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So You Want to Build a House in Houston?

Here's what you need to know.

By Laura Furr Mericas March 23, 2021 Published in the Spring 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Knowledge is power, especially when you are really going for it and just building the home of your dreams instead of trying to simply will one into being on the existing market by compulsively refreshing online listings. But once you’ve made that decision, you need to be aware of a few things. We talked to local custom builders and architects to get the lowdown.

Materials prices are way, way up.

It’s not the most glamorous side of building a home, but to be honest, if glamour is what you’re seeking, this entire process might not be for you. The cost of lumber is the talk of the industry these days. The price of this essential material surged to an all-time high in September 2020—some types of wood even doubled in price at points in the year—which means owners must pay a premium to build. “Something like that happens, it could really create havoc for general contractors,” says Brett Zamore of Brett Zamore Design.

Too, as the entire country is scrutinizing and deciding it’s time to trade up and invest in a new washer, oven, or fridge, the demand for appliances has never been higher, while supply remains low. This means you will wait days or even weeks for that new dryer to be installed, and backordered dishwashers or windows may take weeks to arrive. Expect this phenomenon to add about a month to your move-in timeline.


Builders can do more than just build.

Not all builders are created equal—some are considered design-builders, who take the home from conception to finished product, while others work off predetermined plans. When you have a certain idea in mind, ask what approach the firm takes before getting too far into the process. “One thing that I wish we could say to many clients is to get professionals involved earlier,” says James Evans, AIA at Collaborative Designworks.

Still, top-notch builders and architects, Evans says, can help with front-end decisions, such as how to achieve what you truly need and (perhaps more important) where to buy land. If you want to go solo in the early stages, that’s fine, but when living in Houston, it’s important to…

Know your floodplains.

Thanks to Hurricane Harvey, building within a floodplain now comes with additional regulations for all new builds or additions. Homes in the floodplain must now be raised two feet above the highest flood levels of a 500-year flood, which equals about eight feet off the ground, according to Michael Silva, whose Happen Houston has begun to specialize in this type of build. But it’s crucial to know how these requirements will affect the structure you’re planning to put up, since these new rules can change the vision of your dream home significantly. To understand where this policy comes into play, check out the Harris County Flood Education Mapping tool (harriscountyfemt.org).

Your schedule is a guide—NOT A GUARANTEE.

In the world of construction, timelines are not set in stone, especially during this pandemic (see point number 1). And, according to Zamore, even the banks are being somewhat flexible during these unprecedented times to accommodate owners and builders struggling to meet schedules.

Generally, it takes a designer-builder a few months to finalize plans with its clients. And the required construction time can vary. Kelly Kirk, president of Greymark Construction, says a bathroom renovation can take about six weeks, while a total gut job can take about six months. And Evans says construction from the ground up takes between 12 and 14 months — that is, if every single aspect of the building process comes off without a hitch. The wise thing to do is to make peace with that fact, he advises, and always, always, always expect delays.

Square feet do not equal function.

If you’re taking the plunge on a brand-new home, don’t get lured into something that might not be the right fit based on just the size of the thing, Evans recommends. Buyers can find plenty of new builds that boast monstrous square footage statistics in just about every neighborhood in and around town. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll work for you or your family. Building a custom home with a top-notch design-builder or architect will allow buyers to customize their property with smart uses of space. Maybe you do need lots of square feet, or maybe a smaller, more efficient use of space with high-end finishings will better suit your fancy. An honest builder can work with you to determine what’s best. 

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