Is Building a Custom Home Worth It?

A man’s (or woman’s) home is their castle. If that’s the case, then living in a customized castle is even better, right? While spec homes and older homes do provide the basics, there’s almost always something we would change if we could. Building a custom home lets you “get it right” the first time. But is it worth the time, money, and hassle?

Building a custom home is worth it when the trade-off between the desire for what you want and can afford is greater than the effort and time it takes to reach that goal. With patience and planning, a custom home can bring years of satisfaction.

If you are pretty particular about what you do (and don’t) want in a home, then building a custom home can help you get exactly what you’re looking for. There can be trade-offs along the way, so read on to see if a custom home is worth it to you.


Is Building a Custom Home Worth It?

For most people, the trade-off of spending more time, sometimes more money, and making more decisions during the process is absolutely worth building a custom home when the final result is a home personalized for them.

Many people dream of designing and building a home that is full of their own personal touches in room layouts, exterior appearance, and interior finishes such as paint color and flooring. Once you’ve lived in an existing home or two, most of us have fairly strong opinions on things we’d change or do differently in our next house.

Building a custom home gives you a chance to make a house your very own from the ground up. It’s easy to go into a custom build with rose-colored glasses on, expecting the whole process to be a piece of cake. It might be, but….

While it’s not rocket science, as they say, folks are often surprised by the level of personal involvement needed to decide on every major and minor detail that goes into constructing a new home. Some of those details will include:

  • Floor plan: square footage, room layout and flow, number of bathrooms, garage size
  • Roof shingles: color, style
  • Exterior: brick, wood, vinyl or composite siding, trim color
  • Doors and windows: placement, type, color, handle style
  • Lighting: Placement of light switches and fixtures, fixture choices
  • Plumbing: toilet, sink, and shower choices; faucet selection
  • Interior finishes: paint color, trim style, flooring

And the list goes on! Appliances, brick or siding color, placement of sidewalks, porch finishes—you get the idea. There are tons of decisions to be made. Of course, your personal involvement in these decisions can reap huge rewards in terms of getting exactly what you want.


Personalization vs. Lots of Decisions

Nothing says “this is who I am” more than a custom-built home. From location to size to color choices to unique design, personalizing a home from start to finish makes a personal statement. However, what this means is you, as the client, are deep into details the whole way through.

Take it from someone who has “been there, done that” and survived the process; personalizing a custom home goes way beyond picking out paint and carpet! Even with having a family member in the construction industry, this writer was totally astounded by all the things that had to be selected, even beyond the obvious big-ticket items like exterior material.

Have you ever given serious thought to any of these basic things that go into building a home? Granted, some of these come with fairly standard answers unless you’ve got a particular preference. There still has to be a conversation about them at some point.

  • Location of the house: Siting the house on the land is a critical decision made early in the process. Depending on the curve of the road, the terrain, and setback requirements, there may be several options for the exact placement of the house.
  • The color of the brick mortar: Believe it or not, you can choose a mortar color and application style.
  • Location of HVAC vents: Identifying where they should be placed in each room.
  • The placement of light switches and electrical outlets: Do you want more than usual or need one in a special place?
  • The color and style of the outlet switch plates: White, oil-rubbed bronze, or tan? Plain or scalloped? Single, double, or triple switch?

A quality home builder will be able to offer a lot of assistance in this selection process. They will have standard choices for many of the home’s basic components, which you’re certainly free to accept.

Most homeowners typically care more about some things than others, so while there are still many decisions to be made, you can spend more time and thought on the ones that matter most to you.

custom built home san mateo

A Lengthy Process vs. Move-in Ready

Buying an existing home versus building a new one is a lot like comparing a 100m sprint with a marathon. Both take preparation and effort to accomplish the goal. The main difference is the amount of time it takes to complete the race. You can run 100 meters in a few seconds and be ready to race again soon. Run a marathon, and you’ll need some time to recover.

Buying an existing home is pretty straightforward: choose an area, contact a realtor, visit homes, make an offer, move in. The whole process can happen within a few weeks from start to finish. People do it all the time and live happily ever after.

Building a custom home, on the other hand, is a lengthy process. Just the actual construction alone often takes six months to a year for an average-sized house. The bigger the house, the longer it takes. According to Dave Ramsey, it takes about seven months to build a house, not including time to negotiate the land purchase, work with an architect on a design, and choose a general contractor.

The construction process can be divided into six major areas that take time and can only be done in a certain order. During the three early phases, you may experience weather delays, and, throughout the process, there may be construction materials lead times and tradesmen issues. All of these spell T-I-M-E.

  • Preparing the site: water, sewer, clearing the land
  • Laying the foundation: excavating and pouring concrete footings
  • Framing the house: building floors, walls, and roof structure
  • Adding exterior materials: siding, doors, and windows
  • Installing “behind the scenes” systems: plumbing, electrical, HVAC
  • Making it pretty inside: flooring, trim, cabinets, paint, fixtures, lighting

Dreams vs. Budget

Most people tend to dream big until reality—in the form of a budget—sets in. Building a custom home is no exception. When you look through home-related apps like Houzz or peruse home magazines, you’ll see all kinds of great ideas and creative solutions to problems you didn’t know you had.

It’s easy to become starry-eyed and want it all in your new home. While it can be productive to dream and think about what you want in a custom home, it’s important to be realistic about what you can actually spend.

The good thing about building a custom home is that you can be more selective about where you put your money. You may choose to upgrade the exterior to brick for a maintenance-free material while saving a bit on plumbing fixtures by going with standard materials. If you can keep your expectations within your budget, there’s no reason that a custom home has to cost more than a spec or pre-existing one.

In fact, building a custom home can be more economical in the long run. When folks buy an existing home, they often think it’s great for a while…until the kitchen begs for an update or the bathroom needs some work, or they decide a screen porch would be perfect. Retrofitting updates and additions like these can be more costly as a one-time project compared to including it in an original build.

The Cost of Building a Custom Home

According to a 2019 Construction Cost survey by NAHB, the total average cost to build a new home is $485,128. This can be broken down into three areas: finished lot cost (18.5%), construction costs (61.1%), and builder profit (9.1%).

Of this average price, the construction cost budget will typically be spent in this way:


Area Average Cost % of Construction Cost
Site Work $18,323 6.2%
Foundation $34,850 11.8%
Framing $51,589 17.4%
Exterior Finishes $41,690 14.1%
Major Systems $43,668 14.7%
Interior Finishes $75,259 25.4%
Final Touches (landscape, driveway, etc.) $20,116 6.8%
Other Contingencies $11,156 3.8%


The average sales price of an existing home in the United States in 2020 was $334,500. Yes, that is less than the $485,128 average cost of a new build. Remember, though, that price tag doesn’t include any updates, renovations, or additions that you might consider a necessity before moving in.

Over time, you may spend more to upgrade an existing home than you would to build what you want to begin with.


Satisfaction vs. Disappointment

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Will you be satisfied living in a home with a generic floor plan that is just like every other house in the neighborhood? Will you be satisfied in an older home that may need major repairs and improvements after you move in?

After the excitement of purchasing a “new to you” home wears off, many homebuyers find themselves disappointed about various aspects of their house. It’s impossible to notice all the quirks and flaws in just a couple of walk-throughs with a realtor. Those come to light as you live in a house day in and day out.

If the answer is “No,” or you dread the thought of becoming a DIY repair person—or having to pay for said repairs—then it’s probably worth it to build a custom home. You’ll have the satisfaction of living in a layout you designed, enjoying fresh paint, new carpet or hardwoods, and putting in the plants you like out in the yard.

Major repairs and updating will be in the distant future, which means you can spend time on the fun stuff like adding decor and furniture, meeting new neighbors, and spending time with the family in fresh, new comfort.



Whether or not building a custom home is worth it comes down to a matter of personal preference. For those who don’t have the patience or time or don’t care much about all the details, it may not be a good trade-off.  

Still, building a custom home is a dream come true for a lot of people. It can take a ton of thought and time to plan, and there will undoubtedly be headaches and obstacles along the way. But in the end, you will wind up with a beautiful home that does life like you do.

Spaces Home Remodeling is a San Mateo custom home builder that specializes in beautiful and modern home designs. Contact us today to learn more and to schedule a free consultation.

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