It Would Be Our Privilege To Design And Build Your Custom Luxury Home
Meridian Homes is proud to have designed and constructed some of the most remarkable – and remarkably personal – custom residences in Maryland (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Cabin John, Potomac), Northwest Washington DC, and in Northern Virginia (McLean, Great Falls, Arlington). We would love for the next one to be yours.
From first conceptual sketch through construction to your family’s first night in a home that surpasses your vision, you will appreciate our meticulous craftsmanship and commitment to concierge level client service. Throughout the process, you will have the personal attention of the design and construction professionals who collaborate on your project along with the owners of Meridian Homes, Jonathan and Michael Lerner.
What Does Custom Really Mean?
A custom home is crafted from a personalized set of plans so that the finished product is one-of-a-kind. The location, style and features of the home are determined by your specifications and budget. Some custom homes are very large, but others are small to medium size. The goal of a custom homebuilder should be to create a home that truly fits your taste, lifestyle and financial means. Since designing and building a custom home is a lengthy, involved and expensive process, there should be a real partnership between a client and homebuilder.
Planning For Your Custom Home
Establish Your Goals
The first step in planning for your custom home is to clearly define your objectives in terms of functionality and aesthetics. For example:
- What size home do you envision for yourself? Do you need to accommodate a growing family or are you looking to downsize now that your kids are grown?
- What is your style? Do you prefer traditional colonial architecture, Arts & Crafts style or an ultra-modern design? Remember, your new custom home should fit within the context of the neighborhood and not stick out like a sore thumb.
- How do you want your new home to function for your family? Do you entertain often and need an oversized dining room? Do you have young children and need to have line-of-sight from the kitchen to the family room?
Pinpoint The Area Where You Want To Live
Consider the most important criteria for finding the ideal location for your new home. Here are some important questions to think about:
- Is urban living for you or do you prefer a quiet cul-de-sac in a suburban setting?
- Do you want to be in a certain school district?
- How will you commute to work? Do you need to be near a Metro stop or is easy access to the Beltway important?
- Do you want to be able to walk to a grocery store or is driving to the nearest shopping center just fine with you?
Research the areas that you think would be a good fit for you, based on your list of criteria. Drive around those neighborhoods to get a feel for whether or not you would be comfortable living there.
Determine Your Overall Budget
You need to figure out your budget. Consider not only construction costs, but also other fees for permitting, architecture, financing, landscaping, and decorating. Don’t forget to include the cost of your new lot. As a general rule, your lot price will be about 30 – 40% of the total cost of your new custom home. Since lot prices vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, carefully consider how location will impact your budget and the overall cost of your new home.
Next, make a wish-list and prioritize the items on it so that you can figure out what is most important to you when designing your new home. If there is something extra-special, such as very high-end appliances or a flooring product that you are dreaming about for your home, make sure you budget for it from the beginning. It’s essential to fully understand your budgetary parameters, add 10-20% for comfort, get your financing in place, and then stick to your plan.
Consider How The Size and Style Of Your Custom Home Will Impact Overall Costs
Custom homes can range in size from 2,500 to 25,000 square feet or more. Be aware that the size of a custom home impacts everything from the cost of materials and labor, to the lot requirements, to the time that will be needed to complete the project. The style of your new home also impacts the total cost. In general, materials used to construct an ultra-contemporary home can be much more expensive than those used to build a traditional home. For example, you may have your heart set on having an entire wall of glass with custom swiveling doors to the outside instead of a standard entryway. That decision could take a big chunk of your budget and force you to reduce costs in other areas.
Analyze When You Will Need To Sell Your Current Home – If Applicable
Think through where you will live while your new custom home is under construction. This step is dependent upon your financial situation. Will you need to sell your current home before you begin construction on your new one and live in temporary housing? Or, can you wait to sell your current home until your new home is almost completed?
Choosing Your Custom Homebuilding Team
An essential part of planning for your custom home project is choosing the right homebuilding team for you. Your homebuilder should be able to fill the role of trusted advisor, reputable expert and friendly custom home partner. When your custom home is completed on time, on budget, and just the way you expected it to be, you will be thankful you took the time to do plenty of research upfront in selecting your homebuilder.
Research Custom Homebuilders
Begin by exploring homebuilders’ websites in depth. Take a look at the photos of their past work and see if they’ve won any awards or have earned other accolades. If they offer client resources like informational blogs and eBooks, be sure to read them. Check out their social media pages, read their reviews and focus on comments about client service, construction quality, and timeliness.
Interview Prospective Custom Homebuilders
Once you have researched and found 2 or 3 homebuilders who have exemplary reputations and impressive examples of their work, it is time to set up initial consultations. Just like in most relationships in life, you must be compatible with the homebuilder you will work with, especially since a custom home project is long-term. Write down all of your questions in advance, and make sure you get answers to all of them so that you can determine if the homebuilder is the right match for you. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What is your company’s overall philosophy?
- How long have you been in business in the Washington, DC area?
- Can you explain your design and construction processes?
- Will you help me make my selections for finishes and materials?
- Will you assist with design and development of architectural plans, or will that be outsourced at an additional cost?
- Can you identify and secure a lot for my new home in the area where I want to live?
- What can I expect in terms of builder-to-client interaction and communication?
- How does your staffing structure work? In other words, with whom will I be working on a day-to- day basis before, during and after construction?
- Do you schedule regular on-site progress meetings, and which of your staff members will attend?
- What is your fee and cost structure like?
- Will you connect me with your former clients for references?
- Can you provide your current licensing and insurance information?
- What are the major energy-saving features of the homes you build?
Be clear about your budget and your objectives for your project. A professional homebuilder should work with the pre-determined budget you provide them, as long as it is within the price range for the quality and size of the homes they build. Remember, cheaper is not always better. Factors such as integrity of construction, quality of craftsmanship, level of client service, timeliness and attention to detail all matter when considering what your project will actually cost you. Make sure you fully understand how each homebuilder you interview sets up their fee structures. You should expect to get transparent estimated and final pricing for your custom home project.
When you meet with a reputable homebuilder, you should expect him/her to ask you some questions, too. This interaction will inform you about what to expect in terms of client service in the future. For example, the homebuilder should want to fully understand:
- What are your reasons for building a custom home?
- How does your family live in your current home and how do you want that to change?
- What are your functional and aesthetic goals for your project?
- What is your budget?
- Do you need help in finding a lot? Where do you want your custom home to be located?
- What is your overall time frame for your project from start to finish?
Don’t forget to ask to speak to former clients. A good reference from a satisfied client is worth its weight in gold in helping you to make a decision about which homebuilder to hire. During any construction project, issues inevitably arise. When speaking to references, ask about how quickly and efficiently the homebuilder remedied those types of situations. And, be sure to ask:
- Were their projects completed on time and on budget?
- Did the finished projects meet their goals?
- Was there regular, ongoing communication throughout the process?
- Were they satisfied with the quality of the construction?
- Did the homebuilder provide top-notch client service?
Since you will have frequent meetings throughout the entire design and construction process, be sure that your homebuilder is not too far away. Is their office conveniently located for you? Response time is also important. Will the core team be able to reach your site in a timely manner during construction if an issue arises?
Finally, check to make sure that all of the homebuilders whom you are interviewing meet local and state requirements and have the proper licenses to operate. Also, confirm their insurance coverage, including liability and workers’ compensation. A reputable builder will be happy to provide you with this information.
Finding The Right Location For Your Custom Home
You’ve already done the legwork and narrowed down the general location where you want to live. Now it’s time to find the perfect place to build your new home.
Identify and Purchase A Lot For Your Custom Home
When building a custom home, you will need to identify and purchase a lot. If you want to live close-in to Washington DC, areas such as Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, Cabin John, McLean, Arlington, Great Falls, or Northwest DC are attractive for a variety of reasons. Established neighborhoods like these can offer a sense of a tight-knit community. Your commute to work will be shorter and the public schools are second-to-none in the greater Washington DC area. But finding an empty lot can be almost impossible.
Constructing a new home on a lot where an older home currently stands is called “residential infill building.” Infill building allows you to have a brand-new home with all of the amenities you are dreaming of in the location you desire. If this is something that you are contemplating, hire a homebuilder who specializes in this type of construction and ask them to help you identify, evaluate and purchase the right property. Lot prices in areas that are close to or in Washington DC can range anywhere from $600,000 to millions of dollars. Involving a professional is essential in making sure that the lot you are considering will not only suit your budget and your needs, but also will allow you to build the size and type of home you want within the guidelines and regulations imposed by each local jurisdiction. Be sure to find out if there are any homeowners’ association regulations and review them with your homebuilder, too.
Designing Your Custom Home
Once you’ve researched, interviewed and selected a homebuilding team and found a lot for your new home, it’s time to enter the Design Phase of your project. The Design Phase is all about nailing down the details so that there are no big surprises later on.
Enter Into A Design And Specifications Agreement
Your homebuilder should provide an agreement that documents and formalizes the scope of your project and the budget. When you have reviewed and approved the agreement, you will provide a deposit in order to move forward with the Design Phase. This part of your project will be a collaborative effort between the homebuilder, the architect, possibly an interior designer and you – the client.
Create The Plans
The overall design of your new custom home will start to take shape during this part of the process. You will need to make decisions about many details when your architect discusses the style, size and layout of your home with you. Think about how you want each area in your new home to function for your family. Consider, for example:
- BEDROOMS – Determine how many bedrooms you will need and if you want to have a guest suite on the lower level of your home.
- BATHROOMS – A master bathroom in a custom home is typically designed to be a luxurious retreat. That doesn’t mean it must be a huge space – just a lovely place where you can escape the pressures of the day. Installing a freestanding soaking tub and a separate shower is a recent design trend. Whatever you choose, make sure you create a zen-like space that will make you feel relaxed. Also, decide how many full and half bathrooms you will require throughout the rest of the home.
- KITCHENS – The look of your kitchen should reflect your personal style, but the functionality of your kitchen is a huge consideration, too. If more than one family member will cook at the same time, you may want to have workstations instead of a traditional layout. If you have the space, a large pantry can be the perfect place for storing and organizing food items and extra cookware. Oversized kitchen islands can house a microwave, a warming drawer, a beverage center or even an extra dishwasher.
- CONNECTED SPACES – Most homeowners want a “kitchen-breakfast-family room” type of space that is conducive to everyday living and entertaining. Consider traffic flow and how your family will use the open-concept space.
- FLEXIBLE-USE ROOMS – More and more often, formal spaces, such as living rooms, are not part of the design of a new custom home because clients want a flexible space that can be used as a kids’ playroom, a home office or a TV room.
- MUDROOMS – Are you tired of your family dumping their stuff on the floor as soon as they walk in the door? A functional mudroom, or family foyer, is a MUST in your new custom home! Typically, a mudroom is situated inside the garage entry to the home for convenience. Design your mudroom to include custom built storage lockers with hooks, cubbies and shelves. If you have enough space, consider a walk-in closet, a utility sink, a powder room, a comfy bench or even a pet cleaning station.
- LAUNDRY ROOMS – Some clients prefer to have their laundry room on the upper level of the home near the bedrooms and others want to have the washer and dryer on the main level. You can even consider installing a stackable washer/dryer in the mudroom or in a master bedroom closet to create an additional laundry area for extra convenience if you have the space. Whatever your preference, think about including cabinets for storage, hanging rods for drying clothes and a flat surface for folding.
- OUTDOOR LIVING SPACES – Outdoor living spaces are seen as less of a luxury and more of a necessity these days. Large patios, decks, or screened-in porches extend your entertaining space from the indoors to the outdoors. Outdoor kitchen areas with grills, refrigerators, and sinks allow you to prepare food while spending time with your guests. Adding a swimming pool or a sport court to your backyard is a great way to keep everyone together and occupied all summer long. And fireplaces make a cozy gathering area for your family when the weather turns cooler but you still want to enjoy spending time outside.
- HOME TECHNOLOGY – These days, clients expect the latest technology to be incorporated into the design of their new custom homes. Some wiring infrastructure will be necessary because streaming services may be slow throughout your home without it. Integrative, smart home products that control home security, lighting, heating & air conditioning, and audio/visual devices can be controlled from an iPad, Smartphone, or laptop through a wireless system. And these wireless systems have become less expensive as the technology has evolved, making home automation much more affordable than you may think. Before construction even begins, home technology should be factored into your plans, and your budget, so that you have the infrastructure that you will need over time.
- GREEN AND ECO-FRIENDLY – It’s important to keep a whole-house approach in mind from the initial stages of planning and design. For example, select appliances that are designed for maximum energy efficiency. Pick heating and cooling systems that are not only highly energy-efficient but sized correctly for your home, too. Water-efficient fixtures and irrigation systems are designed to use less water now, so make sure you look for the best ratings when making your selections. New windows and doors are manufactured to be energy-efficient but they need to be installed and sealed properly so that there is no unwanted air penetration. Proper insulation throughout a home will keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You can choose low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints and flooring materials to provide better indoor air quality. Use sustainable materials that have a low impact on the environment such as bamboo or reclaimed wood, or opt for kitchen countertops made from recycled components. Not only does this whole-house approach to being green and eco-friendly save you money in the long run, it will create a more comfortable living environment in your home.
Select All Finishes And Materials
A custom home client should always be an active participant throughout the design process. You will make all of the selections, from plumbing and lighting fixtures to tile to cabinetry to appliances and more, often with the assistance of the homebuilder or an interior designer. Until all of these selections are made, it is impossible for a homebuilder to determine exactly how much these variable costs will impact the final price of a custom home. Appliances run the gamut in terms of features and cost. There is a wide range of styles available for windows and doors, and some are far more expensive than others. All this means is that every selection you make will add to the bottom-line cost of your project, so be sure that each item works within your overall budgetary parameters.
Approve All Design And Specifications Phase Details
When all selections are completed, the homebuilder presents the client with detailed plans, specifications, a timeline and an estimated price. Once everything is agreed upon and approved, the client and homebuilder enter into a Construction Agreement and the next phase begins.
Constructing Your Custom Home
The agreement that you sign should be very detailed and exacting. Understand that the cost and timing of your overall project will be affected if you make changes after construction begins. Any changes that you do ask for should always be documented and agreed upon before work proceeds.
Enter Into A Construction Agreement
The Construction Agreement should incorporate the approved plans, specifications, timeline, and final pricing. You will begin to pay for construction costs as specified in your agreement at this point.
Obtain Required Permits
The homebuilder will obtain all required permits. Each municipality is different, so it’s essential to understand that custom home projects will often require some kind of special permitting, and most likely, a special type of insurance policy. Your homebuilder and architect should know about all permitting requirements and regulations in your jurisdiction and should communicate them to you at the beginning of the construction phase. You should also factor in some extra time for your project in case the permitting process takes longer than expected.
Establish Communication Channels
Your homebuilder should encourage a collaborative process so that your expectations are fully met, so establish communication channels with your homebuilding team (email, text, phone) early on. Your assigned Project Manager should be updating you regularly as construction progresses and you should receive timely responses to your questions and comments.
Order All Materials
Before construction begins, your homebuilder will start to order your selected materials so that the agreed upon timeline can be met. Occasionally, items may be backordered or unavailable and you may need to choose substitutions.
Coordinate With Local Jurisdictions
Your homebuilder will coordinate with local jurisdiction officials to ensure that all permitting requirements are complied with and that all required environmental protection steps are implemented.
Deconstruct (If Applicable)
The deconstruction or demolition process of the old home on the lot begins at this point, if applicable. Some materials may qualify for donation to certain charities, so be sure to discuss this potential tax advantage opportunity with your homebuilder and your accountant.
Once the deconstruction process is complete, construction will start.
Hold Regular On-Site Progress Meetings
Your homebuilder should invite you to regular, scheduled, on-site progress meetings to:
- Review and analyze the project status
- Discuss outstanding action items
- Preview upcoming construction activities
Your project should be completed on time and on budget.
Perform Builder’s Quality Control Walk-Through
Your homebuilding team should perform quality control walk-throughs during the end phases of construction.
Schedule A Client Walk-Through
A walk-through should be scheduled with you, the client, to identify any tasks that still need to be addressed.
Complete Identified Tasks
All outstanding tasks should be completed by the homebuilder and verified with you.
Conduct The Final Inspections
Final inspections will be done by local officials and coordinated by your homebuilder. All ‘Use and Occupancy’ documentation should be obtained, if required.
It’s now time to move into your new custom home. Enjoy!
Conduct Follow-Up Walk-Throughs
Your homebuilder should stand by their work and, 60 to 90 days after completion, pay a follow-up visit to identify any warrantable issues that may require further attention. A second scheduled visit should occur at about 11 months after occupancy.
Engage Your Homebuilder For Optional After-Care Services
Find out if your homebuilder offers optional After-Care Maintenance Services. As the people who know your custom home almost as well as you do, your homebuilder should be your natural resource for a range of as-needed services such as home maintenance, repairs, and handyman jobs as time goes by.