Here in Chattanooga there are many great opportunities for buying a new home. In fact, it might feel like there are too many options! Custom built homes, ‘spec’ homes, or even tract homes are popping up all over the place. These are popular terms, but what do they actually mean and how do you know which is the right choice for you? To help you decide, here’s some definitions along with the pros & cons related to each type to help you make a decision.

Custom Built Home

The term “custom” generally refers to a home that was specifically designed and built for an individual customer/family. Everything from the floor plan, lot choice, location, selection of colors and materials, as well as all the fixtures are influenced by the desires of the customer and made to target their particular specifications. While it’s true that some custom homes are a bit more custom than others (see The Poplar Tree Cafe to see how we used a poplar tree for a post on the kitchen cabinets), these homes commonly meet a home buyer’s specific needs better than the other alternatives.

Many custom home buyers often participate in the actual construction process – to an extent. They don’t come out to the job site and hammer nails or finish concrete, but they do see the daily/weekly progress and get to be a part of any decisions that must be made along the way. It can be a lot of fun, through some find it a little too scary and many find all the decisions that must be made in building a home overwhelming. Done properly though, custom home buyers are active participants to the extent they would like to be involved, and achieve a level of satisfaction when building their homes that no other process can accomplish. Making choices such as colors and styles of bricks, stones, wall-finishes, cabinets, lighting fixtures, counter tops, and hardware give the homeowner a feeling of ownership and intimacy with the home.

Budget is a large part of a custom build.  Often times the homeowner and contractor must work hand in hand to ensure that the homeowner gets the house they want and need for a price they can afford.  At Lewin Construction we pride ourselves on being able to give our clients value for dollar with their builds.  

Custom home building is like a partnership between the home buyer and the designer/builder. Confidence in the home builder is of utmost importance for this relationship to flourish into a beautiful dream home. Both sides must be fair, honest and worthy of trust necessary to accomplish the mutual goals. “Know your builder.” Turns out, that’s actually pretty good advice.

Pros – The buyer controls the lot purchase, so location is never out of their control. The buyer will also have input on design, so you’ll be sure you get the right number of rooms so Bobby and Billy only share rooms if you want them to. The final price of the home is made up of the costs of its various components, resulting in better control of the bottom-line of your home. Amenities that are important can be included in the home while those that might have a high price tag but aren’t important to you can be omitted.

Cons – Building a custom home comes with a certain perceived risk that some have more concerns about than others. Probably the greatest deterrent to building a custom home is the uncertainty for the customer. Finding the right builder, getting the floor plan perfect even though you can’t walk in it, how long might the build take, whether your marriage will survive the process (that’s a joke… well, sort of), as well as so many others are all questions or concerns that all customers will have at some point in the process. Especially with design/build homes, you can see what you are getting before you sign any contracts. In our experience, if one is “non visual”, this process can be very overwhelming and stressful for both the buyer and the builder.

You can see some of the homes we have design/built on our Projects page.

Custom Built Home by Lewin Construction - Lea Haven

Lea Haven – a Lewin Construction design/build home

Hawk’s View – a custom design/build home by Lewin Construction

Spec Home

The term “spec” is short for speculative home for sale. Builders, even custom home builders like ourselves, sometimes build homes for sale with no particular buyer in mind.  Depending on how far along the building process is, it’s possible to still make some of the selections such as paint colors, tile, or countertops. A spec home will have much of the design efforts already complete. The builder has already made a lot of decisions regarding what will go into constructing the home, taking all or most of the pressure off the home buyer.

Typically, the builder’s decisions will be fairly conservative hoping to create a home that will appeal to the broadest market, while still maintaining the style and feel of the community around it. With some builders, there will are typically a few areas where the builder will go the extra mile, but generally speaking, the overall price of the home will be a major consideration. Depending on the price range of the home, builders will make their best effort to build what they know people will like and are willing to buy.

Hazel Reflections – a design/build spec home by Lewin Construction

Azure Reflections – a design/build spec home by Lewin Construction

Some builders specialize in spec homes, especially when they are creative and want the freedom to build the homes they design. Without the involvement of a customer, the designer and builder are free to imagine and build homes that otherwise might be left in their mind for years waiting for the right home buyer to come along.

Pros – Depending on the builder, of course, spec homes are typically a safe investment. They are typically well done, balanced in terms of amenities and upgrades, built in promising neighborhoods, and marketable. Many beautiful spec homes are built every year. Experienced builders who specialize in the spec home market stake their reputations on their decisions, so you know you are getting a quality home. These homes are often completed and ready for immediate occupancy so there is little to no wait time to move in. Probably the most appealing characteristic of a spec home is being able to see and walk through the home and know exactly what your money is buying

Cons – The greatest deterrent is that the homes are someone else’s idea of what your home should be and that doesn’t always work for every family. All the special features you might want are either there or they’re not. It might also have features you didn’t want or need – and you still have to pay for them since they have already been included in the sales price. The ideal situation in buying a spec home is putting one under contract in the early phase of construction to assure customization of your taste in colors, etc.

Often, you can find a Lewin Construction home that is still under construction here in Chattanooga. Check our Available Spec Homes page to see what is available now.

Spec Home at 5511 St. Elmo Ave – design/build by Lewin Construction

Spec Home at 5513 St. Elmo Ave – design/build by Lewin Construction

Tract Homes

A tract home is defined as a dwelling that has a similar style and floor plan to those of all other houses in a development. For example, each home will be a 3 bedroom, two-story condo with a balcony and back patio. Tract housing can usually be delivered to the market at a much lower cost per square foot. Volume building makes volume buying possible, which is simple economics every member of Costco will be able to appreciate. Sometimes the floor plans will be reversed in some of the homes, or they might include a different option package, but they are essentially the same house built over and over and over, sometimes hundreds of times. Typically tract homes are found in larger cities, but it is a growing trend here in Chattanooga.

The price is often the best selling point in track housing, though just how low the price point will be depends on the supplies used and the developer’s vision for the properties. Even among tract builders, there can be a very high range in price, so you’ll need to look for a builder who is building to your expectations and price point. All tract home developers are not the same.



Pros – Well, frankly the lower price is the biggest advantage here. The floor plan is often a simple plan that will appeal to a wide, mass market audience. Another perk is that you won’t have to worry about what kind of home the new neighbors might built, since it’s highly likely it will be just like yours. That’s good news if you want to be sure the home next door isn’t going to draw in excess traffic by becoming the next home highlighted in Roadside America like the Space Ship house on Signal Mountain.

Cons – Often time the major focus on price point leads to a tug of war between quality and cost. Elements like cabinets, hardware, and appliances are often areas where money is saved, even if it’s at the expense of quality. These homes are often not as energy efficient or long lasting as custom or even spec homes due to less expense and lower quality methods and materials being used. This is not always the case however, so again, know your builder. Lastly, resale value is great disadvantage to these homes. Since there are so many homes just like yours, it might be difficult to sell it for a fair price if you ever need to move.

While we do not currently build tract homes, Lewin Construction does build custom design/build homes and spec homes. What are you thoughts and experiences on these three types of homes? We’d love to hear what you might add to these lists.

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