It can be daunting when you are looking for the right floor plan for your next home or investment.  Unless you know what you are going for exactly, you have a LOT of choices.  There are literally thousands of floor plans that a lot of builders offer, not to mention Mr. Google.

One of the most common questions I get is:  should I go for a custom design or a standard design OR modify / customise an existing standard design?

To answer this question, let’s look at a few questions that will help create some context for the answer:

  1. What are the pros and cons of a standard floor plan?
  2. What are the pros and cons of a custom floor plan?
  3. How risky is it, from a structural point of view, to choose a custom design vs. a standard design?
  4. If you choose an existing floor plan with a builder, is it worth choosing a bigger design and reducing it to the size you want or is it worth choosing a smaller design and enlarging it to the size you want?
  5. How many changes can you make to a standard floor plan?
  6. What’s the limit in terms of changes before going completely custom?

Well, let’s get stuck into it…

Standard Design

Definition

A Standard Design is a floor plan that has been created by a builder and has been built or sold a few times by the builder.  Builders generally create a series of home designs for you to choose from and they call them standard designs.

Now the definition of standard is used very loosely here – every builder’s standard is different and there are lots of different standards.  In essence, one builder’s standard is very different to the next in all aspect of design, inclusions, etc…

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • all the thinking has been done for you
  • design efficiencies have been taken into account to give you the best possible outcome for that particular design
  • because the builder has built the design a few times, they are generally better at building it – this means less mistakes and better economies of scale saving you money
  • you will know the cost upfront (generally) rather than designing a home then finding out the cost once the design is finished
  • lots of design options to choose from
  • a range of home designs with different price points to meet your budget needs
  • less decisions to make hence less stress and energy spent
  • they can be more cost effective to build compared to a custom home
  • this can be built much faster than a standard home

Cons

  • less flexibility to customise the design or have the features that you may want
  • less input into the home being built
  • not every “brilliant” design actually works for your block orientation – please refer to my Design Orientation blog for more info…
  • some design elements might not meet minimum design standards – please refer to my blog on Design Elements 101 for more details
  • some design elements are on the floor plan because they needed to be there rather than serve a functionality purpose

Custom Design

Definition

As the name suggests, a custom design is creating a completely new floor plan from scratch.  This can be done through your builder, drafty, architect, etc… Not every builder offers this or can do this properly, so it’s important to pick the right builder for your build.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • you have the flexibility to design whatever you want
  • you get to design the home to suit the land, not the other way around
  • choice of higher or better finishes and design features
  • you have the ability to build the home of your dreams
  • potentially have a very unique home with nothing like it
  • potentially take advantage of any views that your block may have
  • generally you have a greater input and control with designing your home

Cons

  • they can be more expensive to build compared to a standard design (this is not absolutely true and subject to design)
  • because the house has never been built before, labour can be more expensive as well as supplies given it’s a one-off purchase so no bulk-buying etc…
  • it can take longer to build
  • upfront design costs are more than standard design – architect or designer costs to put the design together in the first place
  • it might take longer to create a custom design home
  • you will not know what your home will cost until you have finished designing the floor plans

Considerations

Structural Risk

In terms of structural integrity, the risk is the same with building either a standard design or a custom home.  This is because there are engineers, designers, etc… involved in the process of building your home regardless of how your floor plan looks like.

In other words, you have a group of professionals that are responsible for building your home and ensure it meets minimum Australian standards, so whether you are building a custom or standard design, your risk is virtually the same from a structural point of view.

Customizing Standard Plans 

If you choose an existing floor plan with a builder, is it worth choosing a bigger design and reducing it to the size you want or is it worth choosing a smaller design and enlarging it to the size you want?

This really depends on the design / layout of the floor plan that you choose.  But generally, it’s easier to start with a smaller design and make it bigger rather than the other way around.

You can easily add 200mm to First and Ground Floor (for example), but to reduce 200mm on First and Ground Floor can mess some of the design elements in your floor plan.  Again, this is a generalisation and it depends on your choice of design.

The other benefit of starting with a smaller design and going bigger is that you pay for the extension square meter rate (usually around ~$1,200 – ~$1,400 per sqm depending on inclusions and site conditions).

However if you make your design smaller, the square meter rate applied to credit you with reducing the size of the home is much less (usually around ~$400 per sqm) so you will be losing space and dollars.

Number of Design Changes

How many changes can you make to a standard floor plan?  You can make as many changes as you can to any standard floor plan.  The question is:  will your builder of choice allow you to do whatever you want to their design?

There is really no limit to what you can do with a floor plan, the limit lies with the builder and the restrictions they want to enforce.

Changes Limit

What’s the limit in terms of changes before going completely custom?  Well, if you make enough changes that the design doesn’t look like the original design then you have customised it.

Having said that, I have had clients say that you can make up to 10 changes and still considered “standard”.   The number of changes are irrelevant.  What if these changes are so huge that the design does not look anything like what it was before?  As a matter of fact, the moment you make a single change to a design, then you have technically customised it.

The smallest change can mean a LOT in terms of building but a lot of people do not realise that.  For example, if you change the size of a window then you are changing the framework, brickwork, gyprock, etc… of that particular design.  What if the framing company forgets to change the size of the window opening (mistakes happen) because they build another 100 exact homes and your modified home design  happens to be different?!!

Another example are the costs you wouldn’t normally consider when you are making changes to a home design.  Check this example below:

  • the client wants to remove alfresco and add it to the living space
  • while this may look ok, you have essentially removed the support structure for the first floor.  This means that you have now potentially added $5,000 to $10,000 in structural steel costs to support the rear of you first floor.

I am not saying that you should not customise / modify the design.  I am simply saying that you should reasonably set your expectations and be understanding that whenever you make a change, costs may increase or decrease depending on the changes that you are making.

Custom OR Standard

Should I go for a custom design or a standard design or modify / customise a standard design?  There is no right or wrong answer here.  The best answer is essentially go with a design that ticks all of your boxes, utilises your block and give you the lifestyle that you want.

In terms of costs, if you elect to completely customise and this custom design is efficient enough; then it should generally cost you slightly more (not much) compared to a standard design.  Some builders will even charge you (for their custom designs) the same rates as their standard designs.  However this depends on the complexity of your design and what’s involved.

A Note

As always, the key to all of this is finding the right builder who can provide you with the best outcome and process for your home building journey.  Choose the builder based on one factor (like price alone) and you are asking for trouble!

Always work with a builder that can give you the best possible outcome.

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