3. Assemble the team.
The architect alone can't seal the deal. He or she will have no trouble designing your home, but may have little idea about how local ordinances restrict what can and can't be built on the property.
"An experienced architect might need outside advice if the site has elevation issues, or a lawyer to ensure there are no zoning constraints," Melman says.
Once all of those issues are resolved, it's time to look for a builder. There are no shortages of services for this sort of thing; the National Association of Home Builders' Move.com site and local home builders associations can help you find the right builder. Even those agencies urge caution.
The NAHB suggests buyers make sure'the builders have a permanent business location and a good reputation with local banks and suppliers and find out how long they have been in the building business (three to five years is usually a healthy minimum). Buyers should also check out the company's rating and if there have been complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau; make sure the builder has sufficient workers compensation and general liability insurance (otherwise accidents may be on your hands); and ask the builder to provide you with names of previous customers. If they won't, beware. If they do, ask the customers if they would hire the builder again.
Ask if you can see the builder's work, completed and in progress, and check for quality of workmanship and materials. See how you communicate with the builder you'll be spending the next few months around and, if you're comfortable, make sure the builder provides you with a complete and clearly written contract.
Most importantly, be wary of unusually low-priced bids. If the builder can't pay for the materials and labor as your home is being built, that red flag may be waving too late for you to do anything about it.
4. Be patient, but not that patient.
You're building something out of nothing. It's going to take time.
Just realize that much of that waiting and working should come on the front end. If you're putting a great deal of effort into your plans and have as much of your work laid out in as simple terms as possible in the beginning, building your house should feel more like assembly than construction.
"The best advice is that the thinking, hiring and design stages should take about twice as long as the actual construction," Melman says.