- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 11 Oct 2018
Small homebuilders vs volume housebuilders
When building a home the advantages of large builders are well-documented. Big builders have 'deep pockets'. They can exploit economies of scale, leveraging this into supply-chain influence and getting discounts on materials (ideally passing these savings along to the buyer) as a result.
Custom builders are usually working on only one project at a time. As a result, they are not afraid to look into options such as urban infill lots, allowing you more choice of where you want to build.
By contrast, big builders think big. This means they're not thinking in terms of houses, but in terms of developments. To build a development, the big builders must locate and acquire large tracts of land. The location of your house is restricted to these. These tracts are rarely available near urban centres, meaning that if you don't want a long commute, a big builder may not be your best option.
2. You are an individual and you'd like your house to be as well
As a rule, you can expect almost complete customisation from a small builder. To begin with, a custom builder is working with a greater range of design options, often built on a single plot. This allows you to select most of the details of your new home. Additionally, by definition, a small builder will have fewer employees, meaning that they will nearly always be on site. You will have the opportunity to change things you dislike. Your builder is also very likely to accommodate you in such areas because they are likely to live in the area where they work and their professional reputation depends, in no small part, on your satisfaction.
Volume builders build homes, generally many at a time, based upon a more limited library of home plans. They will have purchased most of the materials and pre-determined most of your house's design elements well in beforehand. You can 'customise' your home with your selections of appliances, countertops, etc., but the builders are on a very strict schedule, and aren't necessarily inclined to make all of the small changes you'd like to see. If you're building in a niche location, perhaps on a hill or on a narrow plot, the bigger developers may not share your vision.
3. Smaller builders can be more knowledgeable
A smaller, local builder will be more likely to have built on similar terrain. Having built in your area, a custom builder will be able to tell you with confidence that, for instance, there is rock near the surface of the ground in your area, making excavation impossibility. This sort of prior knowledge can end up saving you money in site costs.
One way that large builders keep their prices so low is by having portions of homes built in a factory, then brought to the site, negatively affecting both the quality and the materials themselves [evidence required - conventional wisdom has it that off site construction is higher quality]. Custom homebuilders are far less likely (or able) to engage in this practice.
A volume builder can build you a 'McMansion' comparatively cheaply, but the future costs of heating, cooling, and furnishing it (not to mention the burden of cleaning it) are left to you. A builder who lives in your area will be more familiar with local energy costs and other such issues, and again, will have a professional interest in your satisfaction.
To conclude, bigger builders do carry the advantages of working quickly. They can offer larger homes at lower prices, but this comes at the cost of the individualisation that likely drove you to build, rather than buy, a home in the first place. A custom builder can be the best way of making sure that you're buying the house of your dreams, and not of the developer's.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
70 buildings from 70 years of Concrete Quarterly. Book review.
Conserving the iron roof at the Albert Dock.
Delivering an infrastructure revolution.
The admissibility of evidence.
How many can you name? 37 anyone?
CIOB respond to the points-based system.
When is the weather considered 'exceptionally adverse'?
ECA backs call for a rolling programme of rail electrification.
What does 'curtilage' mean and why does it matter?
Our duty to prevent harm and protect each other.
A quality perspective.