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:
  1. Talk to your friends and acquaintances and ask them for referrals.
  2. Contact professional organizations who monitor the building industry in your area. Ask for the names of qualified builders.
  3. Drive around. View the work of local builders.
  4. Determine the level of on-site supervision provided by the builder.
  5. Interview the builder and ask for an estimate.
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.

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 resolved.)

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 particular builder.

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

  • 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 including taxes.
  • 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 schedule.
  • 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.


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Holmes Beach, Florida
Phone: 860-485-4188