How To Build A Custom Home From Start To Finish

Designing and building your own custom home might seem like a difficult task to undertake but getting started isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. There are three overall phases to cover when building a modern custom home.

Phase One: Getting Started

To start on the right foot, there are three major arrangements you’ll need to make and understand:

Phase Two: Designing Your Custom Home

When first designing your custom home, consider the space you will need and how you will use it. How many stories do you want? Do you have a specific style or layout in mind? Consider these questions to help you along:

  • Which rooms will you need/not need?
  • Does the property offer any building restrictions?
  • Does your lifestyle require any special design aspects?
  • Do you want any special features? (smart home features, heated flooring, security systems, etc.)
  • Will you be using green building practices?

Phase Three: Recruiting a Team and Building Your Home

Once you have the preliminary decisions made, you’ll need a team of expert new home builders to help you bring your dream to life and keep your project on track. This team might include a custom builder, a design expert(s), and an architect.

Choosing the right professionals for your team can be difficult – you want people you can trust. Asking the right questions and getting continued support from them will make all the difference in your custom home build.

Phase One: Getting Started

Creating An Accurate Budget For Building Your Home

The cost of a new construction home is often roughly judged by the square footage of the home. When building a custom green home, layouts, features, finishes, and outcomes are all customized to you. This makes it difficult to figure out the costs of building a custom home on a “per square foot” basis, and we do not recommend it.

Knowing your budget is essential to the building process. To help you determine an accurate budget, consider the following factors:

  • Local fees and taxes
  • Construction costs
  • Landscaping costs
  • Decore and furnishing costs
  • Contingency budget

Considering New Construction Loans

Building a new construction home in the Greater Chicagoland Area comes with a variety of price tags attached. Likely, you will need to take out a construction loan to build.

For the best overall price, take these three things into consideration:

  • Shop around. There are tons of mortgage lenders out there. Compare your best options before making a choice.
  • Research each loan option. Which is the best for you: fixed rates or variable? You might qualify for options with low or no down payments. Research all your options thoroughly.
  • Save up for a down payment. The amount you are able to put down usually affects the rates and duration of your loan.

Once you feel ready to take action, reach out to a construction loan provider for pre-approval on your loan. This way, you will know exactly what your limits are, dictating how much you can build and how extravagant your designs can be.

Setting A Timeframe

You might think that you want your home completed as soon as possible, but like all good things, building a custom home takes time. There might be a few factors that give you a general date that you’d like to have your home completed by, like the arrival of a new baby, or the school year schedule for your kids. Most homeowners try to align a move-in date with the closing of their current home or the end of a lease. Seasonality (especially in Chicagoland) makes a big difference as well – both with moving and construction. Think of these factors and work with your builder to set a realistic timeframe.

If you have a specific move-in date in mind, a good rule of thumb is to start your design and planning process at least a year in advance. A typical custom home project with a dedicated and experienced builder will take around 10-13 months from design initiation to move-in.

Think of it this way: when building your own custom home, you are designing and selecting everything. These decisions, plan approvals, permits, and even the weather can all cause delays or extend your timeline. A solid, approved plan with a fixed price is a great way to start the construction phase and remove any surprises or delays.

Selecting Land For Your Custom Home

It’s a real estate cliche you’ve heard over and over again, and that’s because it’s important: location, location, location. Once your home is built, you can’t just pick it up and move it if you change your mind, so selecting your property is incredibly important to your home’s structure and overall appeal. Think about the following factors as you shop for possible properties, as many may affect your lot development fees:

  • Lot size and location: Proximity to good schools, downtown areas, transportation, etc.
  • The infrastructure of the lot: Is it suitable to build on?
  • The slope or flatness of the land: Will it affect the building process? Are there any water concerns?
  • Natural surroundings: trees, water features, etc.
  • Directional factors: How will sunlight react with your home?
  • Neighboring lots: Occupied or otherwise (empty lots won’t stay that way)
  • Other homes in the neighborhood: Consider style, age, upkeep, etc.

Once you find a lot that interests you, it’s time to research the neighborhood. Find information on zoning, wetlands, septic connections, energy code, etc that might affect the versatility of the lot. If the lot is empty, the other homes in the neighborhood will give you a lot of information. Historic districts might have restrictions on how your home must look or with which materials you can build.

If this seems like a lot of information to undertake, talk to a home building expert. They can help you understand the zoning and energy code specifications and even help you select the perfect spot for your new home. BrightLeaf offers a LotFinder Navigation™ Service to assist with these sorts of things.

Phase Two: Designing Your Custom Home

The biggest benefit of a custom home is that you can design it to fit your lifestyle and needs instead of adapting or making alterations to an existing home. From the layout and flow of your home to countertops and smart home features, every decision is customizable to fit you and your family.

When you begin planning your home, you might have big ideas and plans. Once you have a budget and a timeline set, it’s time to match them with your design plans. Adjust your ideas and narrow down your decisions by considering the following:

  • Organize your home building needs and wants. Decide on what you must have and what you definitely don’t want out of your new home.
  • Consider your current home: are there features you’d like to duplicate or remove?
  • Prioritize the spaces that are important to you. For example, a breakfast nook seems great on paper, but if your lot doesn’t accommodate the extra space, is it more important to you than having a larger kitchen?
  • Rank the features you want in order of importance. This will help you make difficult decisions later down the road.
  • Collect inspiration from other sources. Websites like Pinterest and Houzz are good resources to get design ideas and solidify your concept.
  • Know your limitations. Identify zoning limits on your lot, neighborhood ordinances, layout, etc. You might have a limit on the height or square footage you can set for your home.
  • Think about the number and size of rooms. This makes a huge difference in the overall size of your home. Layout all your options and eliminate/add where needed:
    • Number of bedrooms/bathrooms
    • Formal and/or informal living spaces
    • Eat-in kitchen or formal dining room
    • Home office
    • Laundry room
    • Garage (1-car or larger? Attached or stand-alone?)
    • Basement and/or attic space
    • Mudroom
    • Playroom and/or media room
    • Hobby space
    • Home gym

Building Your Lifestyle Into Your Home

Consider your lifestyle when designing your custom space. Perhaps you’d like an art studio, movie theater, or workshop included in your custom home. Maybe your family members are outdoor enthusiasts or athletes and would like a home gym space, rock wall, or basketball court. Whatever your interests, your home can and should reflect them.

Designing Your Home’s Layout

After you’ve narrowed down the areas your family will need, you’ll need to organize them in a way that makes the most sense and best uses the available space. The layout of your home reflects traffic flow, interaction with family and guests, and the overall comfort of your living space. Questions to reflect on might include:

  • Would you prefer an open interior layout or separate rooms? This affects how your home’s spaces interact with one another. Should they flow into one another, or remain relatively separate?
  • Does your home include separate formal and informal areas?
  • If you are building a multi-story home, what will you need on the first floor? Which rooms would you rather be included on the second or third floor? (second-floor laundry area is always a nice touch)
  • How many entrances should you have? Are there any rooms that should have an outside or private entry–i.e. the kitchen, mudroom, or laundry area?
  • Are there rooms and spaces that should be near or next to each other? For example, a mudroom next to the laundry area or a playroom near the kitchen?
  • Which areas would you like to remain private? (bedrooms, media rooms, etc.) Should these be on a separate floor from areas saved for entertaining?
  • Don’t forget about the garage and basement! Is now the time to finish the basement, or later? How much space do you need in the garage to comfortably get in and out of the car?

Room-by-Room Special Features

Besides the overall layout of your home, there are plenty of structural features you can customize in each room. Consider these additions for each area of your custom home:


  • Is it an eat-in kitchen? Will you have a separate dining space?
  • How much counter space will you need? Should it include an island or buffet space?
  • Will it include a wet bar, walk-in pantry, or butler’s pantry?
  • Would your family utilize a gathering space to watch tv, work, or do homework together?
  • Will you need a prep sink as well as the main sink?
  • Is your stove or oven gas or electric?


  • Would you like walk-in closets? And if so, for each bedroom, or just the master bedroom?
  • Should there be connected bathrooms? Are some bedrooms sharing a bathroom? Are they connected or private?


  • Bathing options – for necessity and luxury: will bathrooms include a shower, tub, Jacuzzi, or combination of these?
  • One sink or two? Should they include separate vanities?
  • How about a linen closet? Would this be included in the bathroom or in an adjacent hall?

Laundry Room:

  • Should your laundry room have its own separate space, or be included within another room?
  • Will it include space for additional features? (i.e. a sink, closet space, additional storage, or a hanging rack?)

Outdoor Spaces:

  • Depending on your lot and the availability to create an outdoor space, would you include a patio, deck, or screened-in porch? How about a convertible indoor/outdoor space such as a balcony or courtyard?
  • Will you need landscaping completed? Do you plan on doing this yourself, hiring a separate professional, or working with your builder?

While there are plenty of resources online to pique your creativity, perhaps the best option in finalizing a floor plan is to work with a professional. Some custom home builders may also offer a library of floor plans to see various examples of layouts to inspire your own home design.

Choosing Finishes and Decor Styles

Are you drawn to a specific architectural style or theme? Modern home designs in Illinois are varied. Think about the elements of design and interior style that capture your interest and consider if they fit your location. Understand the differences in home styles and find the one that best suits you. Modern, contemporary, and traditional home designs are popular styles – all with varying degrees of flexibility. Lastly, think of any specific materials you’d like to include (marble countertops, specific wood finishes, etc.) and color palettes you’d like to incorporate when making the finishing design touches to your custom home.

When thinking about the general architectural style for your custom home, consider the following:

  • Ceiling Height: In certain areas as well as throughout the home
  • Windows: Do you envision a certain style? Do you see your home equipped with many windows or just a few? How about skylights or bay windows?
  • Wall Space: Do you want a lot of open wall space, or are you more interested in storage?
  • Lighting (indoor and outdoor): Lighting can make or break a space. How much/what style of lighting to you want in your home?
  • Roof: Flat, pitched, asymmetric gable, multiple gables, curved?
  • Exterior: What kind of siding do you want?
  • Security System: Have you thought about what kind of security system you’d like in place? Alarms? Smart devices? Also, Chicagoland is prone to nearly every variety of weather – your home should be prepared for it.
  • Special Features: Are there any special features on your must-have list?
    • Fireplaces
    • Media room
    • Central sound system
    • Heated floors
    • Central vacuum system
    • Pool and/or jacuzzi
    • Solar panels
    • Smart features: Ring doorbell, Voice commands,
    • Basketball court

Phase Three: Recruiting A Team & Building Your Custom Home

Now that you’ve decided what you want out of your custom home, it is time to find a team of professionals to help you bring your vision to life. Your team might include a custom home builder, interior designer, architect, landscape architect, real estate professional, or a combination of these.

There are plenty of new home builders in Illinois to choose from. Whomever you choose, you should feel confident that they will listen to your ideas and needs and help you meet your goals. Your team should also help you determine what is and isn’t possible to accomplish, based on your land, budget, and timeframe.

Your relationship with your custom home-building team is important. They are responsible for bringing your home to life – executing your needs and being there when you’re not to implement your decisions.

Before You Hire a Custom Home Builder:

  • Talk with past clients: If possible, speak directly with some of their past clients. Ask them if they would work with that builder again if given the chance. How was communication throughout the process? Were there any setbacks or delays?
  • Ask for photos of past projects.
  • Meet the team members that will be working on your home.
  • Ask if anyone else will be working on your home: does your builder use subcontractors? How are they chosen? Do they work with these companies/people frequently?
  • Familiarize yourself with their building materials and styles. The materials used to build your home are just as important – if not more so- than the people who are building your home. Ask your builder about their suppliers and how materials come together to build your home.

Monitoring the Building Process

Once construction is underway, you certainly won’t take a step back and wait for the team to finish. You want to be informed of the progress of your new home, and you want to be sure that your home is built correctly. Some requirements to consider include:

  • Permits. It is important to ensure that the correct permits are in place before you begin construction on your new home. Your builder will likely take care of this and the timeframes for obtaining one will vary by the community.
  • Insurance. If you hire a contractor or custom builder in Illinois, they must have insurance and active policies to be licensed to work. Before construction begins, get copies of these for your records.
  • Inspections. The schedule of inspections will vary on your building location. Generally, your builder is responsible for scheduling these, but you might want to confirm these dates.

A good builder will keep you informed and have the tech to keep you up-to-date throughout the process of building a custom home. One great tool builders and their clients use is an app called BuilderTrend. It includes project updates, pictures of the building progress, and even tracks who will be in your home from day to day and what they are working on. You’ll also be able to make design changes and sign off on decisions, get updates, see photos, and track your timeline right from the app.

After Moving Into Your New Home

Once your home is built and you’ve moved in, you’ll want to be confident that it will last. Does your builder guarantee the work they’ve provided for you? And if so, for how long? What if you encounter problems?

Whichever path you choose to take to build your new custom home, do your research and make sure the team you hire makes your build experience transparent and enjoyable.

About BrightLeaf

BrightLeaf is an award-winning, custom home builder specializing in sustainable, modern energy-efficient homes as well as remodeling and renovations. We are also a  full-service real estate brokerage that can help you buy and sell in the Greater Chicagoland Area.

Live or thinking of living in the Greater Chicagoland Area and need one of the following services? Click on the link to book an appointment to talk to a BrightLeaf Home Consultant.

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