How to Hire a Custom Builder, Part 1: The Dream Phase

How to Hire a Custom Builder, Part 1: The Dream Phase

The introductory part of the home building process kicks off well before anything is even on paper.  It starts with the thought, “What if I built my own home?”  This thought can come to you at any time in your life, like when you are moving out of your current home or even years before you own your first home.  No matter when the inspiration strikes, the act of visualizing your “dream home” initiates the first step in the home building process: the “Dream Phase.”

In the Dream Phase, you start figuring out the basics about where you want to live, who you want as your builder, and what you want in a home.  Doing your research and outlining your home ideas early on will lay the foundation for a positive and successful home building experience.  Having a firm understanding of what you want your home to be can also help ease the hassles of the building process.

To take full advantage of the Dream Stage and set yourself up for success, complete the following steps:

Step 1: Identify your preferred community or neighborhood

“Where do you want to live?” This question is easy to answer on a broad scale, like what city or state you want to live in.  But, when you’re planning to build a home, you need to dive a little deeper to define the criteria for what makes an area the right area for you and your family.  Remember, these criteria must be based upon your own specific and unique preferences—everyone’s criteria will be different.  For example, empty-nesters will generally have different preferences than a family with younger children or a couple with no kids.  To help get you started, here are some questions to consider:

Do you want to live in the city, the suburbs, or out in the country?

Do you want neighbors? How close in proximity do you want them?

How much privacy do you want?

Do you want to live in a family-friendly area or in an area with no kids? What about pets?

Do you want to live in an old (or historic) neighborhood or a new neighborhood?

What school districts do you want your kids to go to?

How close do you want to be to work?

Which local conveniences do you want to have nearby (grocery stores, gas stations, daycares, etc.)?

Do you want easy access to a certain highway or roadway?

Are there any specific places you want to live close to (airports, shopping districts, parks, etc.)?

Do you want to live in a subdivision governed by a home owner’s association (HOA)?

Is safety a concern? What local safety protocol do you require?

What “perks” do you want to be included in where you live (local pool access, golf course access, etc.)?

Do you have a preference for which tax district you live in?

How expensive is the surrounding area? Does it exceed your budget

Is your home going to be too expensive compared to neighboring homes?

Once you have figured out the criteria for the perfect area, you can start exploring potential locations for your new home on your own with Kansas City real estate agents.  Of the locations that meet all or most of your criteria, make a list of the ones that make your top two or three.

Buying a lot in the country gives you more space and freedom to build your dream home.

Living in the country gives you more space and morfreedom to build your dream home.

Step 2: Find your preferred lots

“What kind of lot do you want to live on?”  This question addresses your next task: finding lots that you like at the places you listed at the conclusion of Step 1.  Your lot choice comes down to a lot more than price and location because it really depends on you and your family’s personal circumstances and preferences.  Each lot and the land it sits on are unique, too, so a thorough, thoughtful approach to this decision is highly recommended.  Here is a basic list of questions that should be considered when finding your preferred lot:

How much acreage or size of a lot do you want or need?

What part of the subdivision do you want to live in?

Do you want to be in a cul-de-sac?

Do you want your lot to back up to an urban area (i.e. a road, park, or golf course)?

Do you want to minimize lawn maintenance by having a smaller yard area?

Do you want a clear lot, a semi-wooded lot, or a fully-wooded lot?

How do you want your home to lay out on the lot?

Which direction do you want your home to face? Do you want it to face a certain direction at a certain time of day (i.e. face the west to shade the backyard in the afternoon)?

What kind of land terrain do you want (flat, sloped, hilly, steep, etc.)?

Do you want to build a full basement on a flat lot or a walk-out basement on a sloped lot?

How do you want to use your outdoor space, if at all? For entertainment?  For relaxation?  For kids?

Do you want to add a pool, water features, playground, landscaping, or other outdoor features?

What kind of wildlife is regularly seen around the lot? Does the presence of said wildlife concern you?

Does the lot have water drainage issues?

Are utilities readily available?

Use these questions and your own personal criteria to assess the lots you’re looking at, and then narrow them down to your top two or three lots, ideally.  Depending on the area, attractive lots with the best features and overall value sell fast, so have back-up options just in case the ones you like best sell before you can make an offer.

Building on a fully wooded lot gives you a lot of privacy but more land maintenance.

Step 3: Find a home builder that will build a home to match your needs

“Which builder is the right builder?”  In order for your dream home to become reality, you need to find the best custom home builder for your dream home.   Home builders can range from smaller local businesses to larger regional firms and can specialize in different styles and types of homes, particularly production homes, semi-custom, or custom homes.  The builder’s style, specialty, price range, and reputation should all play an important role in your decision.  However, there are several important factors that need to be considered specifically:

Is the builder willing to or capable of building it in the way that you want? Different builders have different ranges of customization.  Many will have a limit to what they’re willing or able to customize to your liking.  One of the biggest frustrations you can have in home building is paying for a home that isn’t what you wanted in terms of the look or features.

Does the builder communicate with you effectively and efficiently? Good, consistent communication is very important part of having a successful relationship with your builder throughout the entire building process.  A builder’s failure to communicate at this stage will also lead to poor communication in the future.

Do you feel that you can trust the builder throughout the process? A builder’s reputation often precedes them, which can give you a good indication of whether they’re trustworthy or not.  A builder with red flags in their reputation—particularly in terms of their trustworthiness—should give you some cause for concern.

What is the builder’s reputation for warranty service after occupying the home? An excellent warranty on paper is a sign that the builder is confident in the quality of their homes.  A reputation for excellent warranty service will give you the confidence that any issues with your home will be taken care of promptly and properly within the warranty period.  If a builder doesn’t follow up with satisfactory warranty service, then the written warranty is basically worthless.

Have you done your research on the builder? You need to look at the builder’s website, reviews, testimonials, social media portfolios, Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating, and anything else you can find online in order to get an understanding of who the builder is, what they stand for, and the quality of services they provide.

Before settling on a builder based on your findings, you should set up face-to-face meetings with the ones that have the most potential.  Meeting builders in person is essential to really “getting to know” them and seeing if they can meet your home building needs.  Once you are confident in who is building your home, you can start to focus on what will make the home you’re building into your dream home. is a great place to find local builders, contractors, suppliers, and inspirational photos. is a great place to find local builders, contractors, suppliers, and inspirational photos.

Step 4: Look for inspiration

“What home styles, features, and details inspire you?”  The final step in the Dream Phase is the most enjoyable one because it’s all about finding the elements you want or need in your home.  These elements can include any home styles, features, or details that you love or need to have, such as certain appliances, paint colors, fabric designs, architectural styles, room layouts—basically whatever speaks to you.  You can look anywhere for inspiration, from the Internet to driving around town.  Here are some of our favorite places to find some inspiration:


Magazines (i.e. Southern Home, Interior Design, LUXE Interiors + Design, etc.)

Product catalogues

Family and friends’ homes

Make sure to save or take pictures of the elements you are interested in and compile them all into what we call an “Inspiration Book.”  You can then take this little book of ideas to meetings with your builder, interior designer, or architect so that they know exactly what you want your dream home to become.  Also, making a list of the top ten things you really want in your home is a very helpful practice for both you and your builder, so that you both know what the priorities are throughout the building process.

About B.L. Rieke, Custom "Dream Home" Builders

B.L. Rieke has over 25 years of experience building top-quality custom homes for families of different sizes, lifestyles, and budgets.  With over 1,100 homes and hundreds of awards under their belt, the B.L. Rieke team has the skill and the qualifications to build the best of the best homes in Kansas City.  Their success is thanks to their lifelong focus on communication, customer service, and especially the details for each home they build.  Make your dream home a reality by building with B.L. Rieke Custom Home Builders!  For more information or to follow us, please visit or our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+ profile