Guide to Hiring A Home Builder
A Guide to Hiring the Right Builder for Your Custom Home
Once you’ve decided to build a new construction home, there are many questions to be asked and a lot of research to be done. From where to build to what style of home you want to paint colors and landscaping, you’ll quickly realize that building a home can be daunting.
Although many decisions are to be made, one choice will set the tone for the entire building process. That choice is hiring a builder.
A builder is the one who will educate you on how things should and shouldn’t work; they will bring in subcontractors, they will run the entire building process, and how they do that will determine if your house comes in on time, on budget and with everything you wanted in your new home. So, hiring the right builder is an essential step.
Put it simply, building a house is one of the most significant investments you’ll ever make; you don’t want to trust that kind of responsibility to just anyone.
What Does the Builder Do?
A good builder, one who is aware of what you want and need in a home, is an advocate for you and an essential member of the design team. They are collaborative and keep your goals and dreams in the front of their minds as the process moves.
It’s important to understand that you will have a relationship with your builder. This isn’t a situation where you have one meeting, and that’s that. Your builder will work with you and the design team to establish a realistic budget for the build, and then they will monitor all costs and the project’s scope as it progresses. They will also ensure the budget is adhered to and all design elements agreed upon before the build meets specifications. You will see a lot of each other, so keep that in mind when you’re looking for the right builder.
Too much depends on finding the right custom builder to just go with anybody. Trust, experience and strong communication skills will be the cornerstones of your relationship with your new home builder. You cannot cut corners or compromise on any of these qualities. If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking. Not all home builders are equal; hold out for the one that gets you and feels right.
When To Hire
This is a good question; when do you hire the builder? To get the most out of a builder, you’ll want to hire them as soon as possible. Once you’ve decided that you’re going to build a new home rather than buy an established structure, your next step should be to hire a builder.
Remember, the builder you choose will set the tone for the entire operation. Also, this will be your new home, and it will be built to suit your specifications. Unlike buying an already constructed and lived-in home, you’re not going to have to settle or compromise with what you have. You are getting exactly what you want and probably have always dreamed of. With that in mind, it only makes sense to have the builder and the designer working together as soon as possible. Some builders already offer design services or have an array of customizable home options. In this case, you’ve already got your designer and builder working together.
If you’re going with a separate architect and builder, you’ll want them on the same page as soon as possible. Your builder will want to get budgets and subcontractors ready to go and stay in line with what the architect is creating. Any gaps between design and build could mean more time and money.
You’ll want to take time on this step so you can research and find the right builder for your house. You’ll want a builder that will serve as a general contractor for the build. As in most businesses, builders often specialize. You’ll find some who do designs and blueprints, some focusing specifically on remodeling but not building. Also, you will find builders who specialize in specific sizes or styles of homes; if they don’t fit your vision of your home, then you won’t want to work with them. And the cost will vary as well.
When looking for a builder for your new, dream home, something you’ll be living in for a long time, raising a family, and maybe even pass down to your children, going with the cheapest builder may not be the right decision. If they are good, have an excellent reputation, and you feel comfortable when you’re interviewing them, then ok. But, if you just look for the cheapest builder in the book, you will get what you pay for.
The first step on the road to finding the right builder for your new home is to make lists of questions. Lists will be your best friends during the building process, so start getting used to them right away. This first list, we’ll call a needs audit or inventory. Before finding the perfect builder, you want a concise list of what you need. Once you have this list, it will make finding the right builder easier.
When putting this list together, ask and answer these questions; this is an excellent place to start.
What can you afford? This is a tough one. When building a new home and knowing that all the choices are yours, it can be easy to allow your fantasies to run wild, and you’ll end up with a lovely, palatial home that you cannot afford to live in. So, keep your feet on the ground here. Think about how much you can and will realistically spend on this house. What is your maximum spend?
You’ll want to get preapproved for financing, so you’ll know precisely the kind of debt you’re getting into carrying. Are you comfortable with that amount? Would you be willing to use less expensive materials and make design concessions to save money? Would you think about lengthening the construction timetable to reduce costs?
Being aware of the cost of the new home, the amount of debt you’ll carry, and for how long will matter. If you end up paying too much for your new home, more than you can comfortably afford, that will taint the entire experience. A home that should be filled with joy and life will be a symbol of a financial burden, and you’ll never be fully happy there.
Get the financial questions straight and ensure you’re not buying more home than you can afford or need. Being realistic at the beginning will save you headaches later on.
Know what you want. Know what size home you want, how many bedrooms and bathrooms. Know what style of home you want and what amenities are essential in your new home. Be clear on where you want your home built and what site preferences you must have. Have a clear idea of the design style. Think about the landscaping. Are there must-have features, a pool, a garage, a separate building for a pool house, or a shed? Will you want a large garden, maybe a level deck? Whatever you need, put it on the list.
It’s also a good idea at this time to know what you will or will not compromise on. If you have your heart set on a certain number of bathrooms or want a kitchen island, ask if those are features you’re unwilling to compromise on. Be honest with yourself here and make a list of things that you must have. And, make a list of the things that would be great but that you can certainly live without.
Remember the things that get removed from the list; you may be able to add them later. But these lists are essential for you to bring to the builder; these are the things that you must have immediately when you move into your new home.
When you’re making this initial list, have fun. Allow yourself to picture a house with all the crazy amenities you can imagine. A moat, a carriage house, a game room, a full bar, whatever you can think of, put it on the list. Enjoy it, and have fun. Then, get down to reality and remove the things you know are just fantasy. Unless you’re having your home built in pre-Norman conquest England, you really don’t need a moat.
What services will you need? Do you have an architect, or will you need design services for your new home? Do you have a site or land you’ve purchased, or will you need help finding a location? And, when thinking about your site, will you need site preparations, land clearing, tree removal, and the like? What do you know about permits? Will you need your contractor to acquire permits?
In this stage, it helps to talk to folks who have gone through the princess before. Especially when it comes to purchasing the land where you’ll build, you cannot just grab any vacant lot and say, yup, this is it. It will also help you if your builder understands zoning, the types of construction allowed, and in what areas.
Ask questions constantly.
What is your timetable? Have you added time to your schedule to allow for unforeseen delays? Right now, the supply chain is still recovering from COVIC. Have you considered that there will be a delay for materials? What about labor? Did you factor in time for labor shortages? What about the subcontractors? What if they are busy with other jobs? Did you factor in time for that? And the weather, have you considered padding the schedule some to allow for inclement weather?
Something else to think about is where you’ll be living while your home is being built. Can you stay where you are until construction is completed, or did you sell your current house to finance the new one? Are you renting a place for the interim? How much rent are you paying, and how long can you afford to live in temporary housing? These things you’ll want to factor into the overall cost of building a new home.
Two More Lists
In the early stages of looking for your builder, you’ll want to stay organized and don’t allow one builder and what you’ve heard about them to bleed into another. Organization will be your friend during this process. For that reason, we suggest you make two lists, both alike in dignity, for all you Romeo and Juliet fans.
Your first list will have all the positive information about builders. How they worked with the architect, how well they managed the budget, how smooth the process was, and very important, how well they communicated.
The first list should also contain information you’ve gathered from friends and knowledgeable associates about how the builder was personally. Easy to work with, did they listen, did they respond to emails and calls in a timely fashion. What was the vibe with the builder?
Your second list will be the builders you want to avoid and why. The ‘why’ is essential here. Because the list of things that people didn’t like about a builder you can use as a checklist against a new builder. Any red flags on that list will help you not make a lousy choice down the line.
Specificity is essential in both lists but more so in this second one. Personal tastes vary, so a trait that one person didn’t like about a builder may not bother you. What is a deal-breaker for some may not be one for you. So, specific details on this list will be vital to you as you narrow down your choices.
Lists, questions, and more lists may feel like things are getting redundant, but the reality is that you’ll want to do all this work before you hire your builder because once you’ve hired them, it is a nightmare to fire them and find a new builder. Taking time beforehand will make the entire process much easier and smoother once you’ve landed on the right builder.
Now you’ll want to do some basic research on builders in your area to ensure they have the capabilities and experience to serve you best.
- Check to verify state license/registration, which can quickly be done on state and local government websites. Also, check each builder’s status and determine if they have had any infractions or bond problems.
- Make sure any builder you are considering has liability and workman’s compensation insurance.
- Check your local county court clerk’s office for pending lawsuits against your prospective builder.
- Check local chambers of commerce and consumer sites like Angie’s List and Yelp. Check if a builder is a member of local and state trade associations.
- Look at some of the houses built by the builders you are considering. Look inside and out and talk to previous customers and subcontractors with whom they have worked.
- Ask for a copy of each builder’s standard contract and get a professional to look at the contract. Many builders use different contracts. Check the fine print to make sure it is fair.
If you don’t find any builders who jump out talking with folks, then search online. You’ll want to check houzz.com, the professional section, and jot down some builders in Utah. A list of about ten is a good number to start with.
If you find names of builders on this list, see if you can reach out to contact numbers. A good builder will list past customers as references. If a builder doesn’t have a list of references, you can safely move on from them.
The online world is a fine place to look for a builder, but just because it is online doesn’t mean you don’t have to check up on them. Don’t just take their presence on social media for granted, do your research and ensure they are honest and actually do what they say online.
Once you’ve talked and talked, gone online, and made your list, interviewed friends, family co-workers, virtual strangers, now you’re going to narrow the field down to the top two or three.
You’ll narrow it by digging deep online and doing as much research about each builder as possible. Look at their portfolio, read reviews, and, if you can, talk to people who have hired them. Take notes, ask questions and build a complete picture of your top three choices. This step may seem redundant as you’ve done this already; however, when looking at two or three builders as opposed to everyone in the business, you’ll find your focus is tighter and more questions and concerns will come to light.
Check their websites and call them. Here’s something else to look for, on every builder’s website, there will be a contact us section. Send them an inquiry. How they respond, what they say, how quickly they get back to you indicate how they will conduct their business with you going forward. It’s a simple sort of test but one that will yield some great information.
Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to the top three, set up interviews with each of them, a face-to-face is essential. Go to the builder’s website, contact them and set up the interview. You’ll also want to schedule a visit to a completed house they’ve built and a house in progress. A finished home so you can see their results and a home in process to get a feeling of how the job site functions and subcontractors work together. You can learn a lot from walking through a current job site.
The face-to-face meeting will allow you to get a feel for their communication style and personality, their team and experience, and their organizational skills, transparency, and practical work processes. Again remember this will be a long-term relationship, and there will be arguments. How do they argue and communicate? Does it work with you and your style?
A site visit is just as crucial; it lets you see the quality of the construction and materials they use, the finishes on the homes they build, job site safety and cleanliness, and how hands-on and knowledgeable the builder is in how he communicates with and treats his team.
A Word on Communication
Good communication is more than just someone talking. It also involves listening and hearing. Does your potential home builder hear what you say, what you want, and what you’re looking for, or are they just dealing with you as another customer?
Are they listening to hear your specific concerns and needs? Again, are you just another customer, and they deal with you the same as everyone.
Do they say things like: everyone asks that, or we’ve done this before, just trust us? You’ll want a builder that deals with you as an individual and your new home as unique.
Here’s a little test. When you explain something to someone, how do you get affirmation that they understood you? Do you say, do you see what I’m saying. Or do you say are you hearing what I’m saying. Those are two very different styles of communication. Be aware of how your potential builder communicates, and are you on the same page?
A small thing like the difference between see and hear can give you insight into how your communications will go.
Interview & Ask Questions
You cannot hesitate here or feel like you’re imposing or asking too much. Building a house is a huge step, and you need to give every thought and question you have your full attention. Your builder should as well.
What you ask the potential builder will set the tone for the relationship. You want the builder to know that you have some knowledge, you’ve done your homework, and are looking for a specific builder, but you don’t want to speak or appear out of your depth.
What I should ask a builder is, of course, going to be a question you have. A good question to ask before you get into the interview process. To get you started and perhaps inspire you, here are a few questions you should ask in an interview with a builder to give you information about them, the work, and their communication and help you refine your choices.
- What means and methods will you use to determine the exact cost of my home?
- Do you have experience building the style and quality of the home that I want?
- How do you qualify the competency of the subcontractors working on my home?
- How long will it take for you to give me an estimate for my home?
- What is your warranty, and how do you service it once the home is complete?
- How are you compensated for your pre-construction services?
- How long do you anticipate construction on this project will take?
- How long will my project be under direct supervision, and who will be assigned to it?
- If changes to the design or unforeseen conditions result in extra cost, what process do you use to communicate these changes to the owner and designer?
- How will questions and concerns be addressed during construction?
You can Google questions online to ask a potential custom home builder for more information.
The fact is, most people do not expect you to contact their references. It can take time and be hard to connect with them. It can also feel awkward talking to a stranger but do not skip this step.
If the builder has put these references on their website, you can assume their experience with the builder was good. Still, take the time to contact them and have a conversation. A conversation with a reference can better your understanding of the builder’s strengths and uncover some hidden weaknesses.
Here are five questions to get you moving in the right direction, to ask a reference:
- Did you enjoy working with this builder?
- Was your project finished on time? If not, what were the reasons for the delays?
- Did you feel your original budget estimate was thorough?
- How did the builder react in stressful situations?
- Were there certain subcontractors on your project that you would strongly recommend or avoid?
But, be respectful of that person’s time and don’t have a list of a hundred questions for one reference. Curate your list and spread your questions out between contacts. That will give you a broader view of the builder.
And the Winner Is …
Once you’ve done your research, asked your questions, and connected references, all that’s left is for you to make your choice and start building your custom home.
If you take time and do your research wisely, ask all your questions, and feel confident that you’ve chosen the right builder, the rest should fall in line quite easily. That’s not to say there won’t be hiccups, but with time and research, you’ll understand how to handle them and work with your builder to get through them as seamlessly as possible.
You’re Not Done
That’s a lot of time, effort, and work, isn’t it? But, as we said, if you do it right and give it the proper amount of time, you will have fewer problems down the line.
However, just because you’ve landed on the right builder, contracts are signed, and the work has begun, it doesn’t mean you can walk away and just let the house happen. Getting the right builder means you must continually communicate with them. You have to answer questions and ensure the work is proceeding productively. You’ll also want to know about subcontractors and any delays or problems with materials and the workforce.
Picking the right builder is THE first and probably the most critical step, but you still need to be hands-on and connected to the building process. The right builder will make working with them more pleasurable, but if you think you can just set the building process in motion and then go on vacation, you will be very disappointed.
If your builder has questions or concerns and cannot get hold of you, that could cause delays. As much as you want your builder to respond to you as quickly as possible, they will need the same from you.
We said this at the start; you’re creating a relationship between you and your builder of choice. Good communication has to happen both ways for that relationship to function at its optimum. You cannot expect the builder to jump when you call and then let his calls go unanswered for weeks at a time. A good back and forth means nipping problems in the bud to avoid costly delays in the building process.
Make Time to Visit
During the process, schedule time with your builder when you can drop by and see progress or answer any questions in person. Having a face to put alongside the work is good for the builder and the subcontractors. If the relationship you’re foraging with your builder is strong, there is a psychological advantage.
Seeing you at the site, you getting to know some of the workers by name will allow the company to see the person they are building for. Instead of just another job, they will have a face or a family in their minds when they work. It makes it more personal, meaning they are less likely o make small mistakes and just move on.
Also, taking time to answer questions in person and on-site will show that you care and are willing to put the time and effort into the project and strengthen the partnership. So call your builder and schedule time to meet with them at the construction site; make sure you’re not encroaching on them at a busy time, and considering their work needs will be recognized and appreciated.
The more you view this relationship as working together for an expected outcome, the better the relationship will be.
Revere Homes Has Decades of Experience
There you are, a comprehensive guide to finding and hiring the right builder for the job. Again, we cannot stress enough that taking time, doing research, and asking questions are vital in this step of your new home process. When you hire the right builder, the rest of the process should run smoothly with few hurdles to leap.
Even if you don’t go with a particular builder, it’s not a bad idea to talk to a home builder with decades of experience building houses in Utah before you choose. A good builder will be honest and informative and not just try to sell you their services.
Talk to a builder with options, floorplans, communities, and deep knowledge of the real estate market in Utah. Before you build your home, even if you weren’t thinking of going with them, talk to the good folks at Revere Homes. They have information that could make your custom home building even more straightforward than you imagined.
Building a new home is a big step; you want to make it feel secure and well supported. Talk to the experts; talk to Revere Homes.