to make a meaningful comparison. (Comparing bids is notoriously difficult, which is why it’s better to find a trustworthy builder and then work with them to create a reasonable budget.)

Note that the builder will set a deadline for every allowance choice. Meeting this deadline is crucial to getting products delivered in time for installation. If the homeowners miss the deadline, the allowance money will still be there, but the delay will throw off the job schedule and raise the final cost.

It’s best to make as many product choices as possible before work begins. But since most projects will have allowances, homeowners can help keep the job running smoothly by thinking through their needs and doing their homework on schedule.

Warm Regards,



Steve Jones & Bart Jones
Merlin Custom Home Builders
6408 S. Arville Street
Las Vegas, NV 89118

702.257.8102 – Phone