Arthur Rutenberg Homes Blog


The Ultimate Retirement Home Building Guide – Is It Time For a Custom Home?

Posted on October 6th, 2015

1291B_ravenna custom homeRetirement used to mean downsizing to an apartment, or maybe a smaller house in a quiet retirement community.  Maybe you were the child of retiree who told your folks to find a smaller home that doesn’t require as much maintenance.  Time has changed. Maybe it’s time for a custom home.

Retirement can still mean going to a retirement community, but more and more often, it means building a dream house that satisfies all of the desires you’ve had when you’ve thought about the perfect place to live. If you want to, you can still move to a condo or a smaller house, but what happens when it starts to feel cramped after a couple of years because you’re used to living in a bigger space?

When you’ve worked hard to provide for your family, and that family has moved on you do not have to put your own wishes and put the things you want to happen for yourself on the back burner.  Think about some of the things you want to use your house for in the years to come, and then go for it.  For most people, having the entire family visit a few times a year is important, and having enough space for everyone to spread out and not get on each other’s nerves is a bonus well-worth considering. Maybe you dream of having cookouts with the whole neighborhood coming over.  Try doing that in a little apartment. This is the exact reason for the building boom of custom homes for retirees in the past five years.

Things to Look For in the Perfect Retirement Home


Great Kitchens and a Wide Open Floor Plan

1295B custom home kitchen for retirement home buildingOpen floor plans are great for making a house feel like they have a lot of room.  Houses used to be built with each room having a specific purpose and they often felt closed off because there was one small doorway in and out and often no or few windows in different rooms.  Kitchens used to feel cramped and small because there were no openings to other rooms.  Think about a new kitchen with lots of access points so friends and family can all help with meal preparation, or at least everyone can sit around and talk while food is being prepared.

Many custom homes feature a large window wall in the kitchen, usually facing the backyard, allows whoever is in the kitchen to enjoy watching family and friends, especially grandchildren or other children as they play outside.  Most rooms with a lot of natural light will be south facing so they provide light longer into the late afternoon and evening.  Usually kitchens and laundry rooms are good rooms for these extra windows because they tend to have a lot of activity during daylight hours.

Besides being an ideal place to have a lot of natural light, a custom home’s kitchen should also have some special features.  An open kitchen design is a great way to share the events of the day while preparing a meal.  It can also be a way to speak with guests while you’re fixing a meal.  An island with a sink is a great place for food preparation, and when only one or two people are home, it can also be a great place for a few bar stools so you can eat meal right there.  An island is also a great place for people to sit, mostly out of the way while food is being prepped.

Media Room 

As you plan your custom home floor plan, not all rooms should have a lot of natural light.  A room that may not need large windows, but would benefit from light spilling in from other rooms is the television room.  The two biggest issues with windows and television rooms is the possibility of glare, either from natural light, or if the light bounced off of other objects and glared on the screen.  Another consideration with windows in the television room is most of us watch a lot of television.  Leaving the window open can make you feel like you’re the one being watched as people walk by the house.


Wide hallways are another hallmark of a comfortable retirement custom home.  If this is the house you plan to grow old in, or if you have family who is older or disabled, ensuring that hallways have enough room to accommodate a wheelchair or a walker is a good idea.  For most situations, you want hallways that at their narrowest allow you to stand in the middle and reach all the way to your side and either just brush the walls, or perhaps not even be able to touch the walls at all.

Master Suite (Including the Master Bath)

beautiful custom home master bedroomAnother thought when considering custom home floor plans for a home you want to grow old in is if the master suite is downstairs.  You may be able to maneuver stairs easily now, but what about 20 years from now?  A master suite on the bottom floor still allows guests to stay upstairs when they visit. A single story house also solves that issue of having the master suite on the bottom floor, but it can be less expensive to build out than to build up, it really just depends how much room you need and if a lot is big enough to allow you to build a single story home with all of the room you’ll need.

The master bathroom is another area worth a lot of consideration in many custom home configurations.  Convenience and safety are both very important.  The shower for a master bath in a retirement home should be a walk in shower with a built in bench.  If you are perfectly healthy now, and showering in a small shower stall is easy to do, remember that somewhere along the line you are going to be older and even if it is temporary, you may have to confront a time with decreased mobility.  A bench with a removable shower head can solve that problem.

A walk in shower makes it less likely you will trip and the bench allows you to sit while you wash yourself, and you’ll still get clean!  If you have to deal with a broken bone, a walk in shower also allows a shower chair to be rolled into and out of the shower in a safe manner. With an open show plan, you will be able to enjoy the luxury of a shower in which you can move about freely right now.

Another perk to include in a master bathroom is plenty of room to add a chair to do your hair and makeup.  Being able to do your hair and makeup in the bathroom ensures there is less clutter in the master bedroom, and generally the best mirrors are in the bathroom too.

perfect custom home bathroomAdditionally, for your custom bathroom, now is the perfect time to add the lighting features you want in your home.  Brighter lights near the mirrors and even dimming lights for the main overheads can be a welcome addition when you are not quite ready to wake up yet.

In the master bedroom, in addition to being on the first floor when possible and having a large bathroom, walk in closets are great.  Just because you’re retired does not mean you will have fewer clothes and fewer shoes, not to mention other things that you want to keep in the closet.

Many retirees will have more opportunity to do things they like to do, so a couple of pair of golf shorts and polo shirts won’t do.  You need more space to store those things.  Many people also have had to put their winter clothes away in the summer, and then move their summer clothes somewhere else in the winter.  A walk in closet makes it possible to keep all of your clothes in one place all of the time. Many custom home closet layouts feature a special area to store luggage and keep things arranged for packing.

Some natural light in a bedroom can be good, though depending what side of the house the bedroom is, good blinds are just as important.  You won’t have to get up early anymore unless your tennis match is early or your tee time is early.  You want to be able to sleep in if you want to, and you cannot do that if the sun is pounding through the window earlier than you would care for.

Master bedrooms are also great if there is room for a chair and a lamp for a reading area.  This can be an ideal place to unwind before supper or before bed even if you don’t have visitors.  If you do have company, a place to go and read might be the best chance you’ll have to keep sane while a bunch of family that you love are running around.

Guest Spaces

custom home guest suite ideaIf you have older family members who visit, a space that feels separate and out of the way will often help them feel less intrusive when they come to visit, and lets them stay for longer periods.  When making a floor plan in your custom home, if the guest area has its own restroom near the guest bedroom and if it is on the opposite side of a family room or kitchen, then older guests, or any guests, feel less like they are overstaying their welcome.  Most of us want our parents or older guests to come and spend time and to stay as long as they want.  Having a downstairs space they can feel is their own will make them more inclined to extend their visits.

Separate guest spaces are also excellent for friends and children visiting when they bring kids along. Many custom home guest spaces open right onto a pool or patio area for easy access to activities for kids. Televisions and media can easily be placed in areas for when the kids or grandkids want some time to themselves.

Choosing a Custom Home Builder

It is important to choose the right custom home builder when building a custom home for your retirement.  Talk to different builders and find out who actually listens to you and who has good questions for you.  Experience is important, but just because a company has been building homes for 20 years doesn’t mean they will be the right fit for your needs.  Someone who has spent 20 years building mostly condos may not be the one to hire to build your dream home. Additionally the builder should have the resources and processes behind them to make sure you get the home of your dreams on schedule and wishing budget.

Have builders give you references for people that they’ve built homes for in the past, and call those people.

Questions to ask custom home builders include:

  • Would you buy another home that this builder built?
  • Would you recommend that your children or parents let this builder build them a home?
  • What was your biggest concern during the process? (There are always concerns when building a home. Most of them come to nothing, but sometimes. . .)
  • How well did the builder answer questions that you asked during the process?
  • How well did the builder explain maintenance on items after construction was complete?  Some wood or concrete may need sealing periodically.  Someone needs to ensure the homeowner knows the details for taking care of those things.
  • How well does the builder return when little things that were missed on the walk through pop up?  Strips of wood are missed and other things can happen.  The builder should be responsible for coming back and ensuring everything is made right.  And it shouldn’t be a hassle to make this happen.


If required where you live, ensure that the builder is licensed and no matter where you live, ensure the builder has insurance.  Make certain that the builder’s subs will have insurance too.  If something happens to one of the workers, they may decide to sue someone, especially if the builder doesn’t have insurance to take care of them if they get hurt.  The landowner, homeowner may be the next best person if there isn’t insurance by the builder.

Make certain that the things the builder puts in and on the home will be covered by a warranty and make certain that paperwork is handed over to you.  This should include more than appliances, it should also cover a structural warranty of at least 10 years after the home is built.

Ensure that all costs for exactly what you want are presented to you before the project begins.  There may be a swimming pool on the drawing of the lot, and in your mind, the pool is part of what you’re paying the builder to do.  In his or her mind the swimming pool was on the drawing to show what could be.  If you’re building this house with a structured budget for your retirement, then finding out when the builder after building starts that there won’t be swimming pool can be devastating to a homeowner.  Make certain you’re on the same page regarding all of these details, big and small. Your builder should provide you with exactly what you will be getting.

You don’t want the builder that has twenty years of building duplexes to build your one of a kind dream home, make certain you choose a builder who has built unique homes before.  Just like a man who rebuilds Chevy engines may not be able to rebuild a VW, the man who builds one kind of home may struggle to build something unique.

Find out what has happened with the builder’s resale values.  Talk to the realtor you bought your lot or acreage from.  There are often builders that they love to resale their homes because they have a reputation for building quality custom homes that are not only quality, but affordable to live in.  When a home built by builder X is easily sold on the secondary market, or when buyers line up to buy their spec houses, those are usually reliable builders to hire.

Finally, see if the custom home builder can give some sort of estimate about how much it will cost to maintain a home.  You may have a beautiful home that everything you wanted.  But you cannot afford to live in it because it sucks electricity like a sieve.  You want a home that not only has the qualities you want, but you want to be able to afford living in it and still enjoy your retirement. Spending your savings on utility bills won’t let you enjoy that deserved time of fun and rest.

A retirement custom home is the trophy you deserve for working all of your life.  You’ve provided for your family, you’ve done things you didn’t want to, but you were responsible for more than just yourself.  Now, take some time, find the right builder and decide the kind of home you want to live and go for it.  You deserve it, and if you work with a good and reliable builder, your dreams will come true.

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