Project vs custom

26 Feb 2018

Humphrey Homes architect draftsman supervisor

If you’re looking at building in 2018, there’s a lot of exciting plans to make.  And, with that, of course comes a lot of questions to consider.  One of the main ones focuses on whether you should choose a project builder or a custom home builder.  Here, we explain the difference between the two.

Pre-designed plans vs blank canvas

Project builders are essentially large building companies who have many pre-designed homes to suit different block sizes and budgets.  The designs are generally simple but also very cost effective, because they are repeated over and over.

Most companies will allow small changes to the plans but the main benefit of using a predesigned plan is that the builder knows exactly how much it will cost to build, the supervisor can build many of them at one time and they have negotiated very competitive rates for all the materials, fittings and fixtures. The upside is they can be very cost effective.  The downside is the design will be generic, not individually designed and tailored for each family and there will be limitations with what you can change. Custom designed homes on the other hand start on a blank canvas.

They are generally designed by either building designers or architects. This process starts with knowing what kind of home a client wants including size, number of bedrooms, number of levels/storeys etc.   The home will be designed to suit the actual block of land and its orientation, the clients’ lifestyle and of course the clients’ budget. 

The custom process is very personal and bespoke. The upside is you will have a home that is unique and designed to your personal requirements and taste. The downside is custom homes haven’t been predesigned so the design stage will take longer. They often cost more because they’re unique, meaning they have never been designed or built before, and are catering for clients who are often choosing to build at a higher level.

Specific specifications

Many project builders operate with a list of set specifications, some are standard and some are upgrades, depending on your budget and taste.   You are able to choose anything from that agreed range for the agreed price on your contract.  That includes the elevation; while you might have a choice of what the front of your home looks like you are often required to pick from existing styles.

Custom builders literally let you choose what you want and will assist you in sourcing and tailoring items that match your design and personality.   If you’ve coveted a certain type of paver for your alfresco, or if you prefer granite or marble in your kitchen, then they will make it happen.   They will still consult with you on pricing and availability of materials, as a project builder would, but it allows you to inject a lot more personality into the important finishing touches of your home.   That philosophy extends right down to the type of light switches you have and door handles on your cupboards (if you want them of course!).

Level of personalised service

Both project and custom builders will focus on providing a high level of customer service and many companies strive to win awards for this as it can be the difference between a client choosing you or not.  Project builders may build literally hundreds of homes each year so it can be hard to provide a comprehensive level of service to every single client, however they seem to do a great job at it.  Custom builders operate on much smaller volumes.  They can build anything from 1-20 homes per year, depending on their size, so they will naturally get to know their clients more by virtue of spending more time with them, especially during the design stage.

Architectural and interior design influence

Given that pre-designed homes are generally designed to be simple and cost effective, the level of architectural influence will probably be fairly low.  Most project builders will have in-house interior designers or decorators who will add extra flair to the homes. Custom designed homes can also be simple but can also extend to architect homes which can cost millions of dollars.  Most of these homes will also have an interior designer involved working alongside the architect to enhance the architecture and personality down to the smallest detail.


Given the differences raised here, obviously price is another item that can vary between project and custom builders.  Ultimately, you get what you pay for.  The main consideration is to partner with a builder that you trust.  If you can establish that early on and have it continue through the build it should be an enjoyable process.

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Humphrey Homes is an architecture and building company based in Cottesloe.  As a Perth local architect and builder, Humphrey Homes primarily designs and builds homes in Cottesloe, Dalkeith, Peppermint Grove, Nedlands, Subiaco and Floreat.