Production Versus Custom Home Builders: What’s the Difference?

As you plan your new home, one of the first questions to consider is whether working with custom home builder or a higher volume home builder (also referred to as a production builder) is the best choice for you.

Both types of builders are excellent options and each can deliver a great new home for you. Much of the decision will rest in how many choices you wish to make — as well as how much design input you’d like to have during your home’s construction process

At its core, the difference between a production home builder and a custom home builder is simple:

A production builder simultaneously builds a community of homes based on a library of floor plans, each with a limited array of personalization options. A custom builder typically creates a one-of-a-kind home that offers an even greater range of design choices that’s often built on a single lot.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from each:

Production Builders

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), most production-based home builders:

  • Offer home and land as a package
  • Offer a range of house plans to choose from
  • Allow buyers to select their favorite style/design from a menu in several product categories
  • Build homes priced for first-time, move-up and luxury buyers

Custom Home Builders

As the name implies, the process of building a custom home is less scripted because there are no pre-defined choices or menus to choose from. With custom homes:

  • The home can be built on land you own or land that you acquire.
  • You can supply a floor plan or commission a set of floor plans to be drawn from scratch.
  • You can work with a separate architect and builder — or with a design-build company that manages both the architectural design and the construction process.
  • You’ll be more involved in the process and have the opportunity to make many decisions.
  • You can pick from nearly any product in a category — within your budget, of course – rather than selecting from a defined menu of choices.

The Production Home Construction Process

A production builder can usually deliver the same size home for less money than a custom builder. The reasons lie in volume purchasing power when buying building materials and land and a higher volume, often systematized approach to construction.

Buying the right type of land is a big part of a production builder’s strategy. Many larger builders construct homes in large, master-planned communities. A production builder’s scale and access to a large number of lots in such communities also allows the construction process to be fine-tuned for greater efficiency.

Higher volume builders can also pass on cost savings by purchasing building materials in bulk. Just as large airlines can lock in low fuel prices by ordering in volume, production builders can use their size to order materials for hundreds of homes at a time, often at lower prices.

An advantage of production home communities is that the community developer also works closely with each builder to insure an attractive mix of homes. In addition to mixing models or floor plans from several builders, each floor plan typically offers multiple elevations to vary the look of the front of each home. By changing the placement of windows, gables, and the size and shape of the front porch, a single floor plan can be built in several different looks.

To add further design appeal, each elevation can usually be constructed with a differing type and color of exterior. A given model home can be built with various in brick, siding, stone or stucco and varying shades of color to offer pleasing diversity and individuality.

As a buyer working with a production home builder, you’ll typically start by selecting a lot for your home and your favorite floor plan from the builder’s library of plans. The next step is to select an elevation. Many production builders also offer the opportunity to specify the use of a bonus room; based on your needs, a bonus room can be built as an extra bedroom, a study or even a media room.

Next, you and the builder will work together — often in a design center— to further personalize your new home by selecting design options, home styles, colors, finishes and other key products in your home such as appliances, cabinets, countertops and carpet and flooring. 

Buyers who select a production builder typically cannot change the basic structure — i.e. the layout of rooms or square footage — but each model has a wide array of attractive options to choose from to personalize your home in many respects.

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