Production, custom or in between? The answer depends on your priorities.
If you have done any research into new homes, you're likely familiar with the three categories of homes and builders: production, semi-custom and custom. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and your priorities--and each type may appeal to the same people at different points in their lives.
If you have lived in a tract home, it was built by a production builder. The company built it and similar homes over and over, in what amounted to an outdoor factory. The repeatability of this approach lets production builders systematically shave time from the process, while the volume of homes they build qualifies them for bulk material discounts. Production homes also tend to be built on relatively inexpensive land. These cost savings make the production home cheaper than a custom home of similar size.
The tradeoff is that you get a cookie-cutter home. It's like buying a car: you can choose a color and opt for a sunroof, but the basic model doesn't change. Most production builders limit the buyer to a menu of predefined options--four carpet types, three cabinet styles, six fixture lines and so on--arranged in good, better and best tiers.
The production model is for those who would rather buy than build. It's popular among people who want a new home but don't need something unique and don't have time to think through a lot of choices, such as young families with two working parents.
Semi-custom: Somewhat Different
Some people don't want a cookie-cutter home but also don't want to start with a blank canvas. This is the person who says, "I like that floor plan, but it's not exactly what I want." Semi-custom builders offer these clients a portfolio of floor plans that can be customized to a greater degree than the production home.
Although customization usually includes some structural choices, the options tend to be predefined. They might include building a master suite at the back of the house, adding a screened porch or changing the siding, all of which the builder has priced to the dollar.
Structural options make the semi-custom home more expensive than an equally sized production home and require a bit more homeowner involvement. Semi-custom homes are popular with families moving up the income ladder, as well as with retirees who want to sell their custom home and downsize.
The custom builder works with homeowners to create a home that perfectly serves their particular wants and needs. They might want a certain architectural style or specific features. Or they might not. These are homeowners who, simply put, want what they want.
The custom home's status as a unique reflection of its owners makes it more complex than the production or semi-custom home in design, materials selection and construction. These homes are often built on the homeowners' land, which can bring unique design and engineering challenges.
Custom builders excel at imagining and creating something unique with each home. And because these projects involve so much interaction with homeowners, the most successful builders have a company culture that revolves around relationship building and homeowner satisfaction. Not only that, professional builders have systems, organization and subcontractor and supplier relationships in place to efficiently and cost-effectively guide their customers through a complex building project. In fact, it's a huge part of their success.