House Plans Shopping

Know what to look for as you build toward the reality of your dream home

Shopping for house plans and building a home from scratch can be exciting but daunting, not to mention fraught with hidden expenses. The home plan you choose will be determined by your lifestyle, aesthetic preferences, the features of the building site and your budget.

If a pricey custom home plan is a little beyond your reach, fear not--you can get close-to-custom by shopping ready-made home plans. A variety of books, magazines and online retailers offer thousands of plan styles and options, which is great news but also a possible detour back to an overwhelmed state.

Before you bury yourself in blueprints, take these steps to ensure a smooth and smart experience when you shop for house plans.

Before you shop

  • House Plans ShoppingStart with the land, not the house plan. Knowing the requirements of your lot is critical to selecting a home design that’s a good match in terms of siting and grading. The weather patterns in your area will also have an impact on the roof slope and other exterior styling you select.
  • Carefully consider what you and your family need in a new living space, not only today but for the duration of your stay in the home. Traffic patterns may stay reasonably the same, but the number and ages of family members living in the home will change over time. Access, mobility and future flexibility of the floor plan should all be on your mind (i.e., a two-story home might work well now, but could be inconvenient for older residents later on).
  • Distinguish must-have features, fixtures and spaces from those that would simply be nice or fun to have, and plan your investment accordingly. Outdoor spaces for recreation and relaxation should also be considered within the lot lines.
  • Figure out what home size you can afford. A helpful tool for making this calculation is The National Association of Home Builders’ matrix of average costs per square foot for new homes by U.S. region, which you can find at www.nahb.org. Just multiply the square footage you’d like by the corresponding cost in this table, and you’ll be on your way to a building budget.
  • Take note of the home styles in your future neighborhood, and confirm any restrictions on size, style and municipal services with your local zoning board. You’ll be submitting your home site plan to them before building the new structure, and if you haven’t done your homework early on, you could find yourself in a “no fit, no build” situation right before construction is scheduled to begin.

As you browse

  • Whether or not you plan to buy plans online, check out some of the Internet-based retailers’ sites to get into the swing of house plan selection. HousePlans.com, among others, offers detailed interactive search tools and a variety of plan views (floor plans, artist’s renderings and even occasional virtual tours) that can help you narrow down your interests and form realistic expectations for the final product.
  • House Plans ShoppingBe open-minded when you're shopping for house plans. The perfect house plan doesn’t exist, so don’t turn your nose up at possibilities that have most of what you want. You can always use spaces in a different way than originally designated in the plan (e.g., a bedroom can become an office and vice versa), and purchased home plans can also be altered inside and out with the help of a professional architect.
  • On the other hand, before falling absolutely in love with a plan, take a good, hard look at its potential traffic flow, the materials used, efficient use of space, amount of storage, and convenience of work areas. The floor plan should be your first concern, and the façade your second.
  • Readymade house plans have been around for nearly a century, and revived interest in early styles has led to an array of resources that can serve as inspiration. Bungalow fans, for example, can pick up reproductions of original plan catalogs and books on their history and design.
  • Remember that if you do decide to alter a purchased house plan, you’ll be changing the square footage and potential cost of your new home, as well as adding fees for the pro who makes your custom adjustments (whether they’re employed by the company you buy house plans from or an independent architect you’ve contracted).

Making a purchase

  • When shopping for house plans, expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $1,300 for a full set of home plans. Since you aren’t the only one who will need a copy, you’ll either be purchasing one reproducible master set or up to eight non-reproducible sets for distribution to contractors, tradespeople and lenders.
  • If you’re not absolutely sure of your plan selection, it’s sometimes possible to purchase only the floor plan for further review before investing in the full set of plans.
  • Don’t stop at the plan when calculating potential costs. As you're shopping for home plans, you’ll also need to review the corresponding specs to know how much materials, features and installed systems will add to the bottom line.