Choosing a contractor

What to Look for in a New Home Builder or Home Remodeler

Buying a new home is a big decision and you want to get full value for your investment. This means choosing an established and reputable builder – someone you can trust, someone who has the technical skills and knowledge to build a good home, and someone who will deal with you fairly and professionally.

Fortunately, there are many good builders around, and with a little effort you will have no trouble finding someone who is right for you. Before you enter into a legal agreement with anyone, you should do a little qualifying of your own: Is this the kind of company that you want to do business with, and how can you be sure that you will get the home and the service you want? Here are some tips to keep in mind and questions you may want to ask:

Remember that when you buy a home you are also “buying” the builder-you need to pay as much attention to choosing the right builder as you do the right home. Taking the simple steps suggested here will give you the information you need to choose a builder with confidence.

Do Your Research Before Contacting Potential Builders

You can save time and narrow down your selections by doing some research. Use COBA’s search tool to find a list of builders in your area!  You can narrow down the list by only selecting builders that have the credentials you are looking for.

Questions to Ask a Builder:

1. How many houses have you built in the last three years, by year?

This question will show you how busy a builder is at this time as well as where the business has been. There’s no right answer, but ask follow-up questions based on the builder’s answer. Ask about growth, satisfied customers and what type of home the builder is best at.

2. How many houses are you expecting to build this year?

Relate this answer to your first question about the past three years. How much growth; types and prices of homes; scattered site or developments?

3. How long is it currently taking to deliver a house that is similar to the one you might build for me?

4. Ask about permits, actual building times, weather conditions and other factors. Is the builder realistic and confident?

5. Can you show me samples of your work?

You want to see the quality and execution the builder has done in the past. This will also give you ideas of possibilities and it may even help you to further refine your vision of your dream house. Keep in mind that you’ll probably be looking at the builder’s ‘best work’, so if it doesn’t measure up, it’s best to move on.

6. How long have you been in business?

There’s no right answer here, but you do not want to be the guinea pig for a brand-new builder. The builder should be in business long enough to develop a track record for you to evaluate. Less than two years is probably too short unless there is a very good reason to use this builder.

7. Can you provide references?

You will want to talk to two to four customers of any builder you are seriously considering. Ask the customers about their experience. Ask about construction time promises, and always ask open-ended questions. Ask how change orders were handled, and if prices for change orders were fair. Key question: Would you build another house with this builder? Any hesitation or qualification to this question needs a lot of explanation. Ask about the relationship with the builder and foremen. How did the builder react when things did not go as planned? How did the builder react to change orders?

8. Who are your bankers, and if I called them, what would they tell me about your financial strength?

This is a good question to watch for the builder’s reaction. Hesitation here usually is cause for further research. Most reputable builders have a good relationship with their banks. If you check with the bank, ask the builder for the name of their account officer. Ask the account officer, “Is the builder’s relationship with you satisfactory?” and “Would you build a home with this builder?” Listen carefully to what and how it is said.

9. Under what circumstances do you allow site visits?

Must you have an appointment, or is it okay for you to just “show up”? Either approach is fine, as builders have insurance reasons for asking for prior notice. Consider walking through current projects “after hours” to see the builder’s work in progress. Make sure there is a temperament match here.

10. How do you handle problems after construction is completed?

No home is ever perfect. Ask about callback policies, punch list corrections and warranty service. Ask who is responsible for appliances, heating and air conditioning and other installed options. Get a good feel for an individual builder’s procedure for handling issues after the fact. Get a sense for the builder’s attention to detail, as well as the builder’s willingness and ability to meet deadlines and commitments for follow-up on problems.

11. Ask what industry-sponsored training programs the builders or their staff have taken in recent years. Housing technology is constantly changing and professional home builders invest in keeping up-to-date.

12. Is home building your profession?

Home building is a serious business. It takes commitment to keep up with everything going on in the industry. It requires solid business skills and a track record of satisfied clients. If a “builder” proposes to build your home as a part-time job, you should proceed with caution. If this “builder” offers you a “better” financial deal, you need to wonder if you will really save in the long run – the old adage that you usually get what you pay for holds true for home buying as well.

13. What is your experience and how long have you been in business?

Good builders are proud of their track record and they will be happy to tell you about their experience, their strengths and what sets them apart from others. They will be honest with you about what they can do for you, when and for how much.

14. What after-sales service does your company provide?

Professional builders stand behind their homes with an after-sales service program to correct minor problems that may occur with your new home. Ask how the program works, how home owners request service, and how quickly service problems are resolved normally.

15. Would we get a warranty with our new home?

New home warranty programs vary across the country, but they all have one common goal: to provide protection for the home buyer’s investment. In some regions, there is a variety of warranties available. Ask builders to explain the details-you want to make sure you get the warranty that best meets your needs, both now and in the long term.

Be Clear About What You Want

It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t ask for it. In the home building business, the real professionals want to know your expectations and needs. So don’t hesitate to “speak your mind”.

Not everyone finds this easy to do, but it is very important. If the builder or sales agent you deal with is not responsive to your questions, chances are you should choose another company.

When there are things about a new home that you don’t understand, ask questions. It’s the builder’s or sales agent’s job to explain things to your satisfaction. Good builders and sales people want the opportunity to do this.

Ask questions about the builder. We’ve provided some suggestions. You need to let the builder know that character and reputation matter to you. A real professional builder can meet this test and will respect you for asking these questions.

Balance price and value. A price that’s “too good to be true” probably is. The range of prices in the new home market generally reflect differences in location, features and quality of construction. There’s no magic involved.

If a builder’s prices seem out of line with others in your area, ask for an explanation. Higher prices should reflect better-quality materials, finishing, features and services. The opposite is usually true when prices are lower than average. Make sure the price you are offered will deliver the quality you want.

The buying process is an intense experience for many home buyers. There are a lot of facts and figures involved, but there is also a lot of emotion. Never say “yes” until you’re 100% sure about the builder and the home. “Hard sell” sales tactics are a good reason to say “no thanks”.