Custom Homes vs. Spec Home Builders: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference: custom home vs. spec home? And which is better: custom build vs. prebuilt home? Understanding the difference between custom and spec homes is a must for potential buyers. In understanding the difference between the common terms for homes, you can ensure you’re buying the right one for you - something we all want to be confident of with such a large purchase.

With each one having different benefits and downsides, our team at Zenith Design + Build breaks down the differences between a spec home and custom homes, so you understand what they offer before beginning your home search. Let’s dive right in.

What Is a Custom Home?

What Is a Custom Home

A custom home is exactly what you would imagine - a completely customized “dream home” based on your specific needs and wishes. Custom builders will work with the individual buyer, giving you all the control of the layout and details, so every foot of the house is what you imagined. Whether you want an open floor plan, a large screened-in porch, or a gym space, the custom builder will work with you to design your ideal home.

When considering spec vs. custom homes, it comes down to the degree of decision-making the buyer has. A custom home is truly one of a kind and entirely up to you (with building best practices in mind, of course), whereas spec homes offer little choice in floor plan, appliances and design.

Pros of Custom Homes

The biggest perk of a custom home is that it’s built just how you want it. Every detail of the home can be customized to your liking, which is about much more than just the number and size of rooms. From unique design features to little nooks and crannies and customized layouts that best suit your needs, there’s a lot of customization that can be had. This isn’t just about aesthetics, but the must-have essentials, too. Since you’re leading the way with what you would like with a custom home, you can ensure that you are getting all of the safety and storage features you desire!

Cons of a Custom Home

If you’re debating between spec vs. custom home buying, there are a few key cons to a custom home. These include:

  • The biggest con is the price. A custom home comes at an increased cost, which isn’t often feasible for first-time buyers.
  • Starting from scratch, construction may be slower and may face delays as they start the process from the ground up.
  • Finding a suitable lot may take more time than expected and can come at a higher price.

What Is a Spec Home?

What Is a Spec Home

A spec home is a home that is built on a plot of land with design and floor plan layouts pre-selected by the builder. The name “spec” stems from the idea that the project was speculative as the builder bought the land without a buyer in mind. These move-in-ready homes don’t allow homebuyers to have a say in any of the design elements but do offer them a completely new, fresh space that’s ready to live in. However, sometimes homebuilders offer spec homes that aren’t completely built yet, which can mean there are a few months until the home is ready for move-in day.

Pros of a Spec Home

When debating between a spec home or a custom home, there are some clear benefits to spec homes that set them apart from their custom counterparts. The pros of choosing a spec home include:

  • When it comes to custom home vs. spec home cost, spec homes are often much more affordable.
  • Spec homes may offer unique designs and styles without the custom cost.
  • The predetermined plan helps home buyers know exactly what they are purchasing.
  • Often spec homes are move-in ready, allowing for a quick transition.

For those that don’t have a full idea of what they want in a home or are looking for a place to move into quickly, a spec home may be the way to go.

Cons of a Spec Home

Spec homes are one of the better starter home choices on the market, but that doesn’t mean they come without their flaws. If you’re debating a custom vs. spec home, here are a few cons to consider before making the final decision:

  • The design of a spec home is predetermined, meaning there’s no room for customization or adjustments to the floorplan.  
  • Beyond the floorplan, many finishes, lighting, and paint colors are also pre-determined.
  • Amenities may not be as high-end as other home options.
  • A home inspection is still essential to make sure the home is in good condition, even though it’s brand new.

With less control of a spec home, homebuyers need to do their due diligence before committing to the purchase.

Choosing a Home Based on Your Needs

Spec vs Custom Home

Ultimately, the best home - whether it be a custom or spec home - comes down to how much of a say you want in the design. If you’re passionate about the floor plan and have unique needs or design ideas, a custom home is the best choice for you. However, if you would like the guesswork and decision-making taken out of home design, a spec home could be a great, slightly more affordable option. And lastly, if you’re a new home buyer or don’t quite know what you have in mind in terms of design, a spec home may be the best way to go.

Beyond design, each type of home offers a different price range. For this reason, nailing down your budget in advance is essential for ensuring you only look at options you can afford. A custom home vs. spec home cost can vary greatly, and with it being crucial to stay within budget, understanding the difference will help narrow down your choices.


Still debating about a custom vs. spec home or looking to further understand all of your options? No problem - our team at Zenith Design + Build has the answers. Offering everything from custom homes to remodels for our Des Moines-based clients, we have extensive experience with the different home options. To better understand your choices and chat with the top builder in your area, contact us at 515-585-1052 today.


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