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How Do You Pick a Home Builder?

Congratulations! You’re taking the first steps toward building your own custom home. You’ve probably been thinking about your dream home for quite a while. You may have already chosen the perfect lot or sketched out ideas for a floor plan. Wherever you are in this research phase, we are thrilled that you’ve found us. We make it our mission to provide as many helpful resources to people like you who are embarking upon this exciting custom home building journey.

In this post, we hope to make an incredibly important decision a little less daunting for you. Selecting the right custom home builder is the most impactful decision you will make along the road to your dream home. Choose well, and you will have a true partner and advocate. With the right builder, you will avoid the all-too-familiar construction horror story and instead end up with a high-quality dream home as well as an enjoyable, smooth, and creatively fulfilling experience for you and your family.

Building a home from the ground up is an appealing process for many future home buyers. Think about it – you can get involved in the home building process instead of buying a home that you need to renovate to achieve your vision. 

There are some great professional builders out there who can help make your dream home a reality. And some really shouldn’t be in business. So how do you choose a builder who will MAKE IT RIGHT? 

home builder

Choosing the right builder for your dream home is an extremely critical step. The builder you opt for is going to be responsible for your home and all that it has to offer. The number of builders in the market is one too many, but who is the most reliable of them all? One must be cautious, and one must do a thorough market study to find the best builder who will provide the best quality in terms of quality of material used, architecture and service. Your life’s savings are going into your real estate purchase, so one must compare, analyse and choose a builder who is the best amongst his competitors and is offering what suits your needs. 

When To Choose Your Builder?

The best time to choose your builder is either before you begin the design phase with an architect or very soon after engaging an architect. Bringing a builder on board early in the design phase will ensure that your home’s design and your desired budget stay aligned throughout the process. A good custom builder will do much more than that during this architectural design phase. They will also:

  • Collaborate closely with an architect
  • Keep plan development on schedule
  • Provide unique design ideas
  • Produce initial estimate based on preliminary design
  • Provide valuable construction expertise & insight
  • Offer value-engineering & cost-saving options
  • Suggest high-performance home specs
  • Mitigate potential constructability issues

It’s always best to start your search by talking to friends, family, neighbours, and real estate professionals you trust for any positive custom builder referrals. Chances are someone you know has heard things about a custom builder or two. Worst case scenario, these conversations may not uncover a stellar builder, but they might help you create a list of builders to AVOID. This is equally valuable.

How to Choose Custom Builder

Research

Narrow down your list to your top two or three choices. You will want to do this by digging deep with online research and reaching out to them through their website or phone.

Tip for online research:

Do as much homework as you can to gauge each builder’s experience, diversity of the portfolio, the strength of team members, level of quality, organisational ability, values and philosophy, communication style and industry recognition.

Tip for reaching out:

Either call the builder’s office or submit a “Contact Us” form on their website. The correspondence that follows will give you an initial idea of their team’s responsiveness, professionalism, and willingness to help.

Interview Your Top 2-3 Choices

This will be the most time-consuming part of this process and also the most crucial. You will want to schedule a face-to-face meeting with each builder as well as request to visit a completed home and current jobsite with them.

The face-to-face meeting will give you the chance to assess:

  • Organisation, effectiveness, and transparency of their systems and processes
  • Strength of their team and relevant experience
  • Communication style and personality of the builder and their team

The site visit will give you a chance to assess:

  • Quality of construction and finishes in their homes
  • Jobsite cleanliness and safety measures
  • How knowledgeable and hands-on the builder is with their team’s projects

Questions to Ask

what should i ask a builder

To make this process a little easier for you, below is a list of questions you may want to consider asking when meeting with your top 2-3 builders: 

How Closely Do You Work With My Architect and Interior Designer?

You want a builder who prioritises a collaborative partnership with your architect and interior designer. This will prevent miscommunications that can lead to unnecessary tension, schedule delays, and extra costs. More importantly, listening to how they approach relationships with your design team will also give you a clue as to how they will approach communication with you.

Do You Have Experience Building the Style and Quality of the Home That I Want?

This is extremely important, as each style of the home presents unique challenges. You want to feel confident that your builder won’t be trying something new on your project but instead will be applying a vast catalogue of knowledge and lessons learned from similar homes they’ve built in the past.

Can You Tell Me a Bit About Your Estimating Process? How Do You Make Sure Your Budgets Are Accurate?

Lots of layers here. Listen to make sure the builder’s estimating process is extremely thorough. Their preliminary estimate will be based on historical hard costs as well as current market pricing, so you want to feel confident in their custom home building experience and expertise. Their detailed budget estimate (completed after plans & specs are finalised) will largely be based on hard bids from vendors and subcontractors in the builder’s network. You want to make sure that multiple bids will be secured from high-quality subcontractors and that those bids will be scrutinised to make sure they are comprehensive. You want to come away knowing that the builder’s team shoots for no holes in their budgets.

How Long Does it Take for You to Produce an Estimate for My Home?

A preliminary estimate can take as little as a week, and a detailed budget estimate can take as long as three weeks. If the builder thinks it will take longer than that, be sure to ask why. You may have a particularly complex home design that would understandably take longer than three weeks to estimate, or they may be overloaded, which could be a red flag that your project won’t get adequate attention if you choose them as your builder.

How Are You Compensated for Your Pre-Construction Services?

High-end custom builders who dig deep during the pre-construction phase know just how time-consuming this endeavour is with each potential client. Really good builders will spend hours pouring over your architectural plans to identify potential cost-saving opportunities, constructability issues, and design modifications that could enhance your home. Then they will spend more hours soliciting and scrutinising dozens of hard bids from trades to build a thorough and accurate budget. Given this time investment, it is typical for really strong builders to be compensated for their pre-construction services. You can get a variety of answers to this question; the important thing is that you feel comfortable with the compensation the builder asks for and with how they explain their role in the pre-construction process for your project.

Who Will Be Assigned to My Project, and How Often Will My Project Be Under Direct Supervision?

If you’re early in the design phase, it’s unlikely that the builder will be able to tell you for sure who will be assigned to your project when construction finally begins months from now. Instead, you’ll hopefully learn two things from their answer:

  • What each of their project teams looks like (Construction manager only? Construction manager and project manager? What kind of in-office support does each project team get?)
  • How heavily their project teams are loaded up at any given time (We’re talking about complex, high-quality custom homes, so your project should be under direct supervision either every day or every other day.)

How Do You Qualify the Capability of the Subcontractors That Will Work on My Home?

Try to gauge how familiar the builder is with their current sub base. Have they built lasting relationships with Houston’s high-quality subs? Do they thoroughly vet any new subs before putting them on one of their projects? If there are changes to the design or unforeseen conditions that result in extra cost, what does that process look like?

For high-end custom homes, it is extremely likely that you will encounter a change order due to the complexity of these projects. When you want to make a change, you want to know that they have a system in place for documenting changes, presenting costs and options to you, getting your approval, and efficiently implementing those changes.

Contact References

Try not to skip this step… no matter how tempted you might be. It’s a given that the references will be clients who had a positive experience with the builder, but these conversations can help get a feel for what the builder’s specific strengths and weaknesses are.

Questions to ask references:

  • Did you enjoy working with this builder?
  • What would you say are their strengths?
  • Was your project finished on time? If not, what were the reasons for delays?
  • Did the builder communicate the schedule clearly?
  • Did the builder ask for decisions in a timely manner?
  • Did you feel your original budget estimate was thorough?
  • Did the project finish on a budget? What were the reasons for overages?
  • Were your projects finances clear and transparent?
  • How did the builder react in stressful situations?
  • What role did the builder take once the project began?
  • Who specifically worked on your project? Who would you request if you were building again?
  • Was the project clean and organised?
  • Were there certain subcontractors on your project that you would strongly recommend or avoid?
  • How has the builder responded to warranty issues since you moved in?
  • If you were building another home, would you choose this builder again?

Qualities To Look For in Your Home Builder?

They Work With You Directly & Answer Questions Thoroughly

A good builder cares about the vision you have for your new home. With a new or custom build, you can get a little more creative with the layout than buying something pre-built. Not only will they help you achieve the vision you’re looking for – they should also be able to answer any questions you have as clearly as possible. It’s their job to help you feel comfortable with your purchase.

Remember – you can never ask too many questions. This is likely the biggest purchase you will ever make, so stay as informed as possible.

They Perform Third Party Inspections Throughout the Process

A builder who invites a 3rd party inspection company to visit their sites during various construction stages is a builder who cares about what’s behind the walls. They’ve been in a business a while.

A builder who’s been around for a while will be more likely to build a quality home. Now, that’s not to say the new kid in town won’t build a great home – and the old guard may still be using yesterday’s building techniques. This is where you’ll still have to do your research – but if they’ve been around for a few years, they should have an impressive portfolio of well-built communities to show off.

They Insist on Transparency

A builder who is being vague in conversations with you is a builder I’d stay away from. You want a builder who will give you a clear, well-written contract. Not only that, you want someone who’s properly insured – and will show you proof that they’ve obtained general liability insurance for their team.

They Care About the Quality of Materials Used

The quality of the build will be dictated by the materials used to build. Not only are the best builders choosing stronger materials – they’re making sure they’re properly taken care of during a build.

Our Previous Clients Satisfied?

It’s the age of online research, which should be part of your research on your builder. Also, ask for references from their past clients, and if you can, get in touch with them to get their honest feedback.

Ask them about their general satisfaction with the home – but this is also your chance to ask a few specific questions about their commitment to quality and making it right. Were there any delays in the project? Find out how they communicated those. When they got the keys, were there mistakes that needed to be corrected? Ask them how quickly they resolved any issues – and if it was difficult to get them to come through with the solution.

They Hire Quality Tradespeople

Your builder is only as good as the tradespeople they hire. If you can’t trust their choice of electrician, HVAC specialist, or roofer – move on to the next builder on your list. 

Experience of the Builder

The experience of the builder in the industry says a lot about his efficiency. If a certain builder has been in the market and has consistently performed throughout the period of his presence, one can be assured that he is offering both quality and service. Not just that, an experienced builder will come with sufficient knowledge about the industry, the material and the evolving architecture. You can be assured that someone with ample experience will build good quality homes.

Success Rate

The number of homes built by the builder, be it villas or flats, is also an important factor to consider while choosing the right builder for your home. The number of homes built and occupied is a direct reflection of the scale of operation, reliability, quality and workmanship of the builder.

The One Who Meets Your Needs 

Each of us is looking for something different in our dream home. Different builders might offer different styles, scales and lifestyles in their projects. Or, one builder might have a lot of variety in what they offer- Make sure that you opt for something that meets your needs. The builder you opt for is offering a home within your budget and offering you the amenities and lifestyle you desire.

Number of Ongoing Projects 

This factor is again a direct representation of the efficiency of the builder. Multiple ongoing projects show that the builder is reliable and has sufficient funding and experience in the field, making them a good option to opt for.

Testimonials of the Existing Customers

The more the number of happy customers, the more reliable the builder is. Talking to existing customers will help you gauge the builder- right from the quality of the material, his adherence to time schedules and post-occupation service.

A Well-Coordinated Team

The builder should have a well-coordinated team of professionals who will be able to give complete, truthful and wholesome information to you on the varied queries that you may have. They should be in sync with each other and not make you run from person to person due to a lack of knowledge on their end.

Accreditations and Licenses

Look into the license of the builder; his legal authenticity and certification from local and reputed organisations are also important factors to consider. His presence in local organisations also shows his authenticity and involvement with the local organisations. Apart from this, it is always advisable to research any litigations or legal embroilments of the builder.

Project Approvals by Banks

Most reputable builders tie-up with banks for offering home loans and other services. Projects approved by banks are more reliable than others.

Planning and Architecture

A builder with a portfolio of diverse projects in terms of aesthetics and architecture has the upper hand. A builder who shows an evolution in the design of the buildings they build and a builder who has buildings comparable to global standards is more superior to others. Look into the existing and proposed projects’ architecture and spatial planning to understand what they have to offer.

Structural Quality Is of Utmost Importance

One must lay utmost emphasis on the structure as undertaken by the builder. The material used, like cement, steel etc., should be of the best quality, and the builder should ensure to take up tests like cube tests, steel tests etc., to make sure that the material used, the consistency and the work undertaken on site is of top-notch quality. The construction on larger scales is usually undertaken in different phases adhering to predetermined timelines, so make sure that your builder has given you full disclosure of these phases and the varied schedules that they have for the project of your interest. While interiors and the end product is an essential part of a home, the structure and the efficiency of the same should be given high priority.

Quality of Workmanship

 As discussed earlier, the quality of the material used should be studied closely by the buyer before choosing the builder for your home. Apart from this, the quality of workmanship is another important factor to consider while shortlisting the right builder.

Quality Checking

A good builder maintains time schedules and is constantly keeping a check on work quality and progress. There should be transparency in the work schedule, and the buyer should have access to quality checking guidelines, regular updates on the progress of the construction of their homes etc. A builder who has an elaborate checking process and adheres to it will provide you with the best quality homes.

Service and Post Care 

It is not just important to provide a well-planned home but also provide good post-occupation service. Maintenance of homes and the amenities etc., should be undertaken by the builder to provide a relaxing experience to their customers. A builder who does not provide good post-occupation service does not stand to qualify to be a reliable option. Sometimes residents face issues with maintaining their home but unfortunately do not get the help needed. Fly often does this by night operators who do not provide satisfactory post-care service and not a characteristic of a good and reliant builder.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. While model homes give you a great insight into what you might achieve as an end product- do not be fooled by appearances. More emphasis should be placed on understanding how the home meets our needs and how it can be customised to become a home that caters to our family’s needs.

These simple pointers will help you pick a reputable, reliable builder and deliver a home that is not just a dream come true but an asset that will enhance your investment with time.

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