If you want to build your dream home, you need to find the perfect custom home builder for the job. You need to talk to more than just one. As you do, you need to ask the right questions. Their answers to these questions will help you assess their experience, character, and overall qualifications. Unless you moonlight as a late night talk show host, asking a lot of questions probably isn’t your thing. That’s why we’ve come up with these 20 questions to ask a custom home builder.
1. How many years have you been building in the area?
Ideally, you’ll want a builder that’s been performing residential construction in your area for at least five years. This familiarity operating in your area is important. They’ll know how to navigate building codes, inspections, and permits. They’ll know the area’s terrain, landscaping, and property lines. They’ll know a neighborhood’s livability, desirability, and property values. The custom home builder you choose should be a valuable resource to you; especially if you’re building in an area you’re not all that familiar with.
2. How much experience do you have and how is it relevant to my project?
Experience matters. You’ll want a builder that’s been in the game for awhile. Someone that’s built the type or style of home you want. Someone who answered the first question in a way that assures you they know the city or county you’re building in.
3. Does this builder work with a dependable, trustworthy, and skilled crew?
A builder is only as good as the crew they’ve assembled for your project. While you may trust the person you’re talking to or the people you meet, you must also ask about the crew they’re bringing to the job. What’s their skillset? Are a few tradesmen? Have they undergone background checks or drug screenings? Are they dependable? Do they show up for work? How well does the builder know their laborers, tradesmen, or subcontractors? How often have they worked with them?
4. Do you have examples of your work and past projects?
Any builder you choose should be able to present you with a portfolio or gallery of work they’ve previously done. By looking at photos of their past work, you’ll be able to assess whether or not they’re capable of building the home you’re envisioning.
5. Can you provide me with 3 local clients to contact for references?
Ask the builder to provide you with the names and numbers of at least 3 previous clients. Call each for a reference. This may seem like homework you want no part of, but you’ll want to talk to people who have worked with the custom home builder you’re considering.
They’ve probably okayed the contractor’s use of them as a reference, so be sure to ask very specific questions about the builder’s work, professionalism, etc. This way you know you aren’t just talking to a friend or relative of the contractor or someone with a bunch of prepared/rehearsed answers.
Additionally, you should also scour the internet for any online reviews or testimonials you can find for the contractor or company you’re considering.
6. Who will be managing your project?
Check to see if the person you’re speaking with is actually the one who will be running the show. If they’re not, how involved will they be in your project? What role will they play? Who is managing the job site and overseeing the day to day work?
7. Are you licensed and insured?
You’d be surprised by how many builders hesitate as they answer this. That should definitely concern you. If you’re financing your new home’s construction, most lenders will require proof of insurance and your contractor’s license information. The builder should carry more than just general Liability and Worker’s Compensation coverage. They should also carry Builders Risk coverage which protects both them and you from any loss occurring during construction.
8. Can my lawyer review your construction contract before I sign it?
You’ll probably want an attorney to review any construction contract prior to signing it. A legal expert is best qualified to determine whether the contract offers a clear guideline for the building process. They’ll determine whether it’s thorough enough. Does it properly address things like the construction timeline, budget, financing, insurance, warranties, disputes, change order procedures, and specifications of allowances and construction?
9. What’s are the terms and conditions of your warranty and how are issues that arise handled?
Most reputable builders offer a 1-year warranty. A 10-year structural warranty may be offered by a few. You’ll need to ask how the builder handles borderline warranty items. For example, say a warranty goes into effect in January of 2017 but an issue doesn’t arise until March of 2018. That’s past the 1 year warranty mark but barely. Is the issue no longer covered by warranty or will they help you? Be sure to ask past clients if they’ve ever had to use their warranty and how smoothy the process was.
10. Do you also help with design decisions like selecting finishes throughout the home?
Some builders handle only the grunt work – the labor and construction aspects of the project. In this case, you’ll have to consult with a designer or research and choose your own finishes to achieve the look you want. It can be overwhelming.
Ask the custom home builder if they offer input and recommendations when it comes to design decisions. Especially when it comes to choosing features like paint colors, lighting or plumbing fixtures, kitchen cabinets and counters, etc. It’s important to not be on your own. If you choose a builder that is comfortable guiding you through such decisions, you won’t be.
11. Do you guarantee the quality of your materials and construction?
Unless you’re a builder yourself, or you really know home improvement or construction, most people can’t differentiate between good or poor quality building materials. You may be able to spot cheap or low- quality flooring, counters, cabinets, and other items in a home by appearance and aesthetics, but you have no idea what’s going on behind the walls.
It’s important to get a sense of how well the builder you’re talking to manages their projects. Building a custom home is a complex effort. If you get any sense that the builder you’re considering cuts corners when it comes to materials or work processes, walk away.
Ask if they’re willing to provide you with a detailed quality assurance checklist? Confirm that they or someone else on-site will be reviewing the quality of day to day work. If so, how often is this done? Ask what happens if you’re not satisfied with the quality of work or materials chosen.
12. How do you communicate through design, the build, and the duration of the warranty?
Lack of communication is one of the most common criticisms levied at a builder. Ask any builder you’re considering how they avoid this all too common complaint about those in their trade.
This is another area where a lot can be revealed through conversations with past customers.
You need affirmation that the builder will be responsive to your requests in a timely manner. This includes questions you may have pre-or-post construction – even when it comes to the warranty.
You need to get a sense of how accessible and communicative they are. Ask about their preferred method of communication. Will they discuss things with you verbally in person or by phone or do they prefer email or text? Does their communication preference work for you?
13. What do you do to ensure the project doesn’t exceed my budget?
It’s extremely important to keep your project within budget. You’ll want to get a sense of how the builder you choose does their purchasing or chooses subcontractors. Do they shop around and get multiple quotes? How are changes estimated? You need some type of reassurance that your builder will go the extra mile to keep you within your budget. You also need to be confident that any changes with the potential to impact budget will be clearly communicated to you.
14. Can you provide me detailed specifications and a written quote?
There’s an old expression that the devil is always in the details. This certainly rings true when it comes to custom home building.
It’s not enough to have just a verbal quote that your project will cost “about” x amount. Before any work begins, or you sign any contract, request a detailed written estimate outlining exactly what you’re paying for and how much it will be.
If anything is unclear, get it clarified. If anything important to you isn’t addressed, point it out. This will sometimes mean you’ll start with one proposal or estimate, and when all is said or done, end up with a completely different looking one. That’s okay. It’s important to work out these kinds of details PRIOR to construction. Things absolutely must be in writing if you want to keep costs down and ensure everything is completed to the specifications you’ve agreed to.
15. What’s the timeframe to build my custom home and what’s done to ensure it is met?
Prior to signing anything, you need reassurance that the timeline you’ve been quoted is realistic and honest. Be wary of any overly optimistic timeline a builder may promise with the intent to land the job.
Keeping your project on track is the best way to keep costs under control. Ask your builder for some specifics as to how they keep things on schedule. The best builders are usually the best schedulers.
16. What Is and Isn’t Included?
This coincides with asking for specifics on the timeline and a written breakdown of costs. The full cost of a custom home build includes many components. For example, the cost of the lot you’re building on, or the estimate you’ve received for construction, may seem pretty cut and dry; however, there are some grey areas that are often overlooked.
Make sure you ask about the cost of things like surveying, any necessary demolition or tree removal/trimming, insurance, permit fees, fencing, etc. All of these items must be factored into the full cost.
17. Can you ensure my home will be energy efficient?
While it’s important to know the initial cost of a new home construction, you also need to consider the costs once you’ve moved-in. This when ongoing expenses begin.
Although your builder can’t help you with thing like homeowners insurance and property taxes, they do influence your utility bills. Things like the type of insulation, lighting, plumbing, windows or doors, or HVAC systems installed do influence electric, gas and water consumption. Ask the builder how much they prioritize energy efficiency in their work.
18. What separates you from other custom home builders?
While this may be considered a softball question, it’s a good way to gauge a contractor’s passion for what they do.
If you’re speaking to a confident builder, they’ll get on a soapbox of sorts to passionately tell you why they’re better than everyone else in the area. They’ll tell you why they do what they do and what their experience and ethical makeup is. You’ll get a sense of the personality and style they’ll bring to your project.
19. Is building homes their only profession?
Home building takes commitment. A builder must stay on top of industry trends. It’s a serious business requiring solid business skills, an impressive portfolio, and a track record of satisfied clients. Proceed with caution if you sense that the custom home builder you’re talking to only does this part-time. Even if they offer you a great price. Remember the old adage that you get what you pay for.
20. Why Should I Trust You?
This isn’t necessarily a question you’re going to directly ask the builder. More like something you’ll need to decide for yourself based on what you’ve observed and heard. Trust is so important with a custom home build. You and the builder’s relationship will last at least through the 1-year warranty period. Even if the builder has a stellar reputation in your area, if there’s anything that makes you uncomfortable, perhaps they’re not the right choice for what’s likely to be the biggest investment of your life.