Custom Designed Home Vs Volume Builder: What Is the Cost? (Part I)

Money House

If you were looking to build a home, would your first stop be with a building designer/architect or a volume builder? I am biased (I won’t tell you which way), but here is my comparison between an architect’s custom home and a volume builder’s project house. It is centred on everybody’s favourite topic… Money.

There are good reasons to build a custom home (unique design) or a project home (off-the-plan & volume built), with each having benefits over the other. Those believing that one is cheaper than the other will find that it is not that simple.


The cost of constructing your home is the main concern of most potential home builders.

A project home has already accounted for all construction costs in order to give you a reasonably firm contract price very early on. Volume builders have the prices of tradespeople and consultants already in their system for each design, which is focused on minimising the time taken to arrive at the finished product. This can be a financial benefit for many people too, as the expedited process can reduce rent and other costs while construction is happening.

The exact price of a custom home is not known from the beginning, so there is potential for cost blowouts if you are continually adding more and more features. Every change does not come with an instantly visible pricetag, which you could obtain from a volume builder. You won’t see $150 added onto your contract price for that extra powerpoint in your custom designed house, but the actual price of it is usually much cheaper than paying for ‘extras’ in a project home.

Going down the custom built path will often mean you’ll pay consultants (Architect, Engineer, Soil Report etc) separately and often before a builder has priced the design. This can feel like a risk to some people, who could go with a volume builder and have these costs included in the construction fees.

There are certain expenses which will be outside of the contract price in both situations. A volume builder may charge additional fees for unknowns such as increasing the slab thickness in poor soil conditions, whereas this would already be known and accounted for in the apparently higher contract price of an architecturally designed house. You may also choose to exclude expenses such as painting in either scenario to save money and use your own labour.

The actual costs of labour and sub-trades are usually fairly similar with either process. Volume builders can make some savings with bulk purchases, but the major difference in price comes down to the quality & cost of fittings and finishes, as well as the cost of materials for more adventurous designs.


Comparing a basic project home to a similarly-sized custom designed home may appear much more economical at first glance, but if you are looking to modify it to complement your lifestyle it becomes more comparable to a custom home. If you are looking for a place to live with minimal build cost as your primary concern, a project home will likely be cheaper, provided you make minimal changes. If you are likely to customise your house to suit your lifestyle an architecturally designed house may have a similar build cost. If you have specific requirements in mind, a custom home can often be cheaper to build.


The cost of living in a house is a substantial expense which will vary greatly depending on your design. It should also be considered before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars constructing a new home.

Registered Architect & Registered Building Designer from Geelong, Victoria

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