Building Old Salt Farm: How to Choose a Home Builder
I have fabulous news…we have finally begun construction on Old Salt Farm! Wahoo!!! They dug the basement this week, and framing starts on Monday. Next week I’ll have an official update, and a big, fat post all about the first month of building, but today I want to talk about one of the very first steps–and arguably the most important step– you’ll take when you decide to build a home, and that’s choosing a builder. After doing going through this process more than once we’ve learned a lot, and there are definitely things you can do to make the best choice possible. How to Choose a Home Builder is one of the questions I’ve been asked frequently, and this is a perfect place to talk about it!
Start with the basics.
Before you can choose a builder, you have to know what you’re looking for. What style of home do you like? What’s your price range? What size are you looking for? Builders often have their niches and specialities, concentrate on specific price points. While most will build a spectrum of prices, there will be some that focus on first-time buyers, or homes for the affluent. Cost of building supplies, what the builders “standard” selections are, and even their process can differ quite a bit.
Word of mouth is best!
Ask around. Ask everyone. It’s really the number one way to find a good, quality builder. When you speak with someone who as built a home, and has had a great experience, that’s worth a lot more than looking them up online. I’ve also stopped to ask who someone’s builder is when I see a home I really like! You may not all feel comfortable with that (my husband thinks I’m crazy), but I like to know. Ask them specifically what they liked, what they didn’t like, about the quality of their home after living in it, and if they would make the same choice again or recommend the builder to close friends or family. It’s not just about the home, it’s about the entire process. It can be 6 months to a year of working closely with the builder, and the way they do things will impact you. I would also recommend asking about their communication during the building process. Did they keep them updated? Was it hard to get a hold of them? Did they respond within a timely manner to your questions? Being able to communicate easily with your builder is important!
Reputation is important, and asking other people related to the building industry can give you a lot of valuable information. We were actually recommended to our builder by a realtor for a property we were looking at. She had been around for a long time, and they consistently stood out to her as a quality builder. That was worth a lot to us, and we started doing more research on them to see if that’s they way we wanted to go.
Look for experience.
It really does count when it comes to building a home. You don’t have to always go with a builder that’s been established for thirty years or more, but sometimes a new building company will be headed up someone with years of experience working for another builder. Do your homework, and find out. Also make sure that they’re licensed and insured, and that you’ll be covered throughout the entire building process as needed.
Style & Design. If you want to build a farmhouse, and you choose a builder that focuses on contemporary homes, it may not be the best overall fit. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but definitely something to consider.
Service & Warranty.
When you build a new home, it means that you’re covered with warranties on many things. But you do need to ask about their specific coverage. Is the structural warranty at least 10 years? What kind of service do they provide when you do call them about an issue? (That one is huge!!) Is the warranty transferrable to a new owner if you sell? These are all questions you want to ask ahead of time. Also talk to the builder about what brands they use in their homes. Are they quality products?
If you’re looking to buy in a subdivision where you don’t have a choice about the builder (they already own the lots), you still want to do your due diligence before signing on the dotted line.
Definitely speak to other homeowners in the sub, and ask them specifically about likes and dislikes. When someone has lived in their home for a year, they’ve learned even more about the builder and how they deal with issues that have come up. Go through this same checklist–it may make a difference in whether you build there or not.
Take a tour…or two. Check quality.
Nothing can replace actually going and looking at their work. This is really important! I wouldn’t just look once, I would look at least two homes, and maybe even three. Pay attention to the finish work (it says a lot about the builder). You can also get a good feel for the builder’s style and quality, and it can make all the difference in your final decision.
Talk about the builder’s standard building selections.
One of the big questions we get asked is “how much does your builder charge per square foot?” That’s really an impossible question to answer, because it really depends on the selections a home builder selects. When you build, the builder has a standard set of selections he includes, and then whatever upgrades you make are added on to the cost of the home.
If one person chooses laminate countertops and tile flooring, their price per square foot is going to be less than another person with the same size home, but who chose granite and hardwood floors (and even higher with specialty and more expensive selections). A builder may not be able to answer exactly how much they charge per square foot, but they can tell you what their standard building selections are, and give you a rough estimate of price per square foot based on those selections. For example, one builder may include 8 foot ceilings, 2 inch trim, laminate countertops, and tile floors, while another builder’s standard is 9 foot ceilings, wide trim, granite countertops, and hardwood floors. The second builder is going to be more “expensive” (give you a higher price for your home than the first), but that’s because the standard materials he is using are more expensive, and typically an upgrade.
It also means that if you know you want granite and hardwood, you won’t have to make those upgrades like you would with the first builder, and if you know those aren’t in your budget, then that builder probably isn’t for you. Knowing the standard selections is huge in pricing the home you want to build, and ultimately the builder you choose.
Pay attention to their office staff.
Odds are, you’ll be working with not only the builder, but other people in his office. Pay close attention to the service they give, how quickly the respond to you, and how they treat you.
Once you’ve chosen a builder (but before you sign the contract)…
Ask about their vendors. Most builders have a list of vendors that they work with and have accounts with. You work through them to choose all of the selections for your home. I suggest finding out ahead of time who they are, and how the process works.
Can you buy your own items to make a difference on cost? What if you know you can get something cheaper than it is with the vendor? Different builders have difference policies.
What if a vendor doesn’t carry what you want? Along the same lines as above, what’s the builder’s policy on ordering on your own? Or will they order from somewhere other than their specific vendors?
What’s the cost of making changes after you’ve signed the contract? The odds are, you’ll change your mind about something after the plan is finished, the contract is signed, and even after the house has been started. You’ll want to know what the builder charges above and beyond the actual cost of your request. This can make a big difference in your overall budget, and house price.
Estimated time of completion? Find out about how long it will take to complete your house, and ask them about previous homes they’ve built that are about the same size as yours.
Asking questions is key, and anything you find out ahead of time will help you make the best decision possible.
Don’t forget to check out my post on How to Select a Building Lot…whether you’re building a new home or buying an existing home, these tips will help!
Kierste Wade is a published author, blogger, and mom to six. With more than 20 years DIY and project experience, she has been sharing ideas on her blog since 2009. Focusing on simple and doable projects, she loves to share attainable ideas for all things home, holidays, and family. Kierste has been featured on Better Homes and Gardens, HGTV, American Farmhouse Magazine (print and online) Taste of Home, Country Living, and more.