Building a custom home is a defining moment in anyone’s life. It’s a part of discovering how you live, what you like, what you want, and mostly, who you are. It sounds like a lot of pressure, but it’s also a chance to learn where you fit into the world. It’s a chance to elevate the American Dream. The key to a smooth and satisfying home building process is understanding how it works, from inception to construction.

How to Get Started

While each experience is unique, the first steps to building a custom home are typically the same for everyone: figure out your finances, choose your crew, select your style.

Choose Your Crew

Your first instinct might be to go it alone, but more often than not, organizing a team of professionals is the best option. It’s important to find a builder you feel comfortable with and you can trust, as you will be highly involved with them for an extended time period. These people are going to act as your tour guide throughout your entire home building journey. Choosing the wrong crew can make for a rough journey, so take your time to get to know your builder.

How you go about selecting your team is entirely up to you. Maybe you ask friends and family for recommendations, maybe you research homes you like and contact the builder, maybe you read local reviews. You can pick a builder, an architect, an interior designer, and other team members individually, or you can select a full-service builder that handles everything for you. Whichever route you choose, be sure to interview them beforehand and discuss your wants, needs, concerns, etc.

Figure Out Your Finances

Many people immediately think building a custom home is more expensive than buying an existing home, but that is not necessarily the case. Your decisions regarding land, design, and materials will all impact the final price—so, you must figure out what you can afford and dissect every little detail.

A spreadsheet program like Excel can be extremely helpful in the financing part of your project. You can modify your budget as much as you want as you analyze the minutia. Include everything that will be involved in the project: land costs, local fees, taxes, design and engineering fees, construction costs, furniture, decorating, etc. Of course, don’t forget to prepare for every contingency. Ensure that the inevitable won’t push you over budget.

Value engineering is the most economical form of building, and the right builder can help you get what you want and stick to your budget by moving budgeted amounts from one category to another. They’ll work alongside you every step of the way to ensure your budget is realistic and respected.

Select Your Style

You have your team. You have your finances in order. What else do you need before embarking on your home building journey? Inspiration. When it comes to designing your home, the options are endless. It can definitely be overwhelming at first, but with some careful consideration and inner reflection, you can define the home style for you.

Understanding the way in which you and your family live, along with your wants and needs, are the keys to figuring out your style basics. While your aesthetic preferences are important, the way you and your family actually live should ultimately be the deciding factor for your home style. Ask yourself questions about livability—i.e., Do you frequently entertain guests? Do you need extra room for a constantly changing family dynamic? Do you need a quiet space for working? Do you use a lot of storage space? Your custom home should reflect how you currently live and how you plan to live in the future. Asking these questions will help you determine your livability needs before you dive into aesthetics.

The path to your dream home depends on a variety of factors, but with the right foundation, the journey will be much more enjoyable. Before you embark, be sure to have a sense of what you want, how much you can afford, and who will guide you along the way. These first steps to building a custom home are the first steps to living your dream.