Sheila Marler, founder of custom home agency Owner Builder Network, answers questions about custom home building.

Why would someone build a home rather than purchase a prebuilt home on a lot?
Maybe they don’t like the neighborhood or the school district, and it’s just an endless search. These people know what they want, and finding that is impossible. The only other avenue is, ‘Let’s find a piece of land in the area that you’re interested in, and let’s design the home the way you want it.’

What are some of the recent trends you have seen in custom homebuilding?
A lot more [people are] looking at not putting themselves or parents in a retirement home [and] building guest quarters either attached or in the existing home to have a caregiver stay there. Or they’ve got a child that’s older and on their own, and they build [guest quarters] for them so when they get older, [the children] can take care of [the parents] and their child can move into the house.

In what areas do you see more custom homebuilding than the purchase of prebuilt homes?
The Montgomery County area is really picking up a lot more [custom homebuilding]—not Tomball proper as much. Definitely Magnolia [because prospective buyers] aren’t seeing the energy efficiency quality they want or what they’re getting [for a] price per square foot. I think the interest in custom homebuilding will happen even more so now that the flooding went on.

What are the advantages of building a custom home?
Unless it’s a year or two old, you don’t see many [existing] homes on the market that are energy efficient. If you build a new home and you have a builder that lets you do some of the custom features that you want—opposed to the ‘We don’t do that [or] I don’t offer that’—it’s the difference between buying a new car and buying a used car.

What is the overall cost difference between building a home and buying a prebuilt home?
A prebuilt [home] is inexpensive most of the time, because they are building one to possibly four homes that are all the same. You will see these homes in neighborhoods with all the same shingle colors, and all the homes basically look the same. They buy all the material in mass quantities and get good deals on materials.

What is the time frame for building a custom home versus purchasing a prebuilt home?
Construction loans are taken out for one year [for custom building]. From the time the slab is poured to move-in, it is about six months. Of course, there are weather delays at times. Having to work up plans, do appraisals and [compile] bank documents just to get to the construction close date will take around three [additional] months. If you do [a] prebuilt [home], of course you could close [on the home] as fast as two months from the time of contract signing if an appraisal has already been done.