Avoiding the red pen – Picking the new home designs that’s right for you.


In new home construction you really have two choices – engage a custom builder to design something just for you or go to a volume builder and select from a series of floorplans and options that have already been created. Both have their place, but problems can arise when customers try to create a hybrid solution.

So, what’s the difference?

Custom builders can be expensive, but if you’re after a bespoke one-off solution and have the budget, it may well be the right choice for you. Custom builders will likely have an architect on their team of staff that will take a design brief from you and draft your new home from the ground up. You will be able to chose all of your inclusions and finishes, accommodate all of your changes and requirements, and may even be offered the opportunity to make further amendments under construction. It’s a longer and much more expensive process, but the end result may well be the masterpiece you’ve always wanted.

Volume home builders have large teams that pre-plan their home designs taking all the market factors into consideration. They’ll likely have a large list of home designs with various features and options to cater for the majority of new lot sizes and shapes. These designs will also take into consideration orientation of the home, 6- star energy rating compliance and council and developer requirements across the bulk of land estates in your area. Because they pre-plan their home designs they can keep the costs down, by locking their supply network into fixed rates based on a volume of similar designs as well as reducing overhead, without the need for custom drafting and pricing for every home. As a by-product, this also limits the amount of errors that can happen under construction, because each home design is a constant case of refinement - of plans, quality and quantity of materials and the streamlining of internal processes and systems.

Many customers try to take a custom builder model and apply it to volume builders by way of amending or customising standard plans (in the industry we call it applying the ‘red pen’). They may see something another builder has on display and try to shoehorn it into their design. Or they like one thing from one plan and something else from another and try to blend the two. This is fraught with danger, as often the end result isn’t what the customer is looking for, it’s taken much longer to construct that anticipated, its cost more and they can be frustrated or angry at every step of the process.

Here are a few ways changing new home plans effects your build:

Timeframes can blow out

Changes to new home plans will need to go through a series of internal processes for drafting and estimating your changes. Because many of these changes are open to interpretation, and touch so many different people inside the building company, there may be many rounds of back-and-forth before you’re happy. This can add many weeks both before your new home contract is ready to sign and after you’ve signed it before it can go to construction. In most cases you’re paying additional mortgage repayments for months on a block of land you now own, and can’t live on, and/or rent that could have been avoided.


There will be additional charges to make changes to your new home plans both for the things that you’ve asked to be changed and the time and resource it’s going to take to make them. Many volume builders who don’t specialise in custom homes may also charge you a ‘change fee’ to cover some of these costs. Be mindful that any additional costs in your new home contract can affect your home valuation and resale price.

It may not be what you expected

Volume builders don’t specialise in custom design work. They have teams of draftspeople that are great at their jobs, but in most cases, they aren’t architects or designers. You’ll probably never meet them anyway, as your changes will be relayed through your sales consultant. All sales staff want to keep their customers happy, so they’ll likely ask for your changes to be drawn exactly as you’ve asked for them. This can mean, in practical terms, the changes just don’t suit the home design, or the draftsperson has had to sacrifice an important aspect of the home to make room for your changes. Furthermore, the drawing that you get back in 2D may look exactly as you wanted but it may be very different from the reality of how you thought it would be in your new home day-to-day.


Construction times can be extended because of the additional requirements in your new home. In the case of significant changes, you may also find that, because the site supervisors and tradespeople are used to building standard plans, it may take additional time onsite to ensure the home is constructed according to the new design. You may also incur additional costs because of custom items in your home that the builder has had to order especially for you in a size/shape/style that they don’t have volume purchasing power over.

You may not be happy with the final result!!

Builder’s spend a lot of time and money on R&D to ensure that home designs are functional, have a good flow and satisfy developer and council requirements. These new homes are designed by experts that have the ability to visualise how the final home will look and feel based on a 2D drawing. In many cases 3D models are also created and the home may have been built and refined over and over as part of the R&D function.

The last thing you want is to walk into your new home and it not be how you envisaged. In a real-life example, one customer was unable to move furniture into their second bedroom because the hallway design was too narrow to allow for additional bathroom space, they insisted on having!


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