Whether you’re building a $1-million-plus customized dream home or your family’s first abode, the key is finding a place that fits your lifestyle.

Are green spaces and parks most important? Do you need quick access to roadways or transit to take you to work? Are shops and restaurants nearby? Are there schools for your kids or places to walk your dog?

Deciding what is most important helps make the decision of where, and what, you can build within your budget.

Brigitte Lepage, co-owner of Capstone Custom Homes (building in the $900,000-plus range, not including lot) says most custom homebuyers have already owned several houses.

“They now want something unique that fits the way they live their life,” she said.

Most have already purchased a lot, sometimes with an existing home the company will remove. Capstone also has a REALTOR® associate to source lots. At the first meeting, “we listen, understand where they want to build and their vision,” said Lepage.

Lepage says it’s beneficial if customers have a set budget establishing up-front expectations, as well as home design parameters.

The company views the lot, then home design – done internally or with outside firms – takes three to six months. From excavation to completion, build time is 12 to 18 months, depending on home size, lot dimensions, mechanical requirements and other factors.

Lepage says transparency is key. Generally, custom builders charge costs plus a management fee. “(Clients) should make sure they are shown actual costs, not marked up ones, before the management fee is added,” she said.

At Mattamy Homes (the developer and builder behind the new communities of Cityscape, Carrington and Southwinds) buyers choose a home model and lot at each area’s sales centre, where they can also view showhomes and the site itself.

Christine Turner – Mattamy’s director of customer care, design centre and warranty – advises first-time buyers, in particular, to read all purchase documents thoroughly and ask questions every step of the way.

The documents include everything from timelines for lawyers, bank financing, utility set-ups and warranty programs, to maintenance needs for your home.

Mattamy has dedicated customer care staff who take buyers through the estimated eight-month build process, from choosing design options, to construction walkthroughs and after-purchase care.

Design centres hours include nights and weekends because Turner says choosing everything from tile grout colour to kitchen lights can be overwhelming.

Many home models have set floorplans. Turner says buyers should be aware of what changes or options are available – “and ask about their pricing” – to avoid budget shock at the end of the process.