Building a Custom Home: Where to Start & Who to Hire

Did you know that building a custom home can take up to two years? That might sound like a long time, but it is well worth the end result: creating a home that supports your daily lifestyle and brings your family together beautifully. One where family gathers, where your kids (and their friends) will want to play, and where everyday life feels… easy and elevated.

To create a home that achieves your deepest goals, you will want to work with talented professionals you trust, who design in the style you like, and who have the highest qualifications. Fortunately, a little investigation upfront — along with a strategic order to hiring — can help you find the best people for your home and for your investment. 

Today, I’m giving you my concrete guide to hiring for your new build, so you can skip guesswork and get straight to building your dream home. Here’s where to start…

MariaDeCotiis Vancouver InteriorDesign Luxury Bedroom Open Airy
Bedroom design from our Refined Family Home, a custom home we helped design for a growing family in Burnaby

Which Roles Should You Hire First?

Quick Answer: Hire your architect and designer at the same time. OR, hire your architect first and bring in an interior designer before any architectural plans are finalized.

Why: Architects focus on the exterior of the home and its footprint. Their job is all about the technical details of the building, like the form and materials used to create the structure of the home. Architectural plans must be approved before any construction can begin, so they will be essential to your project.

Interior designers, on the other hand, focus more on the inside of the home. We think about daily functionality and ask you the deep questions about how you will use the space. Knowing where your furniture will go, where your kids will play, how much storage you need, etc. — these are all details that don’t sound like they would influence the structure of the home, but they absolutely do.

If you bring on a designer after the architectural plans have been finalised or after construction has begun, it’s likely that we will find overlooked details that would make a significant impact on your lifestyle. It will almost always cost you more time and money to change details at this advanced stage.

When you have these two professionals working together from the beginning, the magic happens. Form meets daily flow, utility meets beauty, and your dream home and lifestyle become reality.

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My Tip: The thought of hiring two people at once may seem overwhelming, so find one you like first and ask them for recommendations. Architects and designers often have experience working with other professionals in the industry. This method of discovery also raises the chances that both professionals will be a great fit for you and with each other.

I also highly suggest that you find a professional whose style (their portfolio) matches your own. Yes, designers have the ability to create homes in a variety of styles, but when your taste and theirs match up, the results exceed all expectations.

MariaDeCotiis Vancouver InteriorDesign Luxury Custom Bathroom Open Airy
Bathroom design from our Refined Family Home in Burnaby

What Other Roles Should You Hire & When?

1. Surveyor 

Okay, once you’ve purchased your lot, technically your surveyor is the first one on the scene, but considering their job only takes 2-3 days, I still stand by my recommendation to hire an architect and designer first. Plus, your architect probably knows a surveyor with whom he/she likes to work. So finding a surveyor is easy.

A surveyor’s job is to take notes and collect the data for your site. They then hand that information over to your architect. 

2. Architect, Landscape Architect & Interior Designer

Your architect will ask you questions about your goals, style, and lifestyle, and then get started on your home’s footprint. Factors that go into your final footprint include known size restrictions, square-foot allowance, if you are allowed a basement, height restrictions — all of which are dependent on the property zoning. 

Your interior designer will interview you separately and take you through their creative process, which will differ from an architect’s but is equally important. The two professionals will then work together on the plans, share them for your review, and revise as needed.

In the meantime, you’ll want a landscape architect designing the landscaping on all sides of the home, including structures like a pool or deck. You might think, “I’ll just design the landscaping after building the house”, but not so fast. Many cities require at least the front-facing landscaping design for the house plans to be reviewed and approved. 

This whole process can take up to 2 months, depending on revisions.

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3. Structural Engineer

I’m almost positive you’ve seen a home renovation show where a happy family wants to take out a wall, but they need to find out if it’s load-bearing. This is when they call the structural engineer. 

While you won’t be tearing down walls in this case, a structural engineer is essential to making sure the architectural plans for your new home are structurally sound. Safe for your family, in other words. They will let us know if additional beams or supports are needed in any areas of the home.

This step takes about 2 weeks, and after the engineer has officially approved your plans, your architect will submit the plans to the city and apply for a building permit. Depending on the city and time of year, you can anticipate permit approval to take 2-6 months.

4. Home Builder 

After you have the building permit in hand, it’s time to hire your builder. The best part is that you don’t have to start from zero (i.e. a Google search that may or may not be reliable) when looking for a builder. I recommend asking your designer or architect for recommendations. Designers often have relationships with builders, and bringing on someone they already know and trust will produce great results.

As for timing, getting an available builder can be a little more complicated. They are usually very busy and will have to put you on their calendar. I know this isn’t what you want to hear. Who wants to wait on their dream home? But, if you ask me, for a project that is a huge investment of your time, energy, funds, and dreams, it’s worth waiting for the best.

My Tip: For ultimate peace of mind and time saved, contract your interior designer to be involved with project management during this phase. He/She will serve as the point person, ensuring that the construction matches the design plan, as well as managing the orders and deliveries of essential materials that your construction team will need.

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Final Advice for Your Custom Home Journey

Last but not least, I want to share a few final home-building tips that I’ve gathered throughout my career: 

  1. Don’t rush it… good design takes time.
  2. Invest in the beginning planning stages for the best end results.
  3. Find the right people. I know I said this but it’s worth repeating.
  4. Be honest about what you have to spend. Builds often cost more than what clients anticipate. 
  5. Have a contingency plan. (See #4.)
  6. Don’t forget to budget for furnishings!

Elaborating on #6, imagine building a brand new custom home with everything you’ve ever dreamed of for your family. The countertops shine. Pendants sparkle. The fireplace beckons you closer. Now, imagine that all of your previous home’s furnishings move into this new home. Does it still feel like new? Does it look cohesive? Is it that pretty, functional final result you imagined in your head? 

In most cases, no. 

A custom home often calls for new furnishings: furniture, drapery, bedding, decorative accents. Those are the finishing touches that make a house feel like home — and most families forget to include these pieces into the overall budget. To make sure that’s not you, I suggest allocating roughly $75-$125 per square foot for quality furnishings. 

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That’s it for today, but if you’re looking for more inspiration and advice, download my free guide below, The Elements of Elevated Living. If you’re looking for a designer, well… you know where to find me.

Xoxo, 

Maria

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