Planning your build

How to Finance Your Custom Home Build: A Complete Guide

Did you know that you could save money building a home over buying a home? It all starts with choosing the right financing option. In this guide, We will show you how to finance your custom home build. 

Continue reading to review your options. 

Section 1: Understanding the Basics of Financing a Custom Home

Funding a custom home has a construction loan or construction-to-permanent loan, which needs detailed plans, builder approval, and payments in stages, usually with higher down payments and interest rates. 

Buying an existing home is simpler, using a regular mortgage, with lower down payments and a single payment at closing. Custom home financing includes handling construction risks and fluctuating interest rates. While financing an existing home focuses on property value and stable loan terms.

Short Answer: 

  • Credit score: A higher credit score increases your chances of getting a loan approved with favorable terms.
  • Down payment: custom homes usually need a 20-30 % down payment. 
  • Income and employment: You will be required to share your income and steady employment history to be approved for any loans. 
  • Detailed plans/budget: Lenders will need detailed plans, budgets, and timelines for your build. 
  • Builder reputation: You need to know if you can trust your builder. Lenders will also have to approve them by verifying their experience and reliability.
  • Land value: The cost of your land can and will impact loan terms and amounts.
  • Appraisal: The projected value of your home will be needed for approval.
  • Savings and Reserves: Having extra savings to convert unexpected expenses can be helpful in the approval process. It can also save you from any expenses a careless builder might go over.
  • Market conditions: interest rates and the real estate market can impact your loan terms.

Section 2: Common financing options

Below are several financing options available when building a home. 

Construction-to-Permanent Loans:

  What it is: 

  • A type of loan that funds the building of the home and then converts it into a mortgage once the construction is finished. You only have to deal with one loan and one closing process


  • A single closing process has less paperwork and closing costs.
  • Interest rates are locked in at the beginning of the loan. This means you have predictability with you build 
  • The process is much faster because the loan is preset to convert into a permanent mortgage after the construction of your home.


  • You will need a down payment of around 20% (higher than other loans)
  • The approval process is more strict and even requires approval from the builder.
  • Interest rates can be higher during construction. 

 Ideal for whom

  • Borrowers who want the transition from construction to mortgage to be swift.
  • Those who want to lock in interest rates early.
  • Those who want to simplify financing their homes with a single loan.

Stand-Alone Construction Loans

What it is

A short-term loan that is only used to finance the construction of the home. After the construction is completed a separate mortgage needs to be obtained to pay off the construction loan.


  • There is a chance that you can have lower costs than a construction-to-permanent loan. 
  • Flexibility to shop around for another mortgage after the construction is complete.


  • There are two separate loans and two sets of closing costs
  • No guaranteed interest rate until your construction is complete.
  • Increased risk of fluctuating interest rates between the construction and the permanent mortgage. 

Ideal for whom?

  • Borrowers who can manage two loans 
  • Those who believe interest rates might drop by the time construction is done.
  • Individuals who want the flexibility to choose their permanent mortgage lender.

Home Equity Loans and HELOCs:

What they are?

Home Equity Loan: A fixed-rate loan that uses the equity in your existing home as collateral. You receive a lump sum and repay it over a set period with fixed monthly payments.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): A revolving line of credit based on the equity in your home. You can draw funds as needed during a set draw period and make interest-only payments during that time.


  • You can get funds faster and usually at lower interest rates
  • Interest rates can be tax deductible if the loan is used for home improvements. (Remodeling partial rebuilding)


  • Take a large amount of equity from your existing home.
  • You risk foreclosure if you can’t pay the loan back.
  • HELOCS have variable interest rates that can increase over time.

Ideal for whom?

Homeowners who have a lot of equity in their current home

Homeowners who don’t want to take out a separate construction loan

Those looking for flexibility in borrowing and repayment.

  Personal Savings and Investments:(Money you have saved or invested in stocks, bonds, IRAs, etc.)

    – How to use them

These loans require the use of your savings or assets. 


  • No interest payments or loan approval process.
  • Full control over your budget and payments.
  • No risk of foreclosure due to missed payments.


  • Drains your savings and reduces liquidity.
  • Potential loss of investment growth if funds are withdrawn from investment accounts.
  • Limited by the amount of cash and investments available.

Ideal for whom?

  • Individuals with large savings and investment accounts 
  • People who want to avoid debt and interest payments
  • People who want financial control over their home build.

 Traditional Mortgages (End Loans):

How they work post-construction

Once you complete the construction of your home an end loan or “traditional mortgage” is used to pay off the construction loan. This is a standard 15 or 30-year, fixed or variable interest rate.


  • Familiar loan structure (it’s what you would get for an existing home) 
  • Can shop around for the best rates once construction is complete.
  • Easier approval process than the construction loan. 


  • You will need two separate loans
  • Two sets of closing costs 
  • The interest rate is uncertain until the loan is secured. 

Ideal for whom

  • Borrowers who want the stability of a traditional mortgage after construction.
  • Those who can handle two separate loans.
  • Individuals who are looking to lock in the best possible long-term mortgage rate.

FHA Construction Loans:    

What they are

FHA construction-to-permanent loans are government-insured loans that cover the home’s construction and permanent financing. They are designed for borrowers with lower credit scores and lower down payments.


  • Lower down payment (as low as 3.5%)
  • Lenient credit score requirements
  • Combines construction and financing loans into one loan

Ideal for whom

  • Borrowers with low credit scores and or limited access to funds
  • First-time home buyers 
  • Individuals seeking government-backed loan security

VA Construction Loans

What they are:

VA construction loans are available to eligible veterans, active-duty service members, and certain National Guard and Reserve members. These loans can cover the cost of constructing a new home and often come with desirable terms.


  • No down payment is required.
  • No private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  • Competitive interest rates.
  • Flexible credit requirements.


  • Limited to eligible veterans and service members.
  • The VA approval process can take a while
  • Not all lenders offer VA construction loans.

Ideal for whom?

  • Eligible veterans and active-duty service members.
  • Those seeking to benefit from the VA loan program’s favorable terms.
  • Individuals who qualify and want to minimize upfront costs.

Section 3: Step-by-Step Guide to Financing Your Custom Home

Step 1. Assess Your Financial Situation (8-point checklist) 

1. Check your credit report: 

You can check your credit report for free once every year. Get it from each of the three credit bureaus. Review the reports for errors or mixups and dispute anything inaccurate.

2. Understand your credit score: 

Know the key factors that affect your credit score like credit usage, length of credit history, types of credit, and recent credit inquiries. Try to maintain a credit score of 680 or above for the best terms and approval rates.

3. Improve your payment history:

Pay your bills on time. This is a huge weight on your credit score. You can also set up automatic payments to avoid missed payments. 

4. Reduce credit utilization:

Keep your card balances low. No more than 30% usage of your credit cards. If you can pay off high-interest debt ASAP. 

5. Avoid new credit inquiries 

Limit the number of new credit applications, as each inquiry can temporarily lower your score. Only apply for new credit when necessary.

6. Maintain old credit accounts 

Keep older credit accounts open, as a longer credit history positively impacts your score. Use old accounts occasionally to keep them active.

7. Diversify credit types

Having a mix of credit types (credit cards, installment loans, mortgages) can boost your score. Just make sure you are responsible for all forms of credit. 

8. Monitor your score

Use credit monitoring services to track changes in your score. Address any issues promptly to maintain or improve your credit rating. Tools like credit karma work great and help you stay current with your credit.

Step 2: Research and Compare Lenders

To find the best lenders and loans for building your custom home, ask friends for recommendations and check online for lenders. Look at their rates, terms, and reviews. 

Meet with them to see if they can customize a loan to fit your needs. Choose the one that offers good terms and fits your project well.

Step 3: Get Pre-Approved

To get pre-approved, provide financial documents to the lender, who checks your credit and job status. This helps you know your budget and speeds up the final loan approval process.

Step 4: Secure Your Loan

1. Loan Application and Approval

   – Submit Application: Provide financial documents to your lender.

   – Approval: The lender reviews your credit and finances, giving conditional approval.

2. Prepare for Closing

   – Finalize Plans: Complete detailed construction plans with your builder.

   – Appraisal:** Lender appraises the expected value of the home.

   – Builder Approval: Ensure your builder is approved by the lender.

3. Lock in Terms and Rates

   – Negotiate Terms:** Lock-in interest rates and loan terms with your lender.

4. Closing the Loan

   – Review Disclosure: Check the Closing Disclosure for loan details.

   – Sign Documents: Sign all necessary paperwork at the closing meeting.

   – Pay Costs: Pay closing costs like appraisal and attorney fees.

5. Disbursement of Funds

   – Initial Draw: Lender releases initial funds to start construction.

   – Draw Schedule: Set a schedule for funds release as construction progresses.

6. Starting Construction

   – Begin Work: The builder starts construction according to plans.

   – Inspections:  Lenders inspect work at each stage before releasing more funds.

7. Managing Construction

   – Track Progress: Monitor the timeline and budget.

   – Handle Changes: Adjust plans and budget for any changes or unexpected costs.

8. Final Inspection and Completion

   – Final Inspection: Lender inspects completed home.

   – Certificate of Occupancy: Get a Certificate of Occupancy from local authorities.

9. Convert to Permanent Mortgage  

-This is only for some loan types: Construction-to-permanent loans convert automatically. Otherwise, apply for a permanent mortgage.

10. Move In

   – Complete Paperwork: Finalize any remaining paperwork.

   – Move In: Move into your dream home.

Section 4: Tips for Managing Finances During Construction

Tips to Stay on Budget

Detailed Planning:

   – Set a Realistic Budget: Establish a comprehensive budget that includes all construction costs, permits, fees, and a contingency fund for unexpected expenses.

   – Finalize Plans Early: Have a detailed design and plan in place before starting construction to avoid costly changes later.

Choose the Right Builder:

   – Reputable Builder: Select a reputable, experienced builder with a track record of completing projects on time and within budget.

   – Fixed-Price Contract: Consider a fixed-price contract to prevent unexpected cost increases.

Monitor Expenses:

   – Track Spending: Regularly compare actual expenses against your budget. Use software or a spreadsheet to track all costs.

   – Weekly Reviews: Conduct weekly reviews with your builder to discuss progress and any potential budget issues.

Avoid Changes:

   – Minimize Changes: Stick to the agreed-upon plans as much as possible. Changes during construction can lead to delays and increased costs.

   – Change Order Process If changes are necessary, use a formal change order process to understand the impact on the budget and timeline.

Purchase Wisely:

 Buy in Bulk: Purchase materials in bulk where possible to take advantage of discounts.

 Quality vs. Cost: Balance quality and cost when selecting materials and finishes. Sometimes, mid-range options can provide good quality without the high price tag.

   Compare Bids: Obtain multiple bids from subcontractors and suppliers to ensure competitive pricing.

   Negotiate: Don’t be afraid to negotiate prices and terms.

 Regular Inspections:

On-Site Visits: Regularly visit the construction site to monitor progress and ensure work is being done to your standards.

 Professional Inspections: Hire a third-party inspector to check work at key stages to avoid costly repairs later.

Financing Costs:

Understand Loan Terms: Be aware of the terms and conditions of your construction loan, including interest rates and draw schedules.

Timely Draws: Ensure timely and accurate draw requests to avoid delays in funding that can impact the project timeline.

Address Issues Promptly: Quickly address any issues or concerns to prevent small problems from becoming costly delays.

By following these tips and maintaining a proactive approach, you can better manage your custom home build and stay within your budget.

Communication Tips: 

Establish Clear Expectations:

Discuss your budget, timeline, and expectations with your builder at the start and ensure everything is in writing.

Regular Updates:

Hold regular meetings and request written progress reports.

Effective Channels:

Designate a primary contact and use various communication methods.

Be Responsive:

Respond promptly to questions and issues to prevent delays.

Transparent Communication:

Encourage open discussions about concerns and budget updates.

Address Issues Early:

Address issues or changes immediately to avoid cost escalations.

Document Changes:

Use formal change orders for modifications and ensure written approvals.

Clear Instructions:

Provide detailed instructions and use visual aids for clarity.

Regular Site Visits:

Visit the construction site regularly to check progress and discuss concerns.

Feedback Loop:

Encourage feedback from your builder and use it to make informed decisions.

Handling Unexpected Costs:

  • Having financial reserves (about 10-15%) of your original budget should be set aside and used sparingly. 
  • Go with a transparent builder and if possible offer a price lock-in guarantee. (We at GJ Gardner offer one) Read below to learn more.

GJ Gardner Price lock guarantee: Once we get through the design process and approval we will give you one last estimate. After our final estimate we guarantee you that we won’t go over a dime, and if we do we will eat the costs so you can build stress-free. 

Section 5: FAQs

1. What is the difference between a construction loan and a mortgage?

A construction loan is short-term for building a home, while a mortgage is long-term for buying or refinancing.

2. How do construction-to-permanent loans work?

They fund construction and convert to a mortgage once the home is complete, requiring only one closing.

3. What are the typical requirements for getting a construction loan?

Good credit (680+), 20-30% down payment, detailed plans, builder approval, and proof of stable income.

4. Can I use a home equity loan or HELOC to finance my custom home?

Yes, if you have significant equity in your current home, providing quick access to funds at lower interest rates.

5. What are the pros and cons of using personal savings to finance my custom home?

Pros: No interest or approval process, full budget control, no foreclosure risk.

Cons: Reduces savings, potential investment loss, limited by available funds.

6. What is a stand-alone construction loan?

A short-term loan for construction, requiring a separate mortgage after completion.

7. How does an FHA construction loan work?

Government-insured, covers construction and permanent financing, with low down payments and lenient credit requirements.

8. Are VA loans available for building a custom home?

Yes, for eligible veterans and service members, offering no down payment and no private mortgage insurance.

9. What should I consider when choosing a lender for a custom home loan?  

Experience with construction loans, rates, terms, fees, customer service, and familiarity with local regulations.

10. What happens if construction costs exceed the loan amount?

    You must cover extra costs out of pocket or renegotiate for a higher loan, which isn’t guaranteed.

11. Can I act as my own general contractor with a construction loan?

  Yes, but it’s harder to get approved; you must prove you can manage and complete the project.

12. How are funds disbursed with a construction loan?    

Funds are released in stages (called draws) after inspections confirm progress.

13. What are the benefits of a construction-to-permanent loan compared to a stand-alone construction loan?

   Single closing, lower costs, early interest rate lock-in. Stand-alone loans may have lower initial costs but require two loans.

14. What documentation is needed to apply for a construction loan?

 Detailed plans, construction timeline, budget, builder approval, credit reports, income proof, and down payment.

Key takeaways:


Building a custom home can be overwhelming. So I want to give a quick overview of what you will need. 


  • Make sure you have a solid credit score of 680+.
  • Get all of your financial paperwork in to prevent slowdowns.
  • Find a reputable builder. Your builder will make or break your home and this experience.
  • Understand the basics: Know what you’re getting into and be fully prepared for the road to come. 
  • Plan everything from budgeting to timeline and loan type.  (your builder can help manage expectations). 
  • Try to get pre-approved: pre-approval can help tremendously with planning so you know what you are working with. 
  • Compare your options: Moving quickly and running off with a stranger is easy. But you should make sure you know who you’re working with when choosing lenders and builders. 

During the build: 

  • Keep consistent clear communication. 
  • Have meetings with your builder often. 
  • Track your progress, budget, and builders.
  • Perform site visits often. 
  • Try not to use any credit inquiries.
  • Make sure you are clear with your instructions and requests. 
  • Watch out for unexpected costs (Get a price lock guarantee when possible).

Call to Action: 

  As I said before there was a lot of information in there. If you have any questions or want guidance reach out here. One of our team members can guide you through the entire process from start to finish. 

P.S If you decide to build with us we offer price lock guarantees and other services to give you peace of mind when building. Contact us here.