Buying House Plans Online: Pros and Cons

No two homes are exactly alike because no two families are exactly alike. Still, buying house plans online can feel like a simple way to design a personalized home without the fuss. Sure, someone might have the same plan, but you make a house a home, right? Before you take the plunge and buy stock house plans from a website, make sure you have all of the facts. In some cases, it might actually be cheaper and easier to have custom plans drawn. Consider the pros and cons to decide if stock plans are right for you.

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Stock plans can save you time. Image: Kurt Baum Architects

Stock Plan Pros

If you’re looking for house plans that are quick and easy, stock plans are a no-brainer. Here are some clear benefits you score by choosing plans from an online store.

  • Cost. Stock plans are typically much cheaper than custom plans. You’re not paying for consultations and meetings where an architect painstakingly creates your vision. You’re paying for the rights to use plans an architect has already created. Expect to pay anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to around a thousand for stock plans. When compared to the $2 per square foot cost of custom plans, buying house plans online is a steal of a deal.
  • Choices. Buying house plans online allows you to choose from thousands of different layouts, styles and exteriors. You won’t get to customize your master bathroom, but you can choose from tons of different options so you get something you really love. Websites selling house plans curate the best styles and plans. That means you get to narrow your search and choose from the best work of hundreds of different designers.
  • Time. When designing plans from scratch, you’re making a pretty substantial time commitment. Combing through options, meeting with your architect and fine-tuning your plans can take weeks. This can really slow down an already-tight building schedule. If you’re pressed for time, stock plans help you sail through the design process and head straight to your build.
  • Jumping Off. Even if you don’t use stock plans, searching online options and even purchasing plans can serve as a starting point for custom designs. If you’re overwhelmed by all the choices, going through online options and bringing a few of your favorites to your architect can help you create a starting point. From there, you can tweak and change until you get the right design.
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Customizations can add extra costs. Image: J Taylor Designs

Stock Plan Cons 

Stock plans can be a good fit for some, but they’re not right for every building situation. Make sure you can live with a few of the drawbacks of buying plans online.

  • Lot Specification. When you buy stock house plans, you don’t get to specify the size and shape of your lot. In some cases, it can be like buying jeans without trying them on first. They just might not fit. While you can usually filter plans based on size, there’s no guarantee that the plan will work on your specific lot. You’ll still need to bring the plan to a qualified designer to make sure it’s a good fit for your lot. Most cities also require a site plan in order to gain a building permit, which means you’ll have an additional cost in having one drawn.
  • Codes and Permits. When you work with an architect, you know that your home is being designed to meet city codes. An architect will also take safety, sustainability and environment into consideration when coming up with the right design. Stock plans, however, aren’t designed to meet specific codes. There’s a chance you’ll still need plans redesigned to obtain permits. Without a design that meets code, your plan is just a picture.
  • Customization Costs. Buying house plans online can be a cheaper option, but customizations can rack up a pretty penny. When calculating the price of your plans, remember to add on any extra cost for having an architect modify plans. Whether you’re making big changes to the layout or you’re having an architect check to make sure your plans are up to code, you’ll have additional costs. Add those to the price of your stock plans and you may find that starting from scratch is close in price – or even cheaper.

If you’re a total design junkie, you’ve already browsed online plans. But before you put your dream plans in your online cart, think about your long-term plans. Buying house plans online can help save time and money, but it also means giving up some of your custom dreams. If you’re dead set on a personalized plan, it might be better to work with a local architect. Still, whether you go stock or start from scratch, you’ll be able to come up with perfect plans for your future home.

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