The builder you use for your custom home is a big deal. They’ll be your go-to, your leader, the captain of your build, and picking the wrong one can lead to a lot of stress and disappointment, to say the least. It can also be tricky, as selecting a contractor needs to happen early in process, often before you know what to ask and what to look for. As an architecture firm, we’ve been around the block a time or two with custom builders, so here are our top tips for choosing the right builder.
Photo Credit: Leonid Furmansky. Home by Tim Brown Architecture
Quality is King
This one might sound obvious, but pick someone who does good, quality work. Ask if they have any projects you can tour, and pay close attention to the detail and craftsmanship. You don’t want someone who is going to cut corners.
The grade of materials is important too. Your home’s efficiency, durability and resale value will all be heavily affected by the standard of materials used. The last thing you need is to start dealing with issues and repairs just a few years in because your builder operated with low quality work or components.
The Right Experience
Make sure the contractor’s experience lines up with the scope of your project. They might have a gorgeous portfolio of well-made guest cottages and vacation homes, but can they provide the same caliber on the 4,000 square foot family home you want? Someone who is familiar working with the scope, style and detail of your project will have a much better handle on timeline, budget, and how to deliver what you are asking for.
Conduct Thorough Interviews
Builder interviews are not just a formality. Be prepared, and ask lots of questions. Request a sample budget and contract, and take your time looking them over. Look up any jargon you don’t know, and ask what extra fees could come up, or what’s not included.
Be sure to clarify who will actually be overseeing your home, if it’s the builder conducting the interview or someone else in the company. If you plan to be on-site often (and you should), you want to be sure upfront who you will be dealing with.
Another thing to check is licensing and insurance. If a contractor doesn’t carry personal liability, worker’s comp and damage coverage, you may end up liable for accidents on your property. Not every state requires licensing, so find out what the laws are in your area and make sure the builder’s credentials are up to date.
Do Your Research
Check all the sources you can think of, from online reviews, to BBB ratings, to friends and family. Most importantly, ask the builder for references, and actually follow up. Be sure to speak to past clients, but also ask for other professional references, like architects or subcontractors, and ask what their experience was like working alongside the builder.
Price Isn’t Everything
This is one of the most common mistakes we see people make. It’s human nature to want more - just a slightly bigger or nicer house than we can really afford or want to spend. But skimming on your builder fees is not the answer.
In our experience, the better builders cost a little more. It makes perfect sense. A good contractor is going to put more time, effort and attention into your home, and their compensation should reflect that. I’m not saying that you’re only safe with the most expensive option, just understand that the added level of care and quality is typically worth paying more for.
When it comes to the bids, give the contractor as much information as possible. Providing a floor plan for structural costs is one thing, but your level of finish out is another huge factor. Be specific when it comes to things like countertops, flooring, fixtures, etc. Every detail helps them deliver a more accurate estimate.
Make a Match
You don’t have to be best friends with your builder, but you do have to work with them for 1+ years, so there should be at least be some good vibes between you. Builder interviews aren’t just all about the facts and figures, you also want to use that time to get a feel for the contractor’s personality and communication style.
Look for transparency, and if they are quick to respond. Do they take the time to explain details to you, or are they always in a hurry to move on? Not every builder is right for every person, so trust your gut and find someone you seem to click with.
Photo Credit: Farmhouse Living. Home by Tim Brown Architecture
Unfortunately, bad builders are out there. And even good builders can create a bad situation if they are the wrong fit. Our hope is that with this guide, we can help you avoid a poor experience and make an informed decision that you can be confident in.