No, not that kind of builder…
I’m surprised how many of my clients will just take my word for the credibility of someone, and never spend any time checking out their credentials to see if they really are going to be the right builder for them. Here they are, about to make the biggest investment of their entire lives, and they are willing to take my word after only knowing me a short time. That’s a lot of responsibility, and our reputation could be on the line. Thankfully, I’ve known a lot of great builders, and it is rare that there has been a problem, but there are always exceptions. So, now when I’m asked the big question, I take a little different approach. Instead of just giving a list of names of folks that could build their house, I try to steer them in the direction of doing a bit of their own due diligence.
Some time back we realized that a more systematic approach to the design process was needed, and as a result we have created a Design Workbook which is given to each client when we begin working with them. We have included in the Workbook several chapters that address the many issues and concerns that they will be facing as they go through the design and construction process. The chapter “Builder Selection” was written specifically to help our clients to investigate and make an intelligent decision when selecting their builder.
Here are some of the things that we recommend they do:
Get recommendations from several different sources – Great recommendations can come from your friends and neighbors that have recently built a house, real estate brokers in the area that you will be building, bankers that finance home building (are there any left?), building product suppliers, the local home builders association, just for a start.
Narrow down the list – After asking several sources, you will have several names, some of which will have been referred by more than one person. Move them to the top and make a short list of 4 to 6 builders.
Interview the builders on your short list – Make an appointment to meet with each builder and discuss a few things, like . . .
- How long have you been building custom homes?
- How many homes do you build each year that are similar in size and/or quality to what our’s will be?
- Are you licensed?
- Are you insured? How much? With whom?
- Are you a member of the local home builders association? Are you a member of BBB?
- Explain your process for completion of my home – including timing.
- How do you structure your contract . . . do you prefer a fixed price agreement or cost-plus or some other type contract? Why?
- Do you offer a warranty? Describe what is covered and for how long.
- Do you have a web site?
- Do you have other employees?
- Who will actually be supervising the construction of our home?
- Get the addresses of at least 3 recently built homes and ask if they will arrange for you to talk with the homeowners
Check out their story – Go take a look at the homes they have built and look closely to the craftsmanship and attention to detail. Ask some more questions from the homeowners, like . . .
- How was communication with the builder?
- Were you pleased with the quality of work?
- Were you satisfied with the way the builder conducted business?
- Was your house completed on time?
- Was it completed within budget?
- Have you had any call-backs? How were they handled?
- Would you use the builder again without hesitation?
Walk a house that they are currently building – If you don’t know what to look for, take your architect along, or a home inspector. Look at how well the “hidden” items that will later be covered up are constructed. Talk to the subcontractors there and ask about the builder . . .
- How long have you worked with the builder?
- Have you had any problems or concerns that haven’t been resolved?
- Have you been treated with respect and integrity?
- Are you paid on a timely basis?
- Would you hire him to build your house?
Do an internet search – These days, if anyone has a problem with their builder, it is probably described in full on the internet. Angie’s List, Kudzu, as well as a slew of other sites are great references – for both good and bad stories. Or just Google their company name and the word “problem” and see what comes up. You (and they) might be surprised.
By this time, you will have weeded out the ones you don’t feel good about, and be down to a couple of builders. Now it is time for some real soul-searching and discussions with the builder. Narrowing it down to one builder at this point is going to be all about Compatibility, Communication, and Integrity. Trust is the Key. If you don’t trust him, the whole process will be a stressful nightmare, always wondering what he is doing now to rip you off. On the other hand, trusting that your builder is always looking out for you and treating you with integrity will go a long way to making the process enjoyable and rewarding.
Yeah, it looks like a lot of work, and not too many clients do a very good job, but this kind of systematic approach can really ease the anxiety of the homeowner. I just keep reminding them . . . this is perhaps the largest investment that you will ever make, and the health and welfare of your family, as well as the possible return on your investment in the future is at stake.
So, if our client was checking you out, how would you do? I’d love to hear your comments on this, or any suggestions that you have that we’ve left out. Post a comment or give me a ring if you want to talk. Even better, we’d love to get you on our list of recommended builders if you meet our high standards. If you think you qualify, let me know and we’d be happy to make a referral.
What do you think?
President – Peek Design Group