How do you find a good custom homebuilder to construct the house of your dreams on your property? As with any consumer purchase, the key is doing diligent research before you hire. Here’s how to find a great custom builder.
Look for an established homebuilder already well-known in the community, with a solid reputation and a history of happy customers. Over time, businesses establish a reputation, whether good or bad, and if you ask around, you can learn a lot from word of mouth. Seek out customers who have lived for at least three years in a home that a particular builder constructed. You can also talk to other professionals in the field, such as home inspectors, local contractors, real estate agents and subcontractors such as electricians and plumbers. These people may have firsthand knowledge of a particular homebuilder’s work.
In the Internet age, most homebuilders will have an online presence. Do a Google search of homebuilders you are considering along with the word “reviews.” For example, search “ABC Custom Homes reviews.” You should find several entries with reviews on Google and from other sites specializing in homebuilder assessments. Look for builders that have dozens or even scores of reviews. The more reviews, the more reliable the consensus of opinions.
Another site to check is your area’s Better Business Bureau. The BBB handles complaints and seeks resolution between customers and companies. One important detail: See how long the homebuilder you’re considering has been in business. Companies of any sort that have been in business for many years are doing something right, as bad companies don’t last. The BBB will also tell you if the builder is required to have certain state licenses, which you can then search for complaint history.
Bear in mind that people are more likely to post reviews when they have had a negative experience than a positive one. Happy customers tend not to post. But if you see an uncomfortable number of negative reviews, move on.
Also look at how the homebuilder handles these complaints. If the builder replies to negative reviews in a thoughtful manner, seeking to resolve the issue, that’s a good sign. If he gets snarky with negative reviewers, consider other options.
Choose three builders and get bids
Using word-of-mouth referrals and online research, pick three homebuilders who catch your eye. Go to each builder’s website and look at plans to see if any offers what you like. Keep in mind that a custom builder can modify what you see. It’s best to choose a builder that has experience with the look you like, such as traditional, contemporary or Craftsman-style.
If you already have house plans, submit copies to each of the homebuilders you are considering and compare the bids you receive. Each builder might submit a general bid but should be able to break out detailed costs for each aspect of the house, such as the foundation, framing, plumbing, electrical and so on. If a builder simply quotes her overall cost per square foot, be sure to ask for specifics.
The builder should present you with a clear description of the building process as well as an explanation of draws of money to be paid at each phase as well as the final closeout of the project.
Ask questions about matters you don’t understand. If the homebuilder is transparent and seems genuine and patient with your questions, that should go a long way toward cementing trust.
Be sure to ask the homebuilder about the extent to which he uses energy-saving materials, such as thermal wraps behind the exterior siding, adequate insulation thickness, radiant barriers in the attic and Energy Star-rated heating and air conditioning systems. These matters will affect your cost of living in the finished home.
A crucial question: What is the homebuilder’s warranty?
The builder should offer a warranty on everything in the first year and on major components such as the roof and foundation in the second and maybe third year. Thereafter, a third-party warranty should cover specified components up to a stated number of years, perhaps 10. The manufacturer’s warranty will cover components like the HVAC system or appliances like the dishwasher.
In the end, choose the homebuilder with whom you feel the most comfortable and that you believe will deliver the home you desire at the best price and quality.