Custom Home Builder vs. General Contractor

Custom Home Builder vs. General Contractor

October 8, 2022 0 By Becca Mahoney

Both custom home builders and general contractors manage the construction of a home. Both employ quality workers using quality tools to fulfill their employment obligations. A homeowner doesn’t need both a custom home builder and a general contractor for the same job. How that homeowner decides which one to hire for their project requires understanding those differences and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Source: Sean Locke Photography/

What Is a Custom Home Builder?

Custom home builders help their clients to design a home and get it built. They manage the project every step of the way from preparing the initial sketches and blueprints all the way to excavation and through construction. A home builder may custom-design homes from scratch or may specialize in a particular type of home, such as modular or prefabricated (prefab) homes or homes built from a selection of pre-made designs.

Custom home builders tend to be companies rather than individuals. A custom home builder will often have an in-office team of specialists or have a group on call whenever a project requires their skills. Since custom home building involves the designing and drafting of homes, one of these specialists is usually an architect. Whether in-house, on-call, or for-hire, architects fill a standard role in virtually any custom home building project. Custom home builders can also streamline the process by putting their own project manager in place to oversee the duties of each of the specialists. A custom home builder’s job for a client is only done once the home is completely built and furnished and they hand the keys over to the client.

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What Is a General Contractor?

General contractors handle the day-to-day, hands-on work of actual construction on a home. They work from the project plans drawn by the builder – or the builder’s architect, generally – and they typically don’t become involved with a homebuilding project until it is actually time for construction of the home to begin. Their role is to make sure the home is built according to the homeowner’s specifications.

General contractors tend to be individuals rather than companies unless that general contractor is also a sole proprietor. A general contractor typically hires, schedules, supervises, and pays a crew of subcontractors to help perform the various tasks that the job requires. As implied above, they do not generally employ architects but rather enter a project after the architect’s work is completed and the blueprints have received approval according to local building codes.

Custom Home Builder vs. General Contractor

Building custom homes is not typically a general contractor’s specialty. To work with a general contractor, you would first need to hire an architect or other home design specialist to draw up plans for the general contractor to use. When you work with a custom home builder instead, you only ever need to work with that company from start to finish. The home builder takes care of the designing and planning as well as the execution and completion. In addition to architectural design, this includes (among other duties):

  • Interior architecture
  • Interior design
  • Lighting design
  • Landscape architecture

Of course, custom home builders also have their own limited wheelhouse building custom homes. A general contractor, therefore, maybe more in order if you want some other sort of construction work done besides building a custom home, such as:

  • Restoration
  • Renovation
  • Production-type homes, or homes from a predesigned set of blueprints
  • Commercial projects like retail buildings, banks, office buildings, and warehouses

In addition, general contractors do not only manage a subcontractor team; they are also skilled laborers themselves whereas custom home builders may or may not be and often are not. That means a general contractor may know how to operate machinery like concrete tools or tile and mosaic tools in a pinch, such as if a subcontractor is a no-show or falls ill. A custom home builder will typically have to find another specialist to fill in. Both types of builders will likely use quality tools for the construction project.

A general contractor will not be able to design a home, however, and a custom home builder won’t typically work hands-on on the project or deal with mechanical work like heating and cooling, plumbing, or electrical work using the general tools in their repertoire. That said, many states require a custom home builder to have a general contractor’s license and/or a general contractor to have a home builder’s license.

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How to Find Quality Tools for a Quality Job

From laying the foundation to erecting the framing to set the walls and roofing, custom home builders and general contractors each play a leading role in a home construction project from excavation to completion, but how they do it and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each differ. Custom home builders are specialists in building custom homes from A to Z, including architectural design, and they offer their services as a turnkey solution.

General contractors enter a project after an architect has already drawn up approved plans, can manage all sorts of construction-related jobs, and offer their various services in whatever combinations a client may need. These contractors are often running the show on a job site and are coordinating the team of workers.

Regardless of whether you’re a custom home builder or general contractor or if you simply have one on the job, choosing the best-in-class tools is what you need to get it done right from roofing to framing to concrete tools.