Essential Custom Home Building Guide

Building a custom home is rewarding and delivers a home tailored to your location and needs. Starting from a blank page can be more daunting than working with an existing dwelling, but this custom home building guide steps you through what you need to know. The more knowledgeable you are at the beginning of this process, the smoother the journey will be. If there are any unexpected hiccups, your understanding of the process will keep you grounded and your project moving in the right direction. Realistically this can be an 18mth -2 year process, don’t rush through the steps; enjoy the journey.

Glossary of Terms

BCA – Building Codes of Australia

Codes to be adhered to for construction of your home.

CC – Construction Certificate

A construction Certificate is issued prior to commencement of construction

CDC – Complying Development Certificate

A complying development certificate is a type of approval if the project strictly meets the requirtements of the local DCP and the property qualifies for CDC approval.

DA – Development Application

A broader application & approval process, used when there are complexities that fit outside complying development.

DCP – Development Control Plan

A detailed guideline that illustrates the controls that apply to a particular type of development in your town or suburb.

LEP -Local Environmental Plan

The principal legal document for controlling development at the council level.

OC – Occupation Certificates

Issued by the principle certifying authority on the completion of building. Needs to be applied for and requires submission of relevant certificates.

S68 – Section 68

Section 68 Certificate is issued by the local council  for specific property-related activities that could impact the community or environment such as sewer connections of wood fire emissions.

PCA – Principle Certifying Authority

This refers to the uthority appointed to approve your project, this can be either the council or a private certifier.

LGA – Local Government Area (Council)

Step One – Objectives & Budget

Outline the objectives for your build. It might be to capitalise on an outstanding view and showcase your artistic flair through an architectural wonder, or it might be to recreate a period home custom designed for your family to thrive in. Whatever it is, be clear on the objectives of your build to your architect.
Some of the home-building goals we recommend you consider are:

    • Perfectly placed picture windows to capture a view
    • Sustainable and efficient heating and cooling properties (Solar Passive House)
    • Custom-built home office/library
    • Hidden butlers pantry interconnected with a laundry
    • Mud room built with complete functionality in mind for all sports and outdoor activities
    • Dog washing stations
    • Self-contained guest wings
    • Entertaining areas with a wet bar

Land on your budget, including a contingency amount. Your budget needs to be evident during the design and planning phase. Your architect must consider the impacts on the budget when making design decisions. Then as you work through the refinement process, always check in on what consequences the changes have on the construction cost. Part of the budgeting process will include a look at your available funds through savings, asset sales or finance. We recommend you speak with your bank manager or mortgage broker early in the planning phase to understand your current available finance.

Step Two -Research and plan

A quality architect will be able to do this for you. If your architect can’t do this or you would like an independent expert, we strongly recommend utilising a town planner for aspects of this research; tackling this without expert knowledge can lead to significant delays and rework down the track. Familiarise youself with the NSW Planning Guide to the Development Application process

A land survey is required as part of the design process; if your block contains water or sewer assets, your survey needs to include a cadastral survey to locate the exact position of these assets on your block. It’s also a great idea to conduct geological investigations of the soil for your engineering reports. The geological information gathered allows an engineer to specify concrete details accurately instead of over-engineering.

Assess the block of land you are building on, the whole environment. Assessments include sun locations throughout the seasons, cool summer breezes, peak hot summer sun position, site drainage including ingress from neighboring properties and design with all this in mind.

Find out what preliminary reports you may need by applying for a land zoning/planning certificate. The planning certificate will outline if you can be considered for compliant development if you need to consider bushfire ratings, flood assessment reports etc. Having this upfront will avoid design changes or budget blowouts down the track.

You may need to have a “building envelope” outlined on your site for report assessments. Generally, bushfire and flood reports need to understand the confines of a proposed building to understand impacts. If you need a preliminary report completed for feasibility, consider discussions with your architects and assessors for building envelope assessments.

Your block of land will be referred to as a DP Number i.e. DP 123456. This denotes the name of the deposited plan. A Deposited plan defines the legal boundaries of the property and records subdivisions, easements and underground assets. A certifier will require a copy of your deposited plan to assess your project; it’s best to have this on hand and in your files. The plan can be purchased online at

If your block has a covenant as identified on the certificate of title, it can be purchased from Direct Info or directly from NSW Land Registry Services .



While gathering all your documents, you should also get your certificate of title, an electronic certificate of property ownership. A certifier usually requests this, and it can be obtained from
Learn more about certificates of title.

Look to other custom home builds in the streetscape or local government area to understand what the council has allowed and what might be considered part of the streetscape.

Step Three -The concept

Put together inspiration from magazines, Pinterest, Instagram, online blogs etc. Our one-stop source of inspiration is Homes to Love
Once you have all this information, you should be able to have a solid concept created by your architect. Start with a concept drawing initially; this allows you to do things like overlay scaled furniture to get a feel for how you will use each space.

Design your home around how you live your life.

Understand clearly how many iterations your architect package includes; this can be an area of budget blowouts.
Before you get too far down the road of plan revisions, we suggest you get a sound document record system in place.

Create a dedicated folder on a computer for your project that has an archive sub-folder. Every time you get a plan update, save it as a new revision number i.e. Draft-Plan-REV02, so you can keep track of your revisions. Move your outdated plan to your archive folder, so you don’t accidentally review or send out an old version.

When nearing the final concept, the plans need to contain enough detail that structural engineers can make assessments, your BASIX can be finalised and you can approach Builders for your preliminary construction budget.
If your development is not straightforward and requires careful consideration by the local governing authority, you can request a pre-lodgment meeting to discuss requirements before locking down the plans.
Get your engineering report finished once you have your final concept design. If there are some queries around aspects of the approval, we suggest a preliminary engineering consult before paying for a full engineering report that might need to be amended.

It is at this stage we advise our clients to obtain preliminary construction estimates from custom home builders to confirm the construction cost meets your budget expectations. The builder should ask for a draft BASIX, draft scaled plans, any drafted engineering notes or letters or even the completed engineering report. It is a good idea to be upfront about your construction budget with the builder as they will usually be able to advise whether it’s possible or not based on their experience. Look for a builder with residential project management capability. 


Make sure each builder assessing your project is pricing precisely the same specifications, inclusions and exclusions. A custom builder will also usually want to understand your level of finish, particularly for allowances for kitchen joinery, bathrooms tiling & PC items and additional details such as lining board ceilings. The more detail you can give a builder, the more accurate your pricing; this includes an electrical plan and joinery detail. Interior design schedules are ideal but don’t get carried away in finishes until your draft plans have completed a preliminary construction estimate.

Spending time upfront in the planning phase will reduce unexpected delays and budget blowouts.

Other great assessment tools available to help you with your draft plans are 3D design renders and 1:1 scale walkthroughs. Design renders are created by your architect or interior designer and assist in getting a feel for all the textures and design elements of your home.
A 1:1 Scale walkthrough allows you to essentially stroll through your home via a 1:1 scale projected onto the floors and walls of a warehouse. You can use VR and projections to understand how your home works, spatially with mock furniture; you can use this to relocate doors and power outlets for usability etc.
Learn more about scale walk-throughs

Step Four – Final plans

It’s normal for there to be scope and design changes to meet an expected build cost at this point. We have seen scope revisions, from removing part of extensions to pairing back the interior design finishes and altering roof construction to better suit the budget.
After confirming that your preliminary construction estimate meets your design Budget, it’s time to lock down those plans!
Finalise all the details in the floor plans and elevations. Complete the BASIX, generate the building specifications, finalise electrical and joinery plans and finish off interior design schedules.

All other assessment reports should be finalised, including engineering design, especially for concrete and beams. Fire, flood and hydraulic engineering reports and any flora and fauna reports must be completed. These will be required for the final building approval.
Your builder can now complete your final construction estimate, which can be executed as part of your contract, and the construction estimate will also form part of your submission for approval.

Step Five – Approvals

There are some great resources available to you on the NSW Planning website. To understand the approval process, we suggest you spend some time here getting familiar with the language, the steps and the information required.
There are typically two steps in the building approval process – planning approval (DA) and construction certificate approval (CC). Sometimes a design is able to be approved as complying development (CDC) if it can meet strict and specific design guidelines.
For more assistance with submissions, you can either engage your architect or your builder to manage this on your behalf; however, they should be using a town planner to ensure your application is dealt with professionally and efficiently, or you can engage a town planner yourself to prepare and submit.

Section 68 (S68) approval is also required for items such as pools, sewer connections, and woodfire installations. You can read more about how your woodfire needs to be an early selection to achieve your Section 68 approval here.

We strongly suggest you work with an expert on this one. The most common delay and source of frustration with custom home building stems from the approval process, particularly with local councils & development applications. An expert knows the process and knows the most commonly requested information. Having the information ready at the start is the key to streamlining your process.

Our Southern Highlands residential town planning expert is Tom at Hutchison Planning. You can read more about Hutchison Planning in their Fold Feature Article. We spoke to Tom’s about his keywords of advice for residential custom home building;

“The complexities of the approval process are often underestimated. I would recommend talking with a town planner if you want flexibility in your building design, or in instances where you might want to vary or depart from the town planning controls. A town planner specialises in understanding all the planning controls and their intention, and also knows the requirements of Council. This maximises the likelihood of a smooth and successful approval.”

An important note: It’s easy to get frustrated with frequent small costs that add up because we aren’t aware they exist. Some of the hidden fees during the approval stage can add up quickly and include:
• NSW Planning portal submission fees
• Council Fees / Certifier fees
• Long service leave levy
• Document Search Fees ( Deposited Plans, Title Search, etc.)

Step Six – Pre-Construction

Final approved construction drawings, builder selection, contract negotiation and start dates.
Your plans are approved; breathe a sigh of relief! A large chunk of your efforts have now been rewarded by a building approval, and this milestone should be celebrated.

Import Note: At this stage you will need to appoint a principle certifying authority (PCA) and obtain a construction certificate (CC) from your certifier (council or private certifier) prior to construction starting. Documents required are proof of payment of the long service leave levy & a copy of the Builders home warranty certificate of insurance.

Now is the time to lock in that builder if you haven’t already and win a spot in their construction schedule. Depending on where you’re at with Builder selections and contract negotiations, there is typically a delay in start dates due to availability. We don’t suggest you select your builder based on their availability. Instead, a good selection process should be followed. A Master Builder with a proven track record in project management, a good local reputation and a solid portfolio should be invited to tender.

There are two main contract types to proceed with, which can very much depend on how the project will be financed. Fixed price lump sum contracts or cost-plus contracts, you can read more about contract types here.

As part of your suite of contract documents, a sign of a quality builder is one who can provide a construction schedule with hold points showing key decision points. This provides complete transparency on decision points for you as a client. A project plan keeps you in the loop with the progression of stages so you can prepare yourself for selections, site visits etc.

Step Seven – Construction

Clear and transparent communication with your construction partners are key. If you have multiple stakeholders assisting you with your build you will need to appoint a key contact (i.e. Architect, Interior Designer, Builder etc.). There can be design conflicts during construction, having clear lines of authority mean you know exactly who is making critical designs if you aren’t on site and so does your team.


Do you have valuable input you want to share or an important lesson you’ve learnt that isn’t included? No idea is too small

We’d love to hear from you, Contact

Looking to chat with the experts on custom home building in the Southern Highlands? Book a building consult with our Project Engineer or Master Builder

Our projects