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Things to Consider When Hiring a Custom Home Builder
Building a custom home is a lifetime dream for many owners. Choosing the right builder is essential to making that dream come true. Hiring a custom builder is an important decision and should be a thorough and careful selection process. Most likely, you will be working with a builder for upwards of 12-14 months, and like any relationship, there must be honest, sincere communication. Hiring a custom builder can help you get significant value out of building your home. They can become an advocate that can be a resource helping you navigate this experience.
What is the home builder’s responsibility?
First and foremost, the best home builders advocate for the homeowners and collaborate as a vital member of the design team. On behalf of the homeowner, the builder works with the design team to help their clients establish a realistic budget for the custom home project. The architect and builder can share best practices and collaborate in customizing the design of your home.
The builder monitors the cost, scope, and execution of the building project during the design and construction process. Great builders are transparent, communicate well, and are always available to their clients to ensure the projects stay on budget and on-time.
- The builder contracts with the homeowner for a construction home, track all cost, submit pay request for approval to the designer and bank. Additionally, they provide any lien release waivers for completed work and prepare estimates and collect money for any approved change orders.
- The builder will manage all subcontractors during the design process to accommodate the architect’s team and homeowner.
- Your builder will act as a liaison between the design team, building inspectors, and governing jurisdictions.
- The building contractor will manage and obtain all approvals, inspections, and the certificate of occupancy on behalf of the homeowner.
- The builder will order, check, and receive all building materials and manage all aspects of the building, and installation.
- Upon completion of the construction, the architect may review the project with the builder to check for any deficiencies. If any problems, the builder will work with subcontractors to resolve these issues. Then the city will conduct a final inspection and issue the certificate of occupancy. Afterward, the builder will deliver the home to the owners.
- The builder will correct all discrepancies noted on the homeowner’s punch lists. Additionally, the builder will educate the homeowner on the operation and maintenance of their new custom home.
When should you hire a custom home builder?
Hire a builder sooner than later in the custom home designing process, so they can guide through the project and help control costs. Negotiate upfront with the builder how they are compensated and trust their experience in negotiating bids from subcontractors and suppliers.
A custom home requires good budget management to get the most value for your new home. Since custom homes are unique and built to your style, it is prudent to have your builder work closely with the architect on the project. Between these two, they can collectively leverage their respective experience and knowledge to maximize your budget and the home building journey.
How do I find the best custom home builder?
First, you can ask your architect who they think are the best custom home builders. Your architect can attest to the home builder’s construction quality, business practices, reputation, and communication skills. Other sources of referral for home builders:
- Google search “custom home builders” or “residential home builders.” These searches will tell you a few things about the builder’s style, professional image, and reputation. Look for builders that have developed professional websites that educate you on their company, building process, and their portfolio of work. Also, Google reviews can give you insight into how the builder and the client’s relationships have transpired.
- Houzz – all things home can be found on this website, including lists and profiles of custom home builders in your area.
- Local Realtors have experience selling many custom homes and can be a great source of referral to a home builder.
- Local Banks can provide insight into their experience working with local home builders and their ability to finish projects on budget and on time. A local bank has a thorough process for assisting you in understanding a construction to permanent loan. In this process, the bank will work on your behalf to research your proposed builder.
- Friends and business networks can also be great sources of referral and information on a home builder. Ask about communication skills, quality of homes built, when conflict arose, how did the builder manage the conflict.
What to look for in hiring a custom home builder?
Quality custom home builders, first and foremost primarily, focus on custom homes, not just speculative development. First, A good builder builds only a handful of quality homes each year suited to each client’s needs, desires, vision, and lifestyle. Second, the right builder has an excellent reputation and a set of values they never compromise. Third, a reputable builder possesses excellent communication and organizational skills, which is evident from the first time you interview them. Finally, choose a builder who has formal education in construction management. This education provides valuable insight into architectural and engineering plans, project management, budget control, and unique problem-solving skills when they arise.
Here is a shortlist of things to consider when compiling a final builder candidate list:
- Portfolio of projects similar in size and style you desire
- How many projects are they managing right now? Too many may take away from quality time with your project.
- Communication and listening skills – do they talk over you or ask questions to get to know you and your needs.
- Client and business references or testimonials
- What are the builder’s values?
- What percentage of builds are custom versus speculative?
- Time and organization management skills
Finalize your list of builders to interview
After you complete your research, you should be able to narrow your search to 3 builders to interview. Reach out to your potential builders by contacting them through their website first to see how fast they follow-up on client requests. A professional organization monitors all potential contact, whether by website, phone, or social media, and should respond within a few hours. Once contacted, you can describe your project’s needs and set up an interview with the owner or project manager.
Prepare for your interview with your builder.
Prepare to discuss your project during your interview with the builders. Have details of the homesite, types, and styles of homes you like, size and number of rooms your desire, and timeline you are looking to build. A good builder will ask a series of questions such as:
- Do you already have plans and a lot purchased?
- If no plans, what types and styles of home to you like?
- Are there any particular homes and neighborhoods you prefer?
- Have you established a budget for your custom home?
- What is your timeline to begin your project?
During your interviews, it is important to remember you are the customer. Although the builder’s achievements and building process are important, so is demonstrating their listening and communication skills. Do they answer your questions thoroughly or vaguely? You might ask yourself – Is this someone I can work with?
Also, during your interview, be honest and open about every aspect of your project. A good builder is an expert and can offer expert advice that you may not have thought about or insight into specific neighborhoods. If you have not bought a lot, the builder can help you find a lot that fits your needs.
Thirteen interview questions to ask when hiring a custom home builder
The answers the builder provides will illustrate their interest level, understanding of your needs and scope of the home build, and their communication skills.
13 Interview Questions to a builder:
- Can you work with my architect during the design process to help create our ideal home that also meets our budget?
- What type of proposal do you offer to determine the exact cost of our home?
- What are your terms of compensation for pre-construction services?
- How are you compensated for this project?
- Are you comfortable building the style and quality home that we expect?
- Who will directly supervise our project daily, and how available are you when we need to talk to you?
- Can we meet the site superintendent, who will be supervising our construction?
- How do we address our questions and concerns during the construction?
- Are you available by cell phone if something is urgent?
- How long have your subcontractors and supplies been working with you, and how do you qualify each of them?
- When design changes come up, or unforeseen conditions result in extra cost, what process do you use to communicate to the architect and owner?
- How long do you anticipate the construction of our home to take?
- How will you service your warranty after the completion of the construction project?
11 Red flags to look out for when hiring a custom builder
Keep an eye on some red flags when hiring a custom home builder. If any of these issues arise, they are worth looking further into before making a final decision.
- There is no written contract or a poorly written contract.
- The proposal price is significantly lower than others received
- The work history is uncertain and unverifiable. No references
- The builder’s estimate is priced per square foot, vague and not transparent.
- There is a heavy reliance on allowances for the final bid.
- The sales pitch is very strong.
- There are several unresolved claims from the State Contractor’s Board.
- Builder is not able to provide evidence of certificates of insurance for General Liability or Workers Compensation.
- The builder offers select discounts for being able to use your home in future marketing of their business.
- A builder offers a lump sum or very general estimate lacking detail.
- The builder has poor follow-up and communication skills.
Ask your builder for past client references.
After you have completed your initial interview, ask the builder to provide a reference list of three past clients and two current clients. Take time to contact each of them over the phone or in person. Ask them about their story, experience with the builder, how the builder handled conflicts when they arose. If at all possible, ask if the past clients would mind if you visited their home or at least drive by to observe from the outside.
Fourteen questions to ask of referenced clients:
- Did the project stay on budget?
- Was the original estimate proposed accurate?
- Did the project complete on time?
- Were finances and paperwork transparent and easy to understand?
- How do you feel the overall project was managed?
- Were decisions made on a timely basis?
- When things got stressful, how did the builder respond?
- Did the builder get back to you when you called or emailed quickly?
- Was the schedule of construction communicated?
- What role did the builder play once the project started?
- Besides the builder, are there any other key individuals you would request?
- Would you use the builder again?
- Was the worksite kept clean daily, or was trash not picked up routinely?
- Were there any subcontractors you would not recommend or avoid in the future?
A few final research items to consider before hiring a custom home builder
In addition to customer references, it is imperative to check the builder’s credentials and standing with the Louisiana State Board of Contractors and the Better Business Bureau. Check their licenses in the current state and if they hold licenses in other states in the past ten years. Research to make sure there are no negative claims or lawsuits against the builder.
All builders must carry insurance and bonds to hold a construction license. Also, ask the builder for proof of liability insurance and worker’s compensation before signing the contract. If there are any claims against the builder, ask them for a reasonable explanation, and evaluate if you’re are still willing to move forward. There are a few bad apples in every industry, and with good research, you can avoid dealing with these types of builders.
When hiring a custom builder inquire with trade and supplier references to check on the builder’s reputation. Call the main suppliers and ask about payment history and what it is like working with the builder.
Your bank is a great resource to credential a home builder.
The lending institution also is a great reference to use when hiring a custom home builder. They will do their due diligence to check the builder’s financial credentials before approving them to build your home. Make sure the builder is financially solvent and has an excellent credit rating. Be prudent and understanding your state lien laws and verify that your lender is collecting lien releases from your subcontractors as funds are releasing for services rendered.
Hire an attorney
Have a reputable construction law and contracts attorney review the proposed agreement and edit the contract to protect your needs and investment. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with all aspects of the contract. Remember, a contract is a two-way street and is negotiable between you and your builder.
If building your house with cash without a conventional construction loan, hire an independent building inspector to verify that all labor and materials being billed have been completed, and materials accounted for. If you have custom-built materials that may require a significant deposit, have your bank issue the checks directly and reference your project for record-keeping.
Good research will prevail in the end.
Hiring a custom home builder may be a difficult decision considering you are making the largest purchase of your life. Do your homework, and don’t be afraid to ask many questions. Ultimately, you want to hire a custom home builder with an exceptional reputation and excellent experience, who is honest, strong ethics, and possesses excellent communication skills. This is an exciting journey building a custom home, and it is all about you, your desires, needs, and vision.
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About Thomas Building Company
Owner Drew Gasser, a Baton Rouge native, has built over 100 custom homes in the Baton Rouge community since 1999. The success and reputation lie in his attention to detail, execution, and project management, which allows him to deliver a well-constructed custom home, on-time, and on budget. Furthermore, the values and standards of the building are never compromised to make the numbers work. Finally, our team of craftsmen, suppliers, and vendors deliver distinctive luxury homes that are built to last a lifetime.
When you speak to his present and former clients, they speak of three things that separate him from other builders:
- Drew Listens Better – It is all about you, your desires, vision, and needs. When you listen better, your clients trust you, and their custom home is delivered as they envisioned.
- Drew Plans Better – You are the center of the planning process. Drew marries the team of client, architect, and interior designer to assemble a team that makes the design-building experience enjoyable. With a degree in construction management from LSU, Drew understands the complexity of architectural plans, engineering, construction, and budget management.
- Builds Better – From his experience onsite superintendent to his industry-leading craftsmen, tradesmen, and suppliers, Drew has built a winning team. This team delivers the best custom home, loaded with value-added features on-time and, more importantly, on budget.