Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based copywriter and editor with a nerdy passion for AP Style. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, thrift shopping, fitness and travel. Learn more on her website: www.lovewriteon.com.
There are many reasons people decide to build a home instead of buying an existing one. If you fall in this camp, you’ve probably been thinking about your dream home for quite a while.
Selecting the right custom home builder is an essential part of curating your dream home. Choose well and you'll be delighted by the outcome. No doubt the right builder will help you avoid any snafus and walk alongside you as you move through each step in the home-building journey.
The When Factor
You might be wondering about the steps in this process and when to take them. The best time to choose your builder is either before you begin the design phase with an architect or very soon after hiring one. Bringing a builder into the fold early can help ensure that you’re comfortable with the design and it fits your budget. Both are equally important factors.
You should know that an experienced custom builder will go above and beyond the basics. In addition to coming in on the front end, they can:
- Collaborate closely with the architect
- Keep plan development on track
- Offer unique design ideas
- Produce initial estimate based on preliminary design
- Provide valuable construction expertise and guidance
- Offer advice on ways to streamline operations and curb costs
- Help work through potential building issues
How to Choose a Builder for Your House
First, it’s important to realize that in this business, reputation is everything. That’s why it’s recommended to start your search by talking to friends, family, neighbors, and real estate professionals whom you trust for a referral. Chances are someone in your network has experience working with a builder, for good or bad. These conversations can help inform your decision and even save you from a potential disaster.
However, if your due diligence proves fruitless, turn to the internet for research — but proceed with caution. Be specific in your search terms. Instead of searching for “home builders near me,” you might try “award-winning custom home builders in northeast Indiana” or whatever geography applies. Keep a list of about a dozen or so builders that you find, being sure to leave out ones that have less than glowing reviews.
From here do as much homework as you can to drill down into each builder’s experience, diversity of portfolio, strengths of team members, level of quality, values and philosophy, communication style and industry stature.
Questions to Ask a Home Builder
When the time comes to meet with the builder, you need to ensure you make the most of your time together. An in-person (or Zoom) meeting will give you the chance to evaluate:
- Professionalism, effectiveness, and transparency of their systems and processes
- Strength of their team and relevant experience
- Communication style and personality of the team
In addition to these important points, you should prioritize asking the following:
How closely do you work with my architect and interior designer?
You want a builder who’s adept at having a good working relationship with an architect and interior designer. This will prevent miscommunications that can result in stress, schedule delays and extra costs. More importantly, hearing how they approach relationships with your design team might suggest how they’ll communicate with you.
Do you have experience building the style and quality of the home that I want?
You cannot overemphasize this point, as each style of home presents unique challenges. You want to have the peace of mind knowing that this project isn’t outside of their domain, but instead, they’ll draw from a robust marriage of knowledge and lessons gleaned from similar homes they’ve built in the past.
How long does it take for you to produce an estimate for my home?
A preliminary estimate can take less than five business days while a detailed budget estimate can take as long as three weeks. If the builder expects the timeline will extend beyond that, you have the right to ask why. It’s possible you have an involved design that would take longer than three weeks to estimate. However, if they’re overextended, that could be a red flag that your project won’t get proper attention if you choose them.
How will questions and concerns be addressed during construction?
Snafus are inevitable in construction. The point of asking this question is that you want to make sure that you like the builder’s communication style and that you trust that the builder has your best interest in mind.
Ideally, they’d offer to set a regular meeting schedule with you, your design team, and their subcontractors. This shows that they’re serious about organization, accountability, communication and timelines.
How long do you anticipate the construction will take? How do you address challenges to stay on schedule during construction?
This answer will vary depending on the size, scale and complexity of your home’s design. A custom home can take anywhere between 8 months to more than two years from design to concept. That’s why the builder needs to be organized, rely on systems to keep workflow on schedule and know what to do if and when they encounter a curveball.
Do you offer fixed-price or cost-plus contracts?
Ideally, the home builder you have in mind allows you the flexibility to choose the contract type that works best for your situation. They should willingly explain both options to you as well as present the nuances of each so that you can feel good about whichever option you choose.
How do you service warranty issues after we move in?
If they don’t respond with something to the effect of “quickly and thoroughly with minimal headaches and intrusions for you” then it might be time to consider other options.
Can you provide me with a sample contract, budget, schedule and warranty?
The builder might not have this paperwork on hand at the time of your meeting, but they should be able to follow up with these details in a reasonable time frame.
Can you provide me with a few references, preferably one past client and one current client?
This should come as a standard request for the builder. They may have to contact their homeowners to get permission first, but any pushback from the builder may be spell trouble.
You won’t regret putting in the time to find a custom home builder when making such a significant investment. Making a list of what you want in your new home, researching builders in your area and checking their work; coming prepared with questions, and deciding if their communication style fits your needs, you’ll be more likely to find one that suits you and your goals.