Choosing a Builder
Five Handy Tips to Choosing a Builder
We all dream of the day that we can build a home tailored to our unique lifestyles. Certain rooms
or spaces have special importance to each of us and we long for a home built to our
specifications. No more crowded bathrooms; no more crowded cabinets; no more crowded
closets! Although you are probably at the planning stages right now, it's never too soon to think
about how you will choose your builder. It's the most important first decision you will make
about one of the largest expenditures of your life. Let one maxim guide you above all else: Every
decision made by your builder involves spending your money. Choose this individual with care.
At the outset, there are five basic things you should do when searching for a builder:
Following these steps won't guarantee that you will find the best, most reliable person to construct your
home, but you can rest assured that if you take the time to do each of these five things, then you have
done as much as you can to find the right builder.
- Talk to your friends and acquaintances and ask them for referrals.
- Contact professional organizations who monitor the building industry in your area. Ask for the
names of qualified builders.
- Drive around. View the work of local builders.
- Determine the level of on-site supervision provided by the builder.
- Interview the builder and ask for an estimate.
The best first step you can take is to talk to your friends and acquaintances and ask if they can refer you
to a builder. In particular, try to find owners who have built a home in the last five years. Find out if they
are satisfied with the quality of workmanship in their home. Was the builder responsive to their requests?
Did the builder stay within the proposed budget or contract price or were there extras to be paid for? Did
he start the job on time? Did he complete it on time? Was the builder on-site during the construction
process? Gather the names of the builders that receive high points.
Your next step should be to contact your local home builder's association for a list of builders who
specialize in your price range of homes. Many associations have new-home centers available where you
can review promotional materials about local builders and their product. If you have any specific builders
in mind, check with the association to see if they are members in good standing. Contact the Better
Business Bureau to make sure there are no outstanding complaints on the builders you consider.
(Remember the Bureau can only tell you if any complaints were filed--not how they may have been
Next, drive around new subdivisions where there is building activity. Look carefully at the homes under
construction. Weekends and evenings are good times to do this so that you do not interfere with the work
in progress. View any model homes available to the public. Model homes are an excellent way for you to
gage the quality of materials and workmanship used by a builder. However, make sure to note any
upgrades used in the model. If you are interested in a particular builder, choose one of his homes under
construction (and near the size home you're planning to build) and monitor the progress. Does the work
move forward at a satisfactory pace (barring bad weather) or does the home sit for long periods of time
between activity? What type of material does the builder use in the homes built in your price range? Was
the job site kept tidy during construction? What is the asking price of the homes? What do other homes in
the neighborhood sell for? This type of information will give you an idea of what your dollar buys with a
On-site supervision is critical in today's marketplace. Only very large production builders can afford to
employ their own workers. As a result, today's builder is a manager of people. He hires independent
subcontractors to provide each of the services needed to build the home. The builder is only as good as
the subcontractors he hires. If the builder is not available when a problem arises on the job site, an
independent party is left to make decisions concerning how to spend your money. The subcontractor is
not qualified to make these decisions--that is the builder's job. If the builder is not there every day, he
cannot properly monitor your investment. When considering a builder, try to determine his role in on-site
supervision. If possible, visit a job site during the day to see if he is available. On-site supervision by a
builder equals better quality, faster building time and fewer headaches for you.
Finally, compile a list of builders to interview. They should be qualified members of a local professional
organization. You can pre-qualify these builders by looking at their product and judging it to be of good
quality. Determine also that each of the builders on your list provides adequate on-site supervision. Now
try to narrow your list to a top few selections, remembering that it is a good practice to place your house
for bid with at least three builders. Contact each of the builders and request an interview. During this
interview, you should obtain a sample copy of the builder's contract for your review. You will also want to
know how long the builder has been in business. He should show you some of the homes he has built
either directly or with photos and provide you with a list of previous clients you can contact for
testimonials. Discuss such issues as on-site supervision. Ask the builder the names of his primary
subcontractors and how long he has worked with them. Discuss the builder's warranty. Talk frankly about
your budget and time frame. After the interview, ask yourself: Can I communicate with this individual?
Does he understand my concerns and did he address them in a forthright manner?
After the interview, contact the builders you felt most comfortable with and supply each of them with
copies of the same set of house plans and a detailed materials list (those supplied by Home Planners are
ideal). Each builder may require several sets in order to cost your home properly (remember that only
sepias may be copied--blueprint sets should be purchased in sufficient quantities to allow builders to bid).
The builder may charge a fee for estimating your home. This fee may be waived if the builder is awarded
the bid. Be prepared to wait for several weeks to obtain your bids. Costing a house is not easy and
requires a great deal of time and effort on the part of the builder. When you receive your bids, compare
them not only for total cost, but for the manner of preparation. Are details spelled out? Does it look as
though the builder took everything into consideration?
You might be able to negotiate prices with some builders or even work out a "cost-plus" arrangement
where the builder gets a fixed percentage of the actual cost of a job for his overhead and profit. This can
work to your advantage as some builders who do not use the "cost-plus" method may pad their estimates
to cover contingencies.
You can also help control costs by providing alternatives for some items--using a fiberglass shower
instead of a glass block version, for instance. Some builders can supply estimates based on varying
grades of materials if you give them detailed choices.
One final note: The cheapest builder may not always be the best. Consider all aspects of working with a
particular builder. One who works inexpensively but does not do quality work--or a builder with whom you
have trouble communicating--is probably not the best choice.
Things to Consider When Selecting a Builder
CONTRACTOR AND SUBCONTRACTOR SELECTION
- Do some preliminary homework.
- Get referrals.
- Ask questions.
- Do check with local lumberyards for possible references.
- Do interview the contractor.
- Do find a contractor with whom you can communicate.
- Don't hire a contractor with whom you're not comfortable.
- Visit job sites to look at recent work.
- Do discuss the contractor's strengths and weaknesses with previous clients.
- Do check construction--the seams where different materials meet.
- Do look for gaps between trim boards.
- Do look further for gaps between baseboards and floors.
- Don't forget to check for careful finishing.
- Do allow flexibility in your construction schedule (sometimes the most reputable contractors are in the greatest demand).
- Do make sure the contractor is properly bonded.
- Do follow your instincts.
- Do get at least three bids.
- Don't automatically go with the lowest bid.
- Do present the same construction documents to each contractor.
- Don't dismiss alternate approaches to get a contractor's bid.
- Do consider approaching a preferred contractor and negotiating a final price.
- Do make certain you have a clear contract.
- Do include the location of the house with approximate dimensions.
- Don't overlook a legal description of the property.
- Do attach a detailed description of work to be performed.
- Do include a site conditions clause.
- Do include a fee and payment schedule.
- Don't provide final payment without final approval of all work and the receipt of a certificate of
occupancy from the local building department when applicable.
- Do outline responsibilities for obtaining and paying for all permits, licenses and other fees
- Don't neglect to provide procedures for change orders.
- Do ensure change orders specify the work to be done, the cost and the effect on the completion
- Do outline the responsibility for changes due to contractor's error and any resulting costs.
- Do mention any agent acting on your behalf, such as an architect.
- Don't forget to attach warranty documents.
- Do include arbitration or mediation procedures to settle disputes.
- Do detail all complaint notification procedures and time limits.
- Do name conditions under which the contract can be terminated.
- Don't be intimidated or overwhelmed by the complexity of construction.
Feel Comfortable & Confident That You Have Made The Right Choices!
Be Patient And Let The Builder Do His Job.
R&D Quality Construction meets all BBBOnLine Reliability participation and Better Business
Bureau membership standards and is authorized to display the BBBOnLine Reliability seal.