"Custom Home Survival Guide" by Carla Lazzareschi (March 18) slid right over one area where considerable savings can be had: the building plans. It assumes that a minimum of $10,000 to $20,000 will be spent with an architect. It ain't necessarily so.
As you said, many builders have stock plans, and plan books abound. But neither of these options make it something less than "custom." With a few exceptions, plans ordered from a plan book will not work without some modifications. They have full basements, crawl spaces, roof pitches to shed snow and might not met California energy requirements.
In the gap between low-cost stock plans and an expensive architect is something called the "building designer"--not a licensed architect, sometimes a licensed contractor, generally an experienced architectural draftsman. These people, when you find a good one, can provide satisfactory plans for about 20% of an architect's fee.
To my knowledge, none of the city/county Building and Safety departments require that plans be prepared by an architect. Very few architectural approval committees for specific tracts do either.