How to find the right home builder in North Central Florida

Most people don’t need to be convinced to move to Florida. Whether you were born in the Sunshine State and can’t imagine living anywhere else, or you’ve chosen to call North Central Florida home, there are many reasons to love it here. Just ask U.S. News, which ranks Florida 13th overall in its 2019 list of Best States. We are also an impressive number three for Education and second place in the category of Fiscal Stability.

Here in the North Central region of the state, residents enjoy pleasant year-round weather without the direct threat of hurricanes. Horse lovers flock to Marion County’s world-renowned equestrian community. And students from all over the state and country choose the University of Florida in Gainesville, the state’s top-ranked college. Gainesville has also been the site of recent mixed-use development projects and new home construction. For example, the 2018 opening of a Whole Foods in Butler Town Center inspired much local enthusiasm.

If you’ve always wanted to buy a new construction home, or build your dream home from the ground up, there’s never been a better time. As your local community bank, CBTFL is here to help with lot loans and construction-to-permanent financing. We also created this guide to new home construction in North Central Florida to give you all the information you need. If you still have questions, give us a call or visit your nearest location in Marion, Alachua, or Sumter County.

How to Find the Right Home Builder in North Central Florida

The choice of builders is one of the most important decisions you face in the home-building process. You want to find someone you can get along with on a personal level, as well as a reputable company that will be able to deliver what they promise in the contract without significant delays or increased cost. Here are our best tips on finding the right builder:

  • Ask your local lender or experienced real estate agent. Real estate professionals and lenders in your community can be a great source for builder references. Talk to the mortgage lending team at CBTFL, or a North Central Florida real estate agent with experience in the custom home industry for names of local builders they have worked with in the past.
  • Search for local home builders online. Internet searches are a natural starting point for finding any type of information, including home builders. The long list of results can be overwhelming, so we recommend focusing on the companies located nearest the town you wish to build in. Visit each builder’s site to get a sense of their style and whether it meshes with your ideal architectural design.
  • Use the National Association of Home Builders. Visit the trade association’s website and click on the Consumers menu to search for a Credentialed Building Professional by city or zip code.

How to Narrow the List Now that you have a preliminary list of local homebuilders, you need to know what to look for to identify the best fit for your needs. These are the most important qualifications to review before making a decision.

  • What are they currently working on? A list of current projects will show you how in demand (or not) the builder is, as well as how closely their recent building activity matches what you have in mind.
  • Relevant history: In addition to their current construction projects, you want to see a track record of homes similar in size and detail to your dream home.
  • Client referrals: A reputable builder should be able to put you in touch with a few recently satisfied clients. Don’t just settle for pre-written testimonials; you want to talk to someone who worked with the builder to ask about communication, organizational skills, and time management. These “softer” skills are just as important as their design choices and quality of materials.
  • Specialization: Does the builder primarily work on custom homes or speculative ones? If a custom home is what you’re looking for, you want to avoid builders who primarily work on speculative for a general audience.

In addition to the tips above, it’s always helpful to check out a builder’s work in person. You may not be able to look inside, but at least you can evaluate the home’s “curbside appeal” and construction quality from the exterior. Also, make sure you evaluate the builder’s contract carefully to check that everything is included. Looking for even more information on hiring a custom homebuilder? This guide from Christian Gladu Design includes lists of questions for interviewing the builder and their client references, as well as guidelines for research.

The Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying

Building vs. Buying - Pros and Cons

If a new construction home is what you want, you don’t necessarily have to build it yourself. You can look for a new home built on speculation, which simply means that the builder purchases the lot, designs the home, and begins construction without having a buyer yet. Another option, which is also common, is tract construction. This is when a builder creates an entirely new neighborhood of homes, offering different models to choose from.

While many steps in the process are the same whether you buy or build a new home, buying from an established builder may streamline the process and eliminate some of the initial choices you’d have to make when building from scratch.

Understanding the Home Building Process

The main benefit of building a custom home is the ability to live wherever you want and personalize every detail of your house. In addition to North Central Florida’s urban areas like Gainesville and Ocala, our region also has a lot of farmland. Whether you want to live on a horse farm, hobby farm, or simply enjoy an undeveloped landscape, new home construction gives you the flexibility to choose your own plot of land and pick a floor plan.

What specific needs do you have for your house?

When you build a home from scratch, it’s easy to get engrossed in design choices like flooring and paint color. However, you also want to think through the functionality of your new house. For example, if you have mobility issues or want a space you can stay in through retirement, you might need a one-floor house with accessible entryways and walk-in showers. Young families might need an in-law suite for visiting grandparents. Dog lovers can put a canine bath in the mudroom. And if you’re planning to operate a horse farm or other type of agriculture business, your property needs will change as well.

Make a list of how you want and need your house to work for you, not just how it should look. Then make sure your builder is experienced with these types of functions and can execute them in your home design.

The Paperwork

Residential construction requires some upfront paperwork, but luckily your builder should be able to handle most or all of it. In Florida, each city or town has its own Building Inspection Department, as in Gainesville, which is responsible for issuing permits, reviewing blueprints, and performing inspections once the new construction home is finished. Think of your builder as the person who is also the project manager, overseeing every aspect of construction from start to finish.

How do the costs compare?

One final important factor in comparing buying vs. building is the cost of each option. Currently, the Gainesville real estate market is considered “very hot” by Zillow, which also puts the median listing price of the current inventory of homes for sale in Gainesville at $235,000. The Ocala market is also “very hot,” with a median listing price of $184,000.

In comparison, the home construction website ProMatcher estimates the average cost of new construction in Gainesville is $122.77 per square foot. So, for a basic 2,000 square foot home, that would work out to about $245,540. That isn’t much more than the average listing price for an older home.

Land Lot and Home Construction Loans

Land Lot and Home Construction Loans

Once you’ve decided to build your own home instead of buying an older house, your next consideration will be finding the right loan(s) for your project.


Do you already own the land you want to build your home on? If so, skip to the next question. If not, here’s what you need to know about land loans:

  • Is the land raw or improved? If you buy a plot of land within a planned community, it may come with some improvements, such as a sewer line and utilities. Raw land means that nothing has been done to prepare it for becoming a home site. You will have to pay for the improvements yourself.
  • How much land do you need? You may want to find a builder and choose a floor plan before you purchase a plot of land. That way, you know how much land your home will occupy. Then you can decide how much extra land you want in front, back, and to the sides.
  • Zoning and Easements: You want to be sure you are purchasing land zoned for residential use. Also, look at the deed to be sure there are no easements, such as a neighbor’s access rights, that would interfere with your construction plans or the building of a driveway.
  • Does your real estate agent have experience with land transactions? It’s very important to find an agent with a history of negotiating land sales. That way you know your agent will be able to help you get the best possible price and guide you through the sales process, which is different than buying a home.

Find the right lot loan.

Just as you want an experienced real estate agent, your land loan lender should also specialize in land financing for home construction. At CBTFL, we offer short-term lot loans for the purchase of land to build a home in the future.

Construction to Permanent Loans

With a construction-to-permanent loan you only have one closing. When you only have one closing, the amount of fees you pay are reduced. The lender converts the construction loan into a permanent mortgage after the contractor finishes building the house. The permanent mortgage is like any other mortgage.

Construction Timeline

Construction Timeline

How long does it take to obtain financing and watch your new house rise from the ground and transform into the home of your dreams? Plan on waiting about 6-12 months for the entire process to be complete. Here are the stages of the new home construction process:

  1. Sign a contract with your builder for the total price of your home. It may take you a few weeks to research builders and make a final decision.
  2. Go to your bank for construction-to-permanent financing. Complete a residential loan application. Your lender will guide you through the loan process by collecting necessary paperwork and making a decision on your loan application.
  3. Loan Closing – Once your loan is approved and the lender has received all the necessary documents including the appraisal, survey and title commitment, you will be asked to sign all the loan documents to make it official.
  4. Your builder will get a building permit and any other necessary approvals.
  5. Construction begins! Watch as the foundation is poured and the frame of your home rises from the ground.
  6. Interior design: Once the exterior frame is complete, the work moves inside with builders and contractors handling the drywall installation, plumbing and electric, flooring, kitchen cabinets, and other details needed to turn a house into your custom home.
  7. Final Inspection: When construction is complete, local inspectors will tour your house to make sure everything is up to code and safe for you to live in. They’ll issue a certificate of occupancy, at which point it’s time for you to move on.

Connect with the mortgage lending team at CBTFL!

Connect with the CBTFL Team

CBTFL mortgage lending team – (L to R) Kathy Chidester, Jo Lukas, Misty Barnett, Pepper Kinzer.

With multiple locations in North Central Florida and local expertise, our experienced mortgage loan officers can help you take your new home construction dream from idea to reality. CBTFL has been serving homeowners in Gainesville, Ocala and The Villages for more than two decades. Many of our employees were born and raised in the area, giving them special insight into the local economy and real estate market. Let us help you enjoy a smooth financing process from start to finish. Call us today or visit your nearest location for more information on land loans and home construction-to-permanent financing.