How to: Customise an off-the-plan home

While architecturally designed homes are nice to look at, many people who have decided to build new will use a volume builder to carry out the job of both designing and constructing the home.

Volume builders are not only cheaper but can save headaches when it comes to managing a new build, including securing land and building permits and overseeing construction.

One downside with group building companies is they will often use the same plan to construct hundreds of homes per year.

But the building industry has reshaped in recent years due to a push from home buyers and their desire for flexibility on floor plans and quality and luxury features.

So how can you tweak the design of a standard build to make it your own?

How it works

Building consultant Kerri-Ann Hooper, Director of Carnelian Projects, works with two major turn-key project builders in New South Wales – Impact Home and G Development – who build the same homes for hundreds of home owners every year.

Hooper says there are numerous ways her clients can customise the standard plans and make them stand out of the crowd.

“You’ve got to start with their design and add on from there,” she says.

Hooper encourages her clients to think about how the plan will fit with their lifestyle and takes them through a display home to help them visualise whether the standard plan could work for them.

If there are changes to be made – cosmetic or structural – they must be made before the plans are drawn up and sent to council for approval.

Most builders will charge a fee if more changes are requested after the plans have been approved.

Custom features

Not all builders will be able to accommodate changes to their standard plans, but it can’t hurt to ask.

Here are just some of the features you can ask volume builders to include in the design of a new home.

Light fixtures

Most standard floor plans by volume builders will reference downlights throughout, but adding your own light fixtures is one of the simplest ways to personalise the home.

This can include pendant lights over the kitchen bench, ball lights in the bathroom or even chandeliers in the dining room.

Any changes to the standard lighting specified by the builder must be outlined in the electrical plan for the home.

Kitchen island bench

Hooper says home owners will often ask how they can add a stone-top island kitchen bench using the space provided.

Bench tops with waterfall edges (where the bench surface extends to the floor on either side) are another feature home owners can add on to give their kitchen a little something extra.

A waterfall island bench top could cost around $2000, depending on the builder.


Walk-in-pantries, or butler’s pantries, are extremely popular and many standard plans from group builder’s do not include them.

But there are ways around that, Hooper says.

“The big thing at the moment is the walk-in pantry. We’ve been taking away the window at the end of the kitchen and pushing the floor-plan out to put in the walk-in pantry.”

Including a walk-in-pantry could cost around $2000, again depending on the builder you use.

Kitchen splashback

Glass splashbacks are popular right now and can add an element of luxury into an otherwise basic kitchen.

“I had a client with an all-white kitchen who wanted a red glass splashback. It cost her $800 extra,” Hooper says.

If you consider tiles to be more practical, don’t be afraid to mix it up.

“I had one client that had tiles with a brown and white design on it that ended up looking like a mosaic, which looked great. You can bring your own tiles.”

Altered floor plan & extra living space

Changing the floor plan of a volume build is possible.

“I had one plan where the main bedrooms were at the opposite ends of the house to the other bedrooms, but the owners had a baby and wanted to be close to their baby’s room, so the plan was altered for around $700.”


Extra space in a living room or bedroom can make a lot of difference.

Extending a room or widening a room can cost up to $3000.

Higher ceilings

The standard ceilings in most fixed price new homes will be around 2.44 metres but you can ask to have those extended to give the illusion of more space.

“You can walk into the same size room with higher ceilings and it feels so much bigger,” Hooper says.

Enclosing a living space

Enclosing off an open-plan living space to create an extra room might fit better with your needs.

Many builders will allow you to do this with the doors of your choice for a price.

Sliding doors can be a great option because you can leave them open to get the open-plan feel most of the time and then only close them when you really need.

“All of our plans have an extra living room or media room, but to actually enclose that with some custom sliding doors – a glass sliding door – it is around about $900,” Hooper says.


It’s amazing how much of a difference a little bit of extra natural light can make in a space.

Depending on how big you want them, skylights range from $500 upwards.

Custom facade

To distinguish your home from a neighbourhood of similar buildings, you need an expressive entryway.

Many volume builders will do a front render, bagging, stained timber or painted timber on the facade.

You can also experiment with different paint colours on the front door or a custom door handle. Try unusual shapes or repurposed objects for a look that really stands out.

Moving & adding windows

Well-placed windows can make all the difference to the functionality of the home.

To change the position of the windows in a new home so that it fits with the position of the furniture is a common request Hooper receives from her clients. She says group builders will usually not charge any extra to move windows.

Adding extra windows can cost more, and can sometimes make a lot of difference to the look and feel of a home.

Home owners are advised to think about the outlook and the types of pictures they want to frame with their windows. There’s no point adding an extra window if it’s just going to look out onto a neighbour’s house or retaining wall.

“A lot of people like horizontal windows at the moment. They’re only about $500 extra to install,” Hooper says.

“(Also popular are) the three vertical windows at the front that wind out instead of the standard rectangular window and our builders don’t charge any extra for that.”

Undermount sinks & freestanding ovens

The standard sized oven that fixed priced builders may be too small or not flashy enough for some people.

If you’re big on cooking, ask your builder if you can replace the standard oven with a freestanding oven with a canopy range hood.

Under mount sinks – where the edge lip of the sink is mounted below a solid surface counter top – are another way to elevate a standard kitchen.

Source: Alice Bradley