Hiring a Home Builder? Ask These Questions First

So, you’ve decided to pursue your dream of building a custom home. Congratulations! You may be finishing up your project mood board and must-have list, or perhaps you’re ready to begin assembling your team. 

No matter where you are in your custom home build, a critical part of the journey is selecting your builder. Like choosing a residential architect, the custom home builder you hire will impact the success of the entire project. Your builder’s performance affects everything from home construction quality to your satisfaction and peace of mind throughout the process, which can be influenced by their procedures and communication style. And, let’s not forget your experience living in the home well after moving in!

The high stakes of it all may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Rest assured, there are many high-quality and capable home builders that will align with your preferences and communication style. Most of the decision-making process is simply knowing what questions to ask. In this blog we look at not only what questions to ask when hiring a custom home builder, but also why you should ask them.

Skillset, Background, and Abilities

Before a formal consultation or interview, begin acquiring an understanding of the builder’s experience level and knowledge base. Review their website and client reviews for information about their work history and length of time in the field. Knowledge and abilities extend beyond their technical skills and include overall experience in the industry – they should know the top suppliers and trades for your project. The backroom team and systems are also important because they’ll impact the flow and timeline of your project.  

Questions to ask when hiring a home builder: 

  • How long have you been working in the industry?
  • What trades and suppliers do you like working with?
  • How will my project be supervised?
  • Are you familiar with a project of this type?
  • Will you obtain the necessary building permits?

Power in the Marketplace 

Size can matter in construction. A larger builder with a solid reputation commands more power in the marketplace. Their project volume affords them greater purchasing power, a definite perk in today’s market of material shortages and price hikes. Subcontractors want to maintain good working relationships with the “big dog” builders, so they’ll often send their best workers to their jobs and even offer price breaks to keep the steady work flowing. Experience in the marketplace is equally important. Many local custom home builders fall into this category: smaller builders with decades of experience and great reputations. These builders hold clout and leverage their position in the industry for better pricing and quality from suppliers and subcontractors. Either way, subcontractor loyalty is very important to get your project completed. 

Questions to ask when hiring a home builder: 

  • Do you hire subcontractors? May we contact them?
  • How do you keep your subcontractors engaged and not lose them to the “big dogs”?
  • What are your preferred suppliers for our type of build?
  • Why are they your first choice? 

Integrity and Principles 

It’s time for the reference check! Everything may look great on paper, but now’s your opportunity to speak with past clients to confirm the builder is principled, honest, and ethical. Reputations are earned. A substantial list of references is a good sign, but keep in mind that anyone can pad their reference list with friends and family who will put in a good word. We also recommend a quick check of the company’s rating with your local Better Business Bureau. Take this opportunity to learn what your experience could be like should you decide to hire them. Any reference that’s less than great or very good is a red flag. 

Questions to ask when hiring a home builder: 

  • Can you provide a list of references?
  • Extra credit: Ask for at least one reference from a client whose project had some challenges. How a builder works through and resolves obstacles as they come up can give you a good idea of what to expect should something unexpected come up in your build.       

Financial Report Card 

Checking into a builder’s financial health is to your benefit. Integrity and honesty are great, but they won’t get your builder out of financial trouble should they make a bad business decision. Money issues on their other projects will affect yours. It can take up to three to five years for a builder to become financially sound. Even if they’re more established, ask for a balance sheet and bank references. You may be met with a surprised look, but the company’s financial health will impact your home project from day one and beyond completion. A good builder budgets for warranty service and repairs, while a subpar one considers them an unwelcome expense they can’t or won’t make.

Questions to ask when hiring a home builder:

  • What is your workers’ compensation and liability insurance?
  • Are you licensed?
  • Can I see a balance sheet?
  • How do you handle costly mistakes and change orders? 

Working Relationship

You and your builder will be working together for at least one or two years. It’s a long-term working relationship, and a good match will make the experience a pleasant one. It should be fun, it’s your dream home after all! Pay attention to their personality and “bedside manner”. Do you click with them? Will you get along? It’s important you like their communication style because you’ll be spending a lot of time together. 

Please do not neglect this step, because compatibility is just as important as how the builder looks on paper and addresses your questions. Starting the build on a positive note will help when challenges and hiccups inevitably happen during the project. Establishing trust from the get-go will save you frustration and your project from potential disaster. 

Questions to ask when hiring a home builder: 

  • Can I meet the team?
  • What’s your team dynamic like?
  • How often can I visit the job site?
  • What is your preferred method of communicating with clients?
  • How often do you provide project updates?
  • How do you juggle projects that you’re working on at the same time?

Schedule Adherence

Your builder’s project load and approach to time management will make a huge impact on your home delivery date. You may already have a sense of this from meeting the team and understanding their procedures. Confirm by visiting one of their job sites to observe. A clean and organized site is safer, well managed, and an indicator of good working relationships with subcontractors. 

Questions to ask when hiring a home builder: 

  • What is the average time-on-site for jobs of similar size and scope to mine?
  • What’s the expected timeline? Do you usually stick to this assumed deadline?
  • What is your current project load?
  • How is the project supervised? Will we have a dedicated supervisor?
  • Who will be my contact person for the job?
  • What is the payment schedule? 

Build Right From the Start

The questions you ask and due diligence you perform now will help you hire the best builder for your custom home or remodel. We strongly recommend selecting and including the home builder early in the project for the best possible outcome.  No matter where you are in planning your build, we look forward to collaborating with you every step of the way. 

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