When you choose a builder for your custom home, you essentially pick a business partner for one of the biggest investments in your life. Making a well-informed decision minimizes unexpected hiccups, and helps makes your home-building experience great.
As you evaluate builders, we’ve outlined questions to ask before you make any commitments:
Ask how long the builder has been in business, how many homes he or she builds annually, and whether the builder has ever filed bankruptcy or been sued.
“Find out how long the builder you are considering has existed and whether it has always traded under the same name. A builder that has changed names may be a sign of past problems they wish to avoid,” says New Zealand builder Home Trends Builders Ltd.
Look for builders with a long track record of successfully building in your area. That means they have weathered many ups and downs in the market and have staying power. It also means that they are familiar with local building codes and permitting processes, and have established relationships with suppliers.
The value of experience can’t be overestimated. When asking about a builder’s experience, be specific. How many homes has he or she built in the local community? What style homes do they typically build, is it similar style to what you want? Be sure to ask about typical square footage of the builder’s homes.
“Instead of depending on verbal claims of familiarity, ask for their portfolio to be sure about their expertise in handling similar projects,” notes S&S Homes, a St. George, UT builder. “Next, inquire about the scope and cost of the projects they have handled, and ask them to share some experiences related to the challenges that they had faced. Gathering as much information as possible will point towards the capabilities of the builder, and you can gauge how suitable they would be for you.”
Ask for a list of all homes built in the last two years, with contact information for each. Drive by the homes for a visual reference. Then, talk with several clients for insights. Check social media sites for client comments and reviews. Do your own online research and ask around your personal network about the builder’s reputation.
Another great source of insight is the builder’s suppliers. You want a builder who treats their suppliers and subcontractors well, who has a good reputation among them for running an efficient job site and building a quality product.
What should you expect in terms of on-site supervision while your home is under construction? The advantage of working with a small custom builder is that the builder may personally be on your job site daily rather than delegating supervision to someone else.
With larger home building companies, a project manager or superintendent typically is assigned to each home. If so, ask about that person’s experience, tenure with the company and qualifications? If a superintendent will be your primary point of contact, ask to meet with him. You want to be comfortable with the superintendent’s qualifications as well as personality and communication style, as you will be in frequent contact for several months. “Just because the owner of the company is experienced and capable does not mean the employees working on your home will be equally capable,” says Massachusetts realtor Bill Gassett. “There is nothing wrong with asking a few questions about who will be in charge of the building of your home.”
Builder warranties vary, so ask for the details. Some builders offer their own warranty and others purchase coverage from a third-party provider. “Coverage for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems is generally two years,” notes the Federal Trade Commission. “Some builders provide coverage for up to 10 years for “major structural defects,” sometimes defined as problems that make a home unsafe and put the owner in danger.”
List of Questions to Ask Custom Home Builders
- How long have you been in business?
- How many homes do you build annually?
- Have you ever filed for bankruptcy and/or been sued?
- Have you always had the same company name?
- How many homes have you built in this area?
- What style homes do you typically build?
- What is the typical square footage (size) of the custom homes you build?
- What are some challenges you have faced as a custom home builder and how have you overcome them?
- Can I have a list of all homes you have built in the last two years and contact information for each?
- What should I expect in terms of on-site supervision while my home is under construction?
- How experienced is the project manager or superintendent who will be assigned to my home build?
- Can I please see details about your builder warranty?
Freelance writer and marketer Sue Durio has been writing about construction, design and related products for more than 18 years.