Selecting The Right Builder For Your Project

When choosing a builder, you might spend just as much time (or more) searching for one as you will to find an architect. The criteria is essentially the same, being price, quality, service & your comfort level with them. There are many ways to go about this search, & the following would be my recommendation in order of preference:

· Ask your architect. It’s a small world out there in construction, & your architect should know many local builders (both the good & the bad). He should be able to recommend a few builders who he’s worked with, likes their work & thinks they’d be a good fit for you & your project.

· Ask friends, family & neighbors who’ve hired builders in the past & had good experiences.

· Ask your realtor, a local home builders association or any subcontractors (like electricians or plumbers) who you’ve hired in the past.

· Ask the local building inspector or lumberyard, as both know who’s good & who’s not.

· Do an online search for local builders in your area & then check out their website. Sites like “Houzz” are very good places to find builders, architects & interior designers.

· Use an online service that matches builders to homeowners such as Home Advisor, Angie’s List, Thumbtack, Porch, Bark, etc. These sites pre-screen builders for legal and credit problems as well as check for licenses, liability insurance, and references.

Whatever route you take to find builders, you should still go through the process of deciding on one that’s right for you. You might decide to engage a builder early in the design process (which is recommended), or you may wait until the construction drawings are done & you’re ready to get estimates.

In your initial phone call, you should pre-qualify the builder to see if he’s a good fit for your project based on some general questions such as:

· What kind of projects does he usually build and what’s the construction cost of those projects? Some builders are geared to do small projects while others are geared to do larger projects. If it’s too big or too small relative to what he normally does, he most likely will not be interested.

· Has he built projects similar in size & scale to yours? While theoretically a good builder should be able to build anything, building an 8000 SF modern house requires a different skill set than building a 2000 SF Colonial. If your high-end house may cost $400/SF & all he’s built are low-end houses at $200/SF, he may not be the right choice.

· Where is his office based & how far is he willing to travel? Some builders think nothing of traveling for an hour, while others don’t what to leave town.

· Based on the information you’ve provided, is he interested & available in your project?

Once you’ve narrowed down a short list of builders to consider, you should set up a meeting to discuss your project in more detail. This meeting would ideally be at your house so he can see your house & property. Hiring a builder is like a short term marriage… you’ll be working very closely with them for 6 months to a year and the project may be very stressful at times, so you need to at least like them in order to get along. He should have a portfolio of finished projects, whether it be photographs or a website. You should look at their work very carefully for both style and substance, and consider these questions:

· How many projects does he build at one time? The answer may depend on the size of his business. Smaller builders will take on very few projects at the same time & are typically very “hands-on”, while bigger builders might have 5-10 projects running at the same time, with project managers for each.

· How soon can he start your project? If he’s interested in your project but won’t free up for 6 months you might consider waiting, if you feel it’s worthwhile.

· Can he provide references of past clients? He should have a long list of past clients that you should be able to speak to. Ideally, current or very recent clients are the best to talk to.

· Many homeowners find that the process of selecting all the fixtures & finishes throughout the house can be overwhelming. Some builders will assist you in this process while others simply want you to make decisions, with them just doing the installation. Does the builder offer you help in making these selections, or can he refer you to interior designers, showrooms & suppliers? Does he accompany you to showrooms & suppliers, or are you on your own?

Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to a few builders, ask each for a list of their recent clients. If you’re not comfortable calling, read reviews from their past clients which should be available online (which can be positive as well as negative). If you call, contact several of them to discuss their perspective on the builder & be sure to ask the following questions:

· Did you like the builder (once the project was completed)?

· Would you hire the builder again, or recommend them to others?

· Was the project delivered on time & on budget?

· Was he responsive (by phone & email) & available during the course of the project?

· Was he on the job daily to check on the progress & to answer any questions?

· If there were disputes, were you able to resolve them amicably?

· Did he come back to fix things after the project was complete? It’s fairly normal that there may be some minor things that require attention during the first year, such as sheetrock cracks due to the house settling or lumber shrinkage.

At this point, it’s also advisable to see their work in person. Seeing a builder’s work on a website is one thing but seeing a house in person is preferable. Keep in mind that they didn’t design it, they just built it. You’re not assessing what the architect designed or what the homeowner’s taste are, you’re looking at the “fit & finish.” Look closely at the trim joints & the overall quality of the work.

Selecting the right builder is not an easy task and should be done carefully. You’re putting an awful lot of trust into one person, & you want to be assured you’re making the right decision. Construction should be fun, but it can also be trying at times. It can be an emotional roller coaster with highs & lows, and having the right builder will make it all that much easier to deal with.

DeMotte Architects | Fairfield County CT Architect | Westchester County NY Architect

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