How To Choose A Builder

‘The 7 Deadly Mistakes to Avoid when Choosing a Builder’

blueprint2.jpgBuilding your new home may be one of the biggest investments you make in a lifetime, so you are right in doing your research first so that you can do it right. But did you know, who you choose to build it can impact the outcome dramatically.

Now I am not talking about the horror building stories that we’ve all heard or read about: the home that never got finished, the builder that cut corners and more, the chainsaw massacre remodel job. They are out there and in some cases true. I am talking about how much your builder’s experience and expertise can affect the decisions you make while building your home. The difference can be the creation of the home of your dreams or just another home. So use these tips, and choose wisely.

Mistake #1 - Failure to do proper background investigation and research

Don’t be shy about asking. If they are a reputable builder, they will want you to know their credentials. The Home Builder’s Association (HBA) will be able to tell you if the builder has any complaints against him or if he has been involved in any contractor related legal actions. Ask for references and then talk to them. Ask questions like:

  • Did the builder stay on budget?
  • Was the builder helpful with materials, finishes, recommendations?
  • Did the builder stay within the projected completion time range?
  • Did the builder return calls quickly?
  • When problems arose, how quickly was the builder able to respond to them satisfactorily?
  • Are they registered with the local Home Builders Association (HBA)?
  • How long have they been working with the same trades?
  • Have they won any awards?
  • What do they feel they excel at?

Today the building process is very complicated. Code and industry changes are happening regularly. The number of choices in materials and construction techniques has risen exponentially in the last 10 years. There are too many options, and it is a difficult process. If they are registered with the HBA there are programs and training to keep them in touch with industry trends and changes.

They say a pick-up truck makes for a great office. If you’re not so sure, check to see that they have good management skills or a strong team behind them. This won’t guarantee a better job, but it usually means that the process will go more smoothly as the builder will not have to see to everything personally.

  • Check with the local HBA to see if there have been any complaints
  • Ask for references and then talk to them.
  • Ask for the names of some of their trades and ask them if they like working for the builder? How well does he resolve problems? Does he pay on time? Does he set high job site standards? Does he cut corners on the job site? *Please handle this sensitively. Trades can be very loyal to their builder so don’t risk your future relationship with them.

Mistake #2 – Failure to choose the right builder for your job

Not every custom house build project needs the same kind of a builder. Consider your needs. Are you looking for a one man artisan who pays attention to every detail in your home? Or is it important to you that your home be built on a tight schedule and problems and challenges are addressed quickly and efficiently?

Assess your needs by asking yourself these Questions:

  • How much time do I have to invest in the home building process?
  • How much research am I you able to do for the products and finishes?
  • How much time do I have to select the material finishes?
  • How much guidance are you prepared to offer your builder in how you want your home built?

For instance, some builders are expert craftsmen. Everything they do is on the custom level. If you are looking for a lot of detailed woodwork, you might be better suited to a builder who either, 1) does it himself and stakes his reputation on it, or 2) has his own skilled people doing the work, rather than subbing the work out to (possibly) the lowest bidder.

Some builders offer a much more streamlined approach to building your home, which will save you time and may save you money. Of course you may not have the full ‘custom’ approach to every detail in the house, but do you really want to be picking out every last little thing on your house?

Mistake #3 – Failure to choose a builder you like and trust

Signing with a builder is a big commitment. If you discover halfway through the construction of your new home that you don’t like your builder, or he is too busy to ever get back to you, it is a difficult mistake to undo. If everything else checks out with the builder, go with your instincts. Do you feel you can trust him? Do you think you will enjoy working with this builder/firm for the next 6 months or so?

If not, find someone else before it’s too late. Don’t cheat yourself of the fun and excitement that comes with building a home by making a poor choice of builder.

Mistake #4 – Failure to get it in writing

Get your estimate in writing. Have the builder specify what is included in the price. Sometimes items that you see in a model home, may not be included in his standard pricing. Ask the builder for his allowance amounts for things like lighting fixtures, flooring, cabinetry. Then pay a visit with his suppliers and see if those allowances are realistic. Just how much you can get for that price? Some builders will put in lower amounts for their allowances because it makes the bid price look lower. But what you don’t pay for up front, may cost you more down the line.

If you don’t think the allowances will cover what you want to put in the home, how will the excess amount be handled? Will you have to pay for it in cash? Can you include it in your mortgage?

Have your builder specify on the estimate a list of the standard materials used, including model numbers if appropriate. It is difficult to get a good job and durability from inferior quality materials. If price is your biggest concern, I recommend building a smaller home, before paying for inferior materials or poor quality workmanship. These will not only decrease your enjoyment of your home, but will affect your resale value as well. You know what they say, “You pay for it now, or you pay for it later. Either way you pay for it.” I have found that to be true.

Get a signed Contract in writing. Please read your contract, or better yet, have a lawyer review it. You don’t want to be stuck in a contract that only benefits and protects the builder. You might consider including performance goals, ie. job completion dates, guarantees on estimates, back-up should something happen to the builder personally.

Mistake #5 – Failure to confirm liability insurance

Just because a builder has a licence doesn’t mean that he is insured against injuries, job site accidents, storm damage or other unforeseen hazards. Ask your builder to see his certificate showing that he is up to date and fully covered with liability and damage insurance. Different areas use different names for their insurance – check with the local HBA for standard coverage requirements.

Mistake #6 – Failure to understand the Builder’s Warranties

Call the HBA and find out what the local industry standard is for a home warranty. If your builder doesn’t offer at least the average warranty, find a different builder.

Mistake #7 – Failure to ask for help

I have been in the building industry for years, and I don’t know it all. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be the expert on everything. Ask for help. But do be careful where you get your advice from. Many people like giving it, but are they really qualified to give you valuable advice. I have heard much advice on the job site from well intentioned trades people. They told me about the mistakes I was making, and how ‘nobody’ does it that way, ‘everybody’ does it this way.

Today your choices are vast and your options many. You can’t know it all. So do ask for help from experienced sources.

Congratulations on your decision to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Happy building!

Yours Truly,

Some additional thoughts:

While choosing a builder is a very important detail, do not overlook the value of good plans. See ‘How to Choose an Architect’ and ‘Tips on How to Design your Dream Home’ for more information.

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