Selecting Your Home Builder – Part 2

In my last blog post I discussed the importance of doing your homework when selecting your home builder and how to get that process started. Now that you have a list of 3-5 builders in your area, you must narrow down your list and rank your choices to prepare for a final selection.

As I emphasized before, this is the most important step in building a new home. Time and effort spent here will save you a lot of money and hassle in the future. Think about how much time you spent researching a new car. How many did you test drive? How many friends and family did you talk to for advice and recommendations? Now consider that the decision to build a house is 10-50 times more expensive than a car and you will be “living with” this decision for much, much longer.

The final steps to narrow down your list include doing a little digging on each of the builders on your list and contacting the references they provide to you. I have created an “interview sheet” that you can download and fill out on each builder candidate to help you organize the information gathered.

Do Some Digging

First, all of your builder candidates should be a “registered builder.” Check to be sure this is the case before you go any further.

  • A Registered Builder is not simply a title that can be purchased and displayed on company vehicles and advertising. A Registered Builder is a professional designation granted to a builder who meets very specific requirements. Visit the Home Builders Association of Louisville to learn more about the advantages of using a Registered Builder or Registered Remodeler.

Then, contact each builder on your list to request a list of 10 (not less) homes they built over the past several years and references for each.

  • Note: It is important to have homes that were completed at least 10 years ago if possible. This will give you insight into the consistency of the builder, how they handle warranty issues, and to the overall quality of the homes they build.
    • Remember, inferior products and building techniques typically will not show up in the first few years of owning a home. Only after living in a home for a few years will an owner really appreciate the attention to detail in design and quality – or they will start to notice where corners may have been cut.
  • Additionally, on average, find out how many homes they built each year over this time period. A high-volume builder may not provide you with the level of attention you desire. (You can verify this by calling the local home builders association or doing a permit search.) Beware of the builder that is not cooperative in providing this list including closing dates and complete contact information.

Interview Client References

Now that you have your client reference lists, you must speak with each one of them. No, not by sending an e-mail, but by making an actual phone call. Many people feel uncomfortable doing this, but I promise you there is no better way to find out the truth about your candidates. Remember, this is the most important step in the entire building process. Building a home is likely the most expensive purchase you will ever make and you owe it to yourself to make the effort. It WILL save you a lot of time, money, and hassle when building your new home or remodel project.

Speaking with past clients will often give you more insightful information than interviewing the builder alone. Use the provided interview sheet to help guide your conversation with each reference. Simply introduce yourself and state that “Mr./Ms. Builder X gave me your name as a reference. Could I have five minutes of your time and ask about your experience?” To begin your interview, ask questions like:

  • What was your overall experience? Was it enjoyable? Fun? Stressful? Would you use this same builder again? Have you referred other friends to this builder? Did the overall cost exceed the original budget? Why? Did the home take longer than anticipated to complete? Were there any surprises (unexpected costs) at the closing?”
  • Next, you want to get a sense of what the home is like to live in and the level of quality. You will be surprised that many people have not considered these issues until you ask. They simply think “this is the way it is” or their friends have similar complaints and therefore they are to be “expected.”
    • Start with questions about the general structure. Do any floors or stairs “bounce” or squeak? Are any interior or exterior doors hard to open or close? Does noise travel easily between floors? Can you easily hear people talking or walking in a different room or level? Have you had any leaking from the roof or basement? Have you noticed any cracks in the brickwork? Has the driveway cracked or settled?
    • Then ask about the windows. This is an area that many builders cut costs with problems showing up after 5 or 10 years. Are any windows difficult to open? Do you notice any drafts near the windows? Have you seen any rotting on the exterior? Have you had to replace any windows?
    • Another area where costs are often cut is the heating and cooling systems.Ask about average monthly electric bills. (You can also contact the electric company directly and they can provide the range and average electric bill for any address you provide.) Do you notice any warm or cold areas of the home? Is the second floor and lower level comfortable? Do you have any trouble keeping the temperature the same as the main level? How noisy is your system? Have you needed any service or repairs?
    • Next ask about the plumbing. Do you notice any excessive water noise? Have you had any leaks? How well do the sinks and tubs drain? Is your water pressure good?
    • Lastly, ask “Is there anything you would change about your home? Are you happy with the layout and design of the home?” Have you had any problems or concerns? If so, did you contact the builder? How did they react to your problem?
  • Before you end the call, allow the previous client to talk and elaborate on their home.You will be surprised how much a satisfied home owner is willing to talk about theirhome.

Now, collect and review in detail all of your interview sheets. You should have enough information to rank your builder candidates and narrow your list to the top two. Be sure to factor in the personal connections you made with each builder. Keep in mind this will be a lengthy working relationship, so ensure you feel a sense of trust and commitment with the builders on your list.

In the next blog post, I will cover the final step in selecting your builder – personally interviewing the top two builders to make your final decision. Have questions about how to select the right Louisville home builder for your new home or remodel project? Feel free to contact me to learn more.