Finding the Right Builder

Building a new home can be a fun, wonderful experience if you have done some "homework" and know what to expect. For many, finding the right builder (a professional that you can trust) is the biggest hurdle to having a “Beautiful Building Experience”.

Showing client floor plans

The standard advice on this point is to “call around and get at least three estimates, then choose the middle one”. The problem with this advice is that it essentially boils your decision down to price and completely disregards the most important factors in choosing the right builder – trust, communication, and craftsmanship. I guess the standard advice is ok if you happen to know at least three reputable builders that you’re comfortable working with and all three are qualified to do the type of work you have in mind. But most people don’t personally know three builders that meet those requirements.

So, what should you do? How do you find the builder that will make your construction project an exciting, rewarding experience? To start, you will need to take the following steps:

First, remind yourself of a few of things

  • Building a home is not like buying a car or a television. Though you can buy identical cars or televisions, homes are not built in a factory in perfect conditions. You are not buying a product off a shelf. Having a home built or remodeled is more like commissioning an artist to paint a portrait. Even given the exact same set of blueprints, 5 different builders will build 5 similar but not identical homes! Just like 5 different artists could be commissioned to paint the exact same portrait and you would get 5 similar but not identical portraits. There is a lot of leeway in even a detailed set of plans and every builder will look at those “gray areas” with a different eye. There is a bit of art in every custom home. So choose the “artist” whose past work you admire, because other “artists” can not be expected to produce exact replicas.
  • The purchase of a car or a television may occur in a matter of hours, after which your interaction with the clerk or salesperson is greatly diminished. A construction project may last anywhere from a month to a year or more. You will be dealing with your contractor over a long period of time and handing him/her a large chunk of your hard earned money. The extent to which you can comfortably communicate with a builder becomes one of (if not the) most important factors in deciding which builder to choose.
  • Most of your work as owner will be on the front side. Prepare your budget; decide exactly what it is that you want out of your project; shop for and interview builders and check their references. All of these will pay dividends later on.
  • Nothing is free. Not plans, not accurate estimates, not even a builder’s time. Expect to pay for such things.
  • Realize that while you are evaluating builders, the builders are also evaluating you. Not all builders are the same, nor are all clients alike, and builders are looking for clients that fit well with their business strengths. No good builder wants to take your job if he feels that you are going to micromanage your project, or that you expect more than you’re willing to pay for. That’s why it’s so important to establish good communications before any final decisions are made.

Where to Start:

  • Talk to your friends, neighbors, real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents, the local building association, building supply stores. Ask them who they would personally use and why. Ask if they have heard any good or bad reports about specific builders.
  • Listen to people with building experience. The references given to you by builders with whom you’ve spoken are an important source of credibility for you. Follow up on them. Visit some homes that the builder has previously built. Talk to the owners. Walk through the homes if you can. Notice things that you like and things that you don’t. Ask the homeowners the following questions:
    • Were you pleased with the results?
    • Did you have any communication problems with your builder?
    • Did your builder stay in touch on a regular basis?
    • Was the job completed on schedule and on budget?
    • Did they resolve complaints satisfactorily?
    • Did you have a good building experience?
    • Would you use the builder again?
  • Talk to your local building supply houses. They work with builders everyday, and know which ones pay their bills.
  • Request a certificate of workers compensation insurance and contractor’s liability insurance. Make sure the policies are current.
  • Ask about warranty and service procedures. The builder should offer a written warranty that is easily understood with regard to what the warranty covers, the terms of the coverage, and the methods for requesting service.
  • Don’t rush into this. Take some time and trust your instincts. Get the right person for your job. Find a builder you feel comfortable talking with and can trust. After you’ve done some checking, pause for a little reflection. Do you feel more comfortable with one builder than another? Do you have a nagging feeling that something is just not right with someone? Do you think you would feel comfortable working with that person for the duration of the project? The key to a successful relationship with your builder and a successful project is communication. If you don’t feel comfortable communicating with this person, it is likely that problems will arise.

Have Questions?

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