How to Hire the Right Custom Home Builder
Designing and building a custom home can be the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. Once this goal is finally realized, one of the most important elements of the project is knowing how to find and hire the right home builder.
For many owners, designing their custom home will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the process of hiring a builder should be approached with the utmost care and attention to detail. Most homeowners will work with the builder for anywhere from 12 to 18 months. Like any other working relationship, trust and communication are two of the most important elements involved.
If the job is done properly, the right home builder can get you a tremendous amount of value out of your new home. They will have a plethora of tips and the ability to provide support when you need it. A good home builder will be a peer and a mentor, ensuring you can efficiently navigate the difficult process of designing and constructing your home.
When Should You Hire a Custom Home Builder
The hiring process for a builder should begin in the initial phases of design. One of the first things you will do is hire an architect to begin drawing up the blueprints for your home.
It’s important that the builder works closely with the architect so they can plan certain construction and design elements together. Even before the actual construction begins, having the builder at your disposal is crucial for several reasons.
Having the architect’s completed floor plan will give you an idea of the types of contractors that will need to be hired to complete specific projects during the construction phase. Your home builder can assist in placing the right bids and negotiate prices for subcontractors and different materials.
Your builder will help you come up with an efficient budget that contains a blend of value and quality. You should be able to rely on the builder to maximize your budget and get you the end results you’re counting on for your home.
Before you officially hire the builder, a final price should be negotiated, and you should be clear on exactly what services the builder is providing you with. The following list is a good guideline on what the builder’s responsibilities should be on the project.
What Is the Home Builder Responsible For?
Your home builder will essentially be the leader for the construction and design team of your home. The builder will represent you in negotiations with subcontractors and help to establish a realistic budget for the home. Below is a list of the primary responsibilities of a home builder on your custom project.
The home builder will work with the homeowner on any budget elements. They will track all costs for materials and labor and submit payment requests to the homeowner to pay out contractors and material providers. They will also provide any lien waivers for all completed work and prepare estimates to submit to the homeowner for future work that needs to be subbed out.
The builder should take on the position of managing all contractors regardless of what portion of the house they are working on. They will also oversee all of the designers to ensure their work meets the requirements of the homeowner.
The builder will also act as a middle-man between all of the contractors, designers, and governing bodies that sign and release all permits and licenses.
Any approval on behalf of the homeowner will be given to the builder. From there, they will give the go-ahead for any design specifications that are delegated to the design and contracting teams.
Any materials that need to be ordered that have been requested by the contractors or design team will be handled by the builder.
When any section of the home is complete or a contractor has submitted their request for payment, the builder will approve any final work. If any changes need to be made, the builder will specify these changes acting on behalf of the homeowner.
The builder should also be prepared to handle any disputes or disagreements between the homeowner and the design team. A master list should be adhered to by the builder at all times to ensure the homeowner’s requests are constantly being met.
Now that you have a good idea of a custom home builder’s duties on the job site, you need to know how to find the appropriate builder. On the list below, we go into detail about the best places to find the right home builder for your custom home.
Where Do I Find the Best Custom Home Builder?
There are many different outlets that will assist you in the search for finding the right home builder. Use the following resources to obtain feedback on different builders in your area.
- Local realtors. Many local realtors will have information regarding the best places to find custom home builders. These realty companies work with various builders daily and normally won’t mind pointing you in the right direction to find the best builder for the job.
- Local banks. This option may come as a surprise, but local banks will normally have resources regarding local builders. When you obtain your loan, the financial institution will normally have information concerning different options you can choose. If a bank gives you a loan to build a home, they want to ensure that you are satisfied with the job and the build is long-lasting and efficient. This guarantees the money they loan is going to a worthwhile cause that you will be satisfied with.
- Your friends. If you have friends that have recently had a custom home designed and built, you can inquire about which company they used. Most builders will leave business cards and encourage previous clients to spread the word about their work, so this is a great place to look.
- Google. When all else fails, turn to Google and other search engines to obtain information. Different outlets like Yelp can also be helpful when you need quality reviews and information on construction companies and custom builders.
When you are searching for your custom home builder, it’s important to know what elements to watch out for and what type of questions to ask. Use the list below as an outline for what things to look for when you are hiring a builder.
What to Look for When Hiring a Custom Home Builder
There are several important characteristics to look for when you hire a custom home builder. The list below contains the most relevant dynamics to keep in mind when you are conducting your search.
- Past Work
You should always ask for examples of past work when you consult with any potential builder. A professional and reliable builder will have a portfolio on hand, ready to show you examples of past jobs they’ve completed.
This is an often-overlooked question when it comes to hiring a home builder. You should inquire about their current workload to get a good idea of when they can start on your project. Many times homeowners hire a builder only to find out that they are backed up. This can cause problems when it comes to your potential completion date if you’re looking to get the job done in a certain length of time.
The builder should have sufficient communication skills when you are discussing the specifics of the job. They should show a clear attention to detail and listen to all of the specifications and requests you have about your home.
Any reputable builder will have references available upon request. If they don’t have reviews or testimonials on their website, ask them to produce references so you can contact past clients. If they avoid this subject or fail to produce any contacts for reference, it might be a good idea to move on to a different option.
The builder should clearly state their values and morals when it comes to their work. Do they make any guarantees regarding quality and completion times? Most reputable builders will adhere to some sort of standard regarding customer service.
- Types of Builds
You should never overlook this inquiry when you’re meeting with a potential builder. Ask them what types of builds they have completed in the past. There should be a solid ratio of custom to speculative builds. Not every builder is well versed in custom home builds and will lean more towards the speculative end of things. You are looking for a builder on the opposite end of the spectrum that specializes in the custom building area as opposed to cookie-cutter work.
Pay attention to how organized your builder is. Do they carry folders and have clear schedules they adhere to? If the builder seems unorganized and does things like ignore phone calls or fails to write things down, this is a clear sign they are not organized.
Many homeowners have issues with deciding how to prepare for hiring a builder. This is potentially the most important part of hiring your builder.
How to Prepare Yourself for Hiring a Custom Home Builder
There are certain steps you should take to prepare yourself for interviewing and hiring any potential home builder. The steps below are a great guideline for how to get yourself ready for this process.
- Start With a Broad List
Start off by preparing a broad list of home builders in your area. You can use the list above for resources on finding potential suitors. Your search should be far and wide, making sure to add as many possible options to the hat as you can find.
You will end up doing more in-depth research about each possible candidate, and in the end, narrow your results down to a select few options.
- Extensive Research
Once you’ve scoured the internet and exhausted all your resources for finding potential building companies, you can start investigating each one further. Take your list and start looking for reviews for each builder, one by one. Use search engines, Yelp, ask friends and family, and other local resources to get the skinny on each of these companies.
Use the following criteria to eliminate potential builders that don’t fit the description of what we are looking for.
- If they have a lot of unfavorable reviews, you can cross them off the list.
- When there isn’t a lot of information about their business online, most likely, you can eliminate them.
- If they don’t promptly respond to inquiries via phone or e-mail, take them off your list. You don’t want communication problems after you hire a builder.
- Making Contact
After eliminating several options from your broad list, you can start making contact with potential builders. This step in the process will be used to find out whether they can cater to your specific job or not. You might find just by calling and asking a few simple questions about the scope of their work whether they are a suitable option.
Call each business on the list, and give them a brief description of the work you would like completed. This will normally be a short “yes, we can” or a “no, we can’t.” Don’t waste much time on this step or get caught up in long conversations.
- Interview the Short List
The goal is to have your list narrowed down to about three or four options by this point. From here, you can call each builder to set up an in-person interview to get more specific about your custom home build.
The list below contains the most appropriate questions to ask the builder during the interviews you schedule.
Interview Questions For Potential Home Builders
You will want to prepare yourself for your interview with the home builder and add more detailed questions regarding your custom home. First, you will need to answer a few questions yourself in advance to prepare for your interview.
Questions You Should Ask Yourself First
- Do you have architect plans drawn up and a lot already purchased?
- If you don’t have plans, what types of designs do you like? You should have these ready for the builder.
- Are there any particular neighborhoods or areas you prefer if you haven’t already purchased a lot?
- Do you have an established budget for your custom home?
- What is the timeline for beginning your build?
When you prepare for your interview, keep in mind that you are the customer. The builder should display clear listening skills and have a concern for how you want the job done.
Each builder should be willing to guide you but not be too assertive or attempt to sway you from your specifications. If a builder is being too pushy or trying to steer you away from specific things you want, you might want to eliminate them. Making suggestions is okay, but they should always be willing to attempt to adhere to your standards.
Best Questions to Ask Your Potential Home Builder
- Are you able to work with my design team and stick to the figures I have laid out for my budget?
- What type of proposal do you offer that displays the exact cost of building my home?
- What type of deposit do you require? How much money do you need for preconstruction services?
- How do you prefer to be compensated for completing my build?
- Do you have experience in building the style of home I have laid out in my plans?
- Who will supervise the project, and are they available to speak to me when I need them?
- Who will be the on-site supervisor? May I meet with them before the project begins?
- Who do I direct my questions and concerns to once the construction phase begins?
- Are you available at all hours via cell phone if the matter is urgent?
- How long have your contractors been working with you? Do you have regular suppliers that you use?
- When changes arise, what form of communication do you use to stay on the same page with the designer and other contractors?
- How long will my project take?
- How does your warranty work after my project is complete?
Any reputable and professional builder will be able to promptly answer all of these questions and more. If you have other concerns regarding your build specifically, you should add them to the list for your interview.
In the same way that you are looking for the correct answers to these questions, there are also red flags you should look for during the interview. The list below are the red flags you should look for when you are conducting your interview with the builder. Any sign of these red flags should warrant you cutting the interview short and moving on.
Red Flags to Look for During the Interview
Pay close attention to how the interview goes. You want to watch out for any of the following red flags when you meet with the builder.
- They don’t come prepared with a written contract, or the contract is written poorly.
When a builder shows up to meet for an interview, they should already have a contract written up. If they don’t, ask them how long it will take to have the contract. Sometimes they have a secretary waiting to draw up the exact details. If they show up with a poorly written contract, don’t sign it. Move on to the next option.
If they do have a contract ready, examine all of the details, making sure spaces are blank to fill in your specific details. Nothing should be set in stone until you have approved it.
- The proposed price is much lower than the others you have received.
This is a huge red flag when hiring a home builder. If the price is much lower than reviews you have read or other feedback you’ve received, this is a clear warning. Sometimes builders are going out of business and will shoot you a low price just to get your money. After they receive a deposit, you might not ever see them again.
Alternatively, a too-good-to-be-true price is the sign of an inexperienced builder. It’s also possible that they are using cheap material providers, which is definitely something you don’t want.
- Work history is unfavorable
We covered this earlier, but it’s worth touching on again. If the builder doesn’t have proper references, or if the reviews are unfavorable, move on to your next option. It’s not worth the risk.
- The builder’s price per square foot is vague or hard to understand
The builder’s price per square foot should be clear and easy to understand. If there are additional costs added to the final price that you can’t understand or they can’t clearly answer for, move on to the next potential option. At a minimum, they should be able to explain the figures on their estimate.
- Heavy reliance on allowances for the final bid
If there is a lot left in question in regards to the bid for allowances, this is a red flag. Regardless of how custom the build is, they should still have a clear idea of what the final price will be.
- They are pushy or forceful
If the builder is pushy or gives you the hard sell, this is a huge red flag. Any reputable builder will remain calm and listen to your requests during the process. They should not be forceful or pushy in any way or try to force certain design elements on you.
- They have unresolved claims
An unprofessional builder will have unresolved claims left with the State Contractor’s Board. If you find a high number of these claims, run for the hills. This means they haven’t finished jobs that they have been paid for or received deposits on.
- They can’t provide certificates, licenses, or insurance proof
You should always ask the builder for the appropriate license information and proof of insurance. If they don’t have this readily available, take them off your list. Dealing with a builder without the proper insurance is the worst possible situation you can put yourself in.
- The builder offers discounts to use your home for marketing purposes
This is a red flag and just a weird question to ask, honestly. Most builders should ask if they can use your home for their portfolio, to begin with. If they are offering discounts for this privilege, they most likely are desperate for business.
- They offer a lump sum discount
If they ask for money upfront or a discount for a lump sum payment, you are most likely dealing with a con artist or a builder behind on their work. Regardless of the situation, this isn’t a builder you want to do business with.
- Poor communication
If it takes a long time for the builder to answer your calls and follow up with you, move along. Showing these habits, in the beginning, is a clear sign that communication will be an issue once the construction starts. This can pose potential deadline issues moving forward.
The final list of questions you need to prepare are inquiries for past clients. After the builder has provided you with a list of past customers, there are certain things you need to ask them that are extremely vital.
Questions to Ask Past Customers
Use the following list as a good starting point for questions to ask past clients. You can add or subtract from this list as you see fit.
- Did the project stay on budget?
It’s important to find out if past projects stayed on budget. This can give you a glimpse into whether your project will go over budget, which is something you might not be able to afford.
- Was the original estimate accurate?
Ask the clients if the original estimate received was accurate. You want to know how close to the original figure the builder got so you know what to expect moving forward.
- Was the project completed on time?
This is one of the most important questions you can pose to a past client. It’s vital that the builder meets your deadline standards and won’t leave you hanging when it comes to the completion date.
- Was the paperwork easy to understand?
Ask them how easy to understand the paperwork was. You don’t want any surprise figures or difficult-to-read language in any of the paperwork that is drawn up. Asking past clients can be a good indicator of how easy the builder is to do business with.
- What is your overall opinion of the builder?
This is a simple but important question to ask. Find out what their general opinion was of the builder. If given another opportunity, would they use them again? Did they recommend them to any other friends or family? These are important details to note when you speak with past clients.
- Were decisions or changes met in a timely manner?
If potential changes arise on the construction site, it’s important that the builder stays collected and deals with changes in a timely manner. You don’t want any potential hangups if the builder can’t come up with a remedy or agree with the other contractors and designers.
- How was the communication?
Ask them how the builder did regarding communication. Did he return their calls in a timely fashion? Was he hard to get ahold of in emergency situations? Was he available most of the time via cell phone?
- What role did the builder play during construction?
Was the builder on-site during most of the construction phase? If the builder didn’t make themselves a presence in the field of construction, this could be a red flag that they aren’t controlling the situation properly.
- Are there any other key figures you would request?
Were there any other contractors or material companies you should request specifically? Were there any highlights that stood out on the job you should know about and request for your build?
- Was the worksite kept clean? How did they leave your home?
The construction site should be kept clean at all times. Once the project is finished, the site should be immaculate and ready for you to move into your brand-new home. No trash, debris, or tools should be leftover once you begin moving in.
- Are there any contractors I should avoid?
Asking who they recommend is important, but finding out who to avoid can be just as important. Ask them if there are any specific contractors you should steer clear of. Are there any material providers that didn’t meet up to their standards? You should always find out what to avoid on your custom home build. This will save you any headaches moving forward with your project.
Before you hire your builder, here are a few elements you should look for.
- Are they accredited by the BBB?
- Are they licensed and bonded?
- Do they have trade and supplier references?
Hiring the right home builder doesn’t have to be a difficult process. However, it should be a very careful process. Don’t rush through your list of potential candidates or overlook any important details.
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to prepare lists of questions and make phone calls. Don’t let any builder rush you to make a decision. If they are reputable, they will appreciate the fact that you are doing your homework.
Additionally, many builders won’t even require you to ask for the information you are looking for. They will make things like licenses, insurance, and reviews available before you can even ask for them. Look for signs like this when conducting your interviews and research.
Use the list of questions in the article as a good starting point for interviewing all the appropriate parties. Remember, you want to interview the builder and past clients. Sticking to these guidelines will ensure that you make the appropriate decisions and find the home builder you want!