7 Tips for Choosing a Home Builder
The concept of building a custom home from the ground up is one that holds appeal for a lot of people, but it can also be overwhelming. Yes, you get to make the home exactly what you want it to be, but you also are going to have to face a longer waiting period, with a lot of potential for things to go wrong along the way.
One way to reduce some of the risks of things not going according to plan is choosing a home builder who’s experienced and who you can trust.
The following are seven tips and things to keep in mind when you’re choosing a builder for your project.
1. Know When To Start Reaching Out
Timing is everything when it comes to building a custom home. You want to plan ahead, but you also don’t need to do things too early when it comes to choosing a home builder. Instead, you want to give yourself time to think about your wants and needs in your new home.
You also want to consider your moving timetable.
Once you have a better idea of what you want and your timetable, then you can actually start to reach out.
Keep in mind that most reputable builders are going to have a lead time of at least three to four months. This might be longer, but in general, don’t be surprised to hear you’re going to have to wait at least three or four months from the initial point of contact to the time when a contractor can actually start your project.
A lot of in-demand builders have lead times that are more like six months.
2. Do Your Initial Research
Your research is one of the hardest but most important parts of choosing a builder.
A good starting place is to look to the first-hand experiences of your friends and family members, especially among people who have built custom homes themselves from the ground up.
If you can come up with a short list of potential local builders based on recommendations from people you know, then you can begin to look up more about them online. The builders should have an online presence and portfolio you can look at.
Some of the things you want to consider in your earliest stages of research include how long they’ve been in business, where they build, their quality level, and whether they work with an associated mortgage company.
You can also look at reviews people leave for the builders online.
By this point, you should have a list of the top home builders you’re considering.
3. Visit Homes or Communities
If the builders you’re thinking about working with have model homes or they’ve done entire communities, you can visit those to get a feel for the craftsmanship and design features they use.
You can also start contacting builders to ask for references and addresses of homes they’ve built if they don’t have a model, so you can drive by and take a look.
References are extremely important when you’re choosing a builder, and this is something a lot of people overlook.
Builder references give you an idea of not just the finished product but the experience real people had working with a builder.
If a builder doesn’t seem to want to give you references, or they give you a very limited list, this can be a major red flag.
Most custom builders who do quality work and measure up to expectations are able to provide pages of client references if you prefer.
4. Contact References
You can drive by the homes that a builder provides you on a list of references, but you should also directly contact the homeowners. Don’t be shy to do so.
When you contact references, it’s best to use open-ended questions to figure out what their experience was like.
For example, ask whether the project started and ended as projected, and if not, why?
You can ask about what went well during the process and also the challenges that were encountered. Every home building project is going to include some challenges, but you want to learn more about how the builder handles those when they arise.
Ask what the weaknesses of the builder were and whether or not you would use them for a future custom home project.
5. Conduct Interviews
Once you’ve gone through the references and further narrowed down your list of potential builders, plan to conduct interviews. Interviews are important not only so you can ask technical questions you might have but also so you can get a feel for whether or not your personalities will be a good fit for one another.
You want to feel comfortable with your builder and feel like you have a similar communication style.
If you’re intimidated to go to your builder with a question or concern, it’s going to be problematic for your entire project.
Communication skills are critical when you’re working with a builder, and you’re not going to know how well someone is going to be able to communicate with you unless you meet them in person.
6. Don’t Automatically Choose the Lowest Price
Yes, price is important when you’re building a home, but it can’t be your only consideration when you choose a custom builder. Most buyers are tempted to go with the lowest quote, but a low price can be a red flag.
Prices that are lower than everyone else’s can indicate an inaccurate or incomplete proposal, low-quality materials, or an estimate that’s intentionally misleading.
7. Review the Standard Contract
Finally, once you make it to a point where you have a contract, review it carefully. You don’t want to be surprised by something that was right in front of you the whole time.
There are different types of contracts, including cost-plus and fixed-price contracts. Most custom builders use cost-plus pricing because the materials and projects are unique, so they base their bids on labor and materials.