That is the most important thing, isn’t it? Or, wait, maybe not. Shouldn’t your choices drive your project? A loosely designed and defined and unspecified project delivers what the builder wants. A thoughtfully and thoroughly designed and fully specified project delivers what you want. It’s as simple as that. Odds are there will not be full alignment of goals between you and your builder. Some cases may be closer than others, but the likelihood of perfect alignment is slim to none.
I’ve heard people say many times that specifications drive up cost. This is absolutely true. Here, the old adage you get what you pay for applies. Take windows, for example. There are a vast array of choices that cover the gamut of finishes, color, performance, durability, glazing, cost, and materials. If performance (sun-tempered house), exterior color (red), and materials (wood interior) are most important to you and durability (limited warranty effort) and cost (keep the bid low) are most important to the builder, you have a discrepancy and a problem if your choice is not specified. Just as it is your choice whether you spend your money on a BMW or a Ford Fiesta, it is your choice whether you buy high-end clad wood windows or vinyl windows. A high performance BMW costs about 500% (yup) more than a Ford Fiesta. The range for window cost is just as extreme.
When price shopping, it is impossible to have apples-to-apples cost information without thorough plans and full specifications - Period. How can you place a price tag on a project if you don’t know what you are pricing? I’ve heard countless times from owners and builders that a basic plan and elevations (schematic level design) are sufficient for pricing, permitting, and building. This is absolutely not true. One of my many favorite examples of this desperate and unfortunate process is pricing without a power and lighting plan. We find that our clients are quite particular (and rightly so) about lighting locations and fixtures, switching, power locations, data locations, media locations, security systems, and audio systems. To include the cheapest code standard power and lighting plan and Home Depot chic fixtures in a custom house is generally a fundamental misunderstanding of your wishes. If what you want (not what the builder wants) is three times the work and three times the cost of a code standard plan and a code standard plan is included in the contract, you have a discrepancy and a big cost problem during construction. Again, the solution is to design and specify what you want.
Your choices may very well cost more than the code standard and they will likely cost more than the builder’s choices. This is one part of the significant value of design. Your project. Your choices. Your money.