You have chosen the community where you want to live, identified the land and you are ready to move forward and build your home.  You have heard horror stories about cost overruns, missed deadlines and faulty construction.  How can you identify the best builder to help you realize your dream?

There will be several qualified builders who can provide the same level of quality, expertise and timeliness; how do you choose the right builder for you?

Relationships

The most satisfied clients are those who choose the right relationship.  The building process can take several months to a year or more to complete.  A good builder relationship will include regular communication and require a high level of trust from all parties.  When selecting a builder, be sure to ask yourself “can I work closely with this person for the next year?”

Previous Customers

Don’t be afraid to ask the builder directly how satisfied their previous customers are and ask for proof.  It’s best to speak with someone who has stood in your shoes and been through the entire process.  Find out how the builder dealt with their customers on good days and, most importantly, how does the builder behave when things go awry?

Standards and Craftsmanship

Find out what products the builder uses and when you compare quotes, make sure you are comparing apples to apples.  Anything that is purchased for your home can come at different price points and in varying quality: think about whether you are saving costs now with items that will need to be replaced in a few years or spending now to buy it once.

It is equally important to know what the builder’s standards are for the work that you won’t be able to see once the house is complete.  Ask the builder about their standards for the ‘bones’ of a house.  If the joists and studs are not straight or properly shored, the house may settle unevenly and result in drywall or flooring cracks, so make sure you are starting with a superior structure.

Experience and Reputation

A home is one of the most highly complex products manufactured by hand; it involves coordinating hundreds of parts, many people and several skill levels.  Experience matters.  Does the builder have an established company?  How many houses has the builder completed?  Experience also matters with the sub-contractors that the builder hires. You rely on a builder to identify quality people and you should expect the builder to be a professional who returns phone calls in a timely manner, provides accurate and honest answers to your questions, has good organizational skills and inspires confidence.

With the run of strong sales in the housing market, many builders jumped into the booming profession, hoping to capitalize on this growth.  Make sure that you are not working with a fly-by-night operation.  Does the builder have the resources and ability to survive in a slower market, or will the phone line be disconnected when you call with a warranty issue in 11 months?  An established builder who has built a strong business over time will have name recognition within the local market.  Check the builder’s website – have they invested in creating an image for their company?  Google the company name – are there articles in the local media that refer to the builder?  Try to get a sense of their reputation, values and standing within the community.  As with any brand, a host of associations translate into what sort of quality and experience you can expect.

Organization

Ask the builder what they can do to ensure your home is built on time.  Can the builder provide you with a written construction schedule?  Is this posted on-site?  Are the trades and suppliers given plenty of lead time to ensure there are no unnecessary delays?

When it’s time to select the products for your home, how does the builder organize these selections?  Do you get plenty of lead time to make your selections?  Is there a system in place to keep your information up-to-date and accurate?

Not knowing what is happening next can be unsettling for most home owners and a simple point-by-point description of the building process can answer a lot of questions.  Ask if the builder provides a processes manual or a written building procedure.

Additional Skills

A builder who offers additional skills can only be more of an asset to you.  Does the builder have additional qualifications or training?  Is there a design resource within the company?  Do they have CAD (computer-aided design) capabilities?

When the builder looks at your designer’s plan, can they tell you which ideas may not work the way you envision, or may cost more than you are willing to pay?  Better yet, can the builder suggest something he thinks the designer may have missed?

You will most likely use a designer and engineer for your home.  If the builder can speak the same language and offer suggestions or skills, it is all the more value for you.

After Care

Prior to moving in, a builder should offer a walk-through and orientation of your new home.  This is your opportunity to identify anything that has not been completed to your satisfaction or that the site supervisor may have overlooked.  The outcome of your walk-through is your punch list – the items that the builder agrees to fix prior to, or immediately after, you move in.

Furthermore, does the builder offer customer service and a warranty commitment to you after move-in?  It’s not unusual for there to be a few glitches as you settle into your new home.  It is important to know how you will be treated when these inevitable quirks and kinks arise.