Tips for Choosing and Working With a Builder Successfully
But the reality is that the vast majority of builders are both professional and capable, and you can do a great deal to avoid bad experiences simply through the way you choose, manage and communicate with them. Here’s why it’s worth laying the foundations for a good relationship with you builder – and how to do it well.
Don’t approach a builder too soon
It might seem logical if you’re thinking of having some building work done to start by approaching a builder, but don’t be too hasty. Builders are (generally) good at building – and at pricing – once they know exactly what is wanted, but asking for a price before there are any drawings or detailed information about the project is as good as inviting them to tell you simply what they think you want to hear. My advice is only approach builders once you have a set of drawings and a list of what will (and will not) be included, often known as a ‘schedule of works’. Otherwise, you might base the whole project on a figure that could be miles off the eventual cost.
Establish whether you need a specialist company or just a general builder
A really good general builder is, unsurprisingly, really good at building work and will be suitable unless the work in question is incredibly unusual. For example, a good general builder is perfectly capable of building a loft extension or forming a basement. You can, of course, go to a loft or basement company and they, too, may do a great job. The most important thing is to find someone good who will do good work for the right price. Similarly, you can use a staircase company to make a staircase or a door company to sell you doors – or just use a good joiner to make such things. With a clear design, a good builder will be able to coordinate the right people – joiners, electricians and so on – to source and build exactly what you want.
Aim for one point of responsibility
Rather than using one main contractor, it might seem wise to try to save money by directly engaging separate tradesmen, such as plasterers, electricians, carpenters and so on.While it’s true that a main contractor will take a small slice of cost from all the sub-contractors, I would argue that this money is very well earned. Managing and coordinating all of the separate trades on-site takes a great deal of mettle and experience. I’ve seen lots of people who try to do this themselves get into a horrible mess and end up with a botched job that goes over time and over budget – not to mention the stress they’ve suffered. While it can work to pull certain specific and well-defined parts of the work out (such as carpet-laying, for example), I strongly recommend using one main building contractor who will take responsibility for the project overall.
Interview Your Potential Builder
Before signing a contract, address any questions or concerns you may have, and never hesitate to ask for more information. It is vital before “breaking ground” to have a clarified, mutual understanding of the building timeline and expectations, as well as your involvement. It is also wise to identify with your contractor what documentation and criteria you’ll encounter throughout the building process and when you can expect it. As a final, less subjective interview question, consider asking what sets the particular builder apart from other competitors.
The Q&A interview process is crucial to deciding if a prospective builder is right for you. If you need more information, you can also ask some of the questions outlined in the e-book “What You Need to Know Before Building a New Home.”
After planning, budgeting, and designing the initial outline for your home, make a list of prospective builders that have experience with projects similar to yours. Because some companies excel, or focus primarily, on a particular style or type of home, they may not be the best choice if your house fits a different mold.
If you need help finding builders, your community yellow pages should provide a generic list of local contractors, while online resources and customer reviews can better your opinion on each. For a more interpersonal approach, try contacting your local home builders association. This organization will provide you with a contact list of construction agencies; you can directly call or request information about their experience, turnaround time, and price range, and ultimately narrow down your list.
Once you’ve shortened your list to three or four potential builders, it’s time to conduct more in-depth research. Visit and review each company’s finished projects or nearby homes. Use online sites such as the Better Business Bureau for detailed customer assessments. The information you utilize in the initial research process will ensure your builder confidence along the way.
What to Expect: Builder and Team
Expect the builder and/or sales and site staff to be:
- Open and upfront: good service begins with honesty, trust and good communication.
- Knowledgeable: good service depends on in-depth product and process knowledge.
- Prompt and efficient: good service sets and respects realistic timelines.
- “On your side”: customer-oriented builders and staff work for you and with you.
Before You Build Your New Home
The process of building a new home long before the foundation is poured. The construction process is most efficient and exciting if you first develop a good plan and find an honest, competent builder. To avoid costly mistakes during the construction process, start with these five important steps. As you move from dream house to real house, be sure to ask questions and share your progress with people who have gone through the process.
Plan Your Budget
Begin considering the budget from the very moment you start thinking about building your house. Develop a realistic idea of how much you can afford to spend and how much it will cost to build a new home. The budgeting phase is really about balancing your wants with a realistic assessment of what you can afford.
Chances are you will need a construction loan and a mortgage. It’s not too early to find out how large a loan you can qualify for, based on your income and other financial obligations. Today, most banks and other financial institutions are eager to prequalify you for a construction loan, which will give you a ballpark idea of the maximum amount of money you can spend. At the same time, this early stage involves looking at what different elements of your new home will cost, including the land itself, the architect or designer, the general contractor who will manage the project, the construction materials, and appliances and interior features.
Choose Your Lot
If you have not yet purchased a building lot for your new home, talk with realtors to get a rough estimate of land costs in the areas you are considering. Although land costs vary greatly depending on local land costs, in general, you plan for 20 to 25 percent of your new home cost to go toward the purchase of the land.
Whether you are building your home in a suburban development or a site with sweeping ocean views, you will almost always need to choose the land before you select floor plans or other details. You (and any pros you hire) will need to investigate factors such as soil condition, drainage, zoning, and building codes in the region. Costs will be higher if your house design needs to be customized to fit the lot. If the house can be built on the lot using stock blueprints, it will help your budget.
Pick a House Plan
Many new homes are built using stock plans from a printed catalog or an online source. Finding the right plan can take some time. One place to begin might be deciding on your favorite house style. Get ideas from the many catalogs available, and if necessary, have a builder or another building professional—an architect or designer—help you choose the best stock plan for your needs. A home designer can also make minor modifications to the stock plans in terms of room size, window styles, or other details. Some builders can make slight modifications to stock home plans.
Line Up Your Team
Once a working budget, a building site, and home design are selected, you can now begin assembling the team of experts to design and construct your house. Key players can include a builder, an excavator, a surveyor, and a home designer or an architect, if needed. In most cases, homeowners begin by selecting the builder (general contractor). That pro then selects other members of the team. However, you may also opt to hire an architect or designer first.