Modifying a House Plan – 11 Home Plan Customization Insights

By Jenny Clark

11 frequently asked questions and answers about the house plan modification process.

I’m the type of person who really prefers a solid, straightforward—yes or no, black or white, day or night—answer to a question. If I, for example, ask someone, "Hey, is it rainy or sunny outside?" A response of, "Well, it was sunny earlier. It’s a little gray now. There’s a chance of mist later," will not inspire happiness. 

Clearly, I was never meant for planet Earth—a land incurably infected with endless shades of gray. I was reminded of this fact when I interviewed Matt Clancy, Houseplans.com’s Director of Sales, eCommerce, about customizing a house plan--specifically, when a formal customization is necessary, and what the process is like. Disclaimer: If you’re anything like me, learning the "rules" of the home plan modification isn't going to be a day at the beach. But don’t panic. It's not brain surgery either. Pour a glass of wine, grab a cookie, and we’ll get through it together. Below are 11 frequently asked questions and answers related to the house plan customization process.

Question #1: I found a home plan I really like on Houseplans.com, but I want to make changes to it. How do I do this?
Answer #1: Call us at 1-800-913-2350. We’re here to help you! Or, click the blue MODIFY THIS PLAN button on the product detail page of the plan you wish to customize. Then, fill out and submit the form on the next page. (Note: by "product detail page," I mean a page that looks like this. Scroll down, slightly—the MODIFY THIS PLAN button is located under the plan’s description). Once you submit the modification form, we’ll email you back with a customization quote within 2 business days. If you approve the quote, we’ll send over a contract with all the details. Once the contract is signed and payment is received, the customization will begin. The length of time it takes to receive the customized plan depends on the scope of the modification. Generally speaking, it's 4-6 weeks.

Question #2: How much does it cost to customize a house plan?
Answer #2: Again, it really depends on the scope of customization. "Often times, it costs more than the plan itself," explains Clancy. Now, does that mean it’s going to cost millions, no, but it’s not gonna be fifty bucks either. Don’t get me wrong—if you only have $50 to spend, I’m not judging you. In fact, readers of my previous blogs know that I live in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. In other words, I, personally, don’t even have $50 to spend. That means I have to be envious of yours.

A general pricing guideline, as noted on our House Plan Modification Guide, is as follows: small changes tend to be in the ballpark of $500-1,000, plus the cost of the plan; medium-sized changes are often $1,100-1900, plus the cost of the plan; and major changes can be $2,000 and up, plus the cost of the plan. For some people, Clancy explains, having to spend $1,000 or so on a customization, plus the cost of the plan, is no big deal. This is especially true of someone who already has his or her construction financing ready to go. On the other hand, if building your own home is more of a far off dream and you’re asking about plan customization out of curiosity more than anything else, being told you’ll need to spend $1,000 or so on modifications plus the price of the plan can be a bit jarring. Try not to get discouraged. I mean…look: You’re planning to build a house, right? Okay. It’s no secret that building a home is an expensive endeavor. Keep breathing. Consider getting your construction financing in order first so you have more financial room to breathe. And, ultimately, remember this—you’re building your dream home. This isn't the type of thing you want to skimp on. If spending an extra $1,000 or so is going to make a house plan perfect for you and your family... spend the extra $1,000!

Question #3: What if I find the perfect house plan on Houseplans.com, but the paint color depicted in the plan’s photo or color rendering doesn’t suit me? Do I have to pay a customization fee to change the paint color?
Answer #3: "The paint colors are typically not even shown on the plan," explains Clancy—meaning, you can usually paint the house whatever color you want without paying for any kind of customization. That said, you’ll still need to clear your chosen paint color with your homeowners association, assuming the area you’re building in has an HOA. Why? Because HOAs may deem only certain paint colors "appropriate" for your neighborhood.

Question #4: What about other small plan tweaks, like changing the size of a window? Do I have to pay a customization fee for something like that?
Answer #4: Usually, no. Small edits—sometimes referred to as "redline changes" or "redlining” because a red mark is simply drawn on the plan to denote the change—are often completed by the builder in the field. Examples of common redline changes include: altering the size of a window, moving a garage door from the front to the side, slightly adjusting the interior layout of a room, and updating certain materials, such as swapping out vinyl siding for Hardie board, explains Clancy. But, there are two main caveats related to this: 1) it depends on where you’re planning to build and 2) it depends on the house plan you select. Clancy goes on to explain that if you’re building a home in the South, Southeast, or Midwest, making a redline tweak here and there is—generally speaking—totally acceptable. On the other hand, if you’re building a home along the coast, or anywhere that tends to have a lot of building rules and regulations, every little change may need to be formally documented and approved. Furthermore, while many house plan designers don’t care about minor redline tweaks being made to their designs, some do, for a variety of reasons. So, if you select a house plan by a designer who does not approve of redline changes, then you may need to pay a customization fee to have the plan formally modified.

Question #5: Are there any dangers inherent to making redline changes in the field as opposed to formally customizing the house plan?
Answer #5: "[Redlining] can be very costly to the homeowner," warns Clancy. When you’re building a house, often the builder uses one copy of the house plan, while subcontractors use their own copies. If the house plan is formally customized, all copies of the plan are redrawn with the modification in place. However, if the builder makes a quick redline change on his or her copy of the plan, but forgets to inform all the subcontractors of the change, Subcontractor X might, for example, start building out a framing detail that’s no longer correct—causing the homeowner to experience delays and additional costs. Now, does this mean that all redline changes are super-dangerous and should be avoided at all costs? No, that’s not what Clancy is saying. In fact, Clancy explains that redline changes are very common when building a house. But, everything has risks, and as a homeowner, you need to understand the risks associated with your unique situation so you can make an informed decision on how best to proceed.

Question #6: What’s an example of a house plan modification that almost certainly needs a formal customization?
Answer #6: Moving an exterior wall. "Because that’s going to affect the foundation; that’s going to affect all four sides of the house; that’s going to affect how the roof comes together; that’s going to affect the cross sections and the floor plans and many of the plan pages," says Clancy.

Question #7: What if I want to make a lot of changes to a plan? Is that okay? Will you guys think I’m weird?
Answer #7: Yes, it’s okay. And no, we definitely won’t think you’re weird! Every customer is different. "It's everything from, you know, change the paint color to—let's add three more garages and a boat house and an inlaw suite,” says Clancy.

Question #8: What if I’ve been browsing Houseplans.com for weeks and can’t find a home plan that works for me? Do you offer a custom design service (i.e. drawing a new house plan from scratch)?
Answer #8: Yes! Call us 1-800-913-2350. We have experts waiting to help you!

Question #9: This was a lot of information. My attention span is only so long. Could you please review the main points I should know?
Answer #9: You're not alone. My attention span died somewhere around 3rd grade. Just remember this: to successfully modify a house plan, you need two basic resources:

1) The Houseplans.com team can walk you through modification pricing, which type of plan you should purchase based on the modifications you intend to make, and whether the designer of the given plan has any strict rules when it comes to redlining small changes, etc.

2) A professional home builder who is familiar with the state, city, town, and neighborhood you want to build in. The builder is going to be the person who can answer questions like— Does this neighborhood have an HOA? If I modify this house plan so the ceilings are X feet higher, and/or if I plan to make the garage bigger, is the city or town going to be okay with that? Furthermore, how strict is the city or town when it comes to having every single little change formally documented and approved? Etc.

Question #10: This blog is about to end, and I still have questions that haven't been answered. Where can I find additional information?
Answer #10: Check out our House Plan Modification Guide, or call us at 1-800-913-2350.

Question #11: I'd like to hear from someone who actually modified a house plan. Do you offer any customer testimonials?
Answer #11: We're currently in the process of creating a testimonials section. Below is one of many.

Doris and Brian of Lexington, Oklahoma modified house plan #411-592 with the help of the Houseplans.com team. "It was quite a revelation for those living in Oklahoma, but we thought this plan would fit our ranch perfectly. Coming from Northern California, the concept of a 'California ranch' was a little disconcerting for some builders in our area. But they came through for us, and we can't tell you how thrilled we are with the outcome. We would highly recommend houseplans.com for anyone's new home build. We had hired two architects prior to finding houseplans.com, and your company came through for us when other firms could not deliver," say Doris and Brian.

...Happy customizing!!

Fri Feb 09 00:00:00 PST 2018