10 Key Questions to Ask a Builder
If you have decided to custom build your new home, the most important challenge you will have is choosing the right builder. Get this wrong and you’ll be reminded every time you have a maintenance problem in your home. At some point, you’ll have to trust you are making the right choice, but here are a few tips that can hedge your bet that you are choosing the right builder.
Ask questions. There is no such thing as a question that makes you seem uneducated. After all, when it comes to building a home, we are not expected to know about construction—the builder is.
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Do your research. Today, you can find out a lot about a person or a company online. Start there and don’t forget to see if the Better Business Bureau has had any complaints reported. Ask around: talk to mortgage companies, vendors, and other new home buyers you may know who have already done the research. Check out the company’s website. Is it professional or does it reflect the company poorly? The way a company markets itself says a lot.
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Find out how long the company has been in business. A company with a long history means it has stayed in business for a reason. This statement should not mean that a builder with a short history is a bad choice. Often, a new or startup company can be more motivated to grow their reputation as a good builder. Lastly, don’t be embarrassed to ask other builders. Their answers may surprise you.
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When you finally meet the builder face-to-face, refer to #1 above. And pay close attention to how they react to a silly question. A good builder will answer you and encourage you to ask more. Treat this first meeting as a job interview—their job interview. Remember that you are looking for a partner—one that will have your best interests in mind, not just theirs, and one you will get along with. The key thing to look for in this first meeting is transparency. Is the builder straightforward with his/her answers? Ask them why you should choose them over another builder. Ask how they got into the building industry. In short, find out who they are.
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Ask if the builder is building according to the state’s mandated 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The builder may say their homes pass the city’s code inspections, but that wasn’t the question. Many cities in the Valley are not enforcing the 2015 IECC and use an older version of the code. If the homes the company that you are interviewing builds are high-performance homes certified by the BUILT TO SAVE™ program or the ENERGY STAR PROGRAM®, they are compliant—but you should ask for proof. Ask to see the certificate from these programs.
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Ask the builder what the average HERS score is on the homes they build. If he or she does not know what a HERS score is, run away. The Home Energy Rating System score is a good indicator of how well the home will perform when it comes to energy efficiency. A home energy rater performs a blower door test and a duct leakage test after the home is completed to calculate a HERS score. These tests are mandated by the 2015 IECC.
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Find out what type of architectural styles the builder specializes in and what price range they normally build in. Be suspicious of a builder who only builds economy homes but says they can build a high-end luxury home for you as their first project. You should make sure the builder you choose has a proven track record of building the type of home you are wanting.
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It is one thing to talk about the history and expertise of the builder. It’s another to consider the qualifications of the contractors—the people who actually do the work. Ask about their qualifications. Find out who will be on the job site during construction, making sure the work is done properly, and who would be your contact if you have any needs or concerns during the construction phase.
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The biggest question most people have is “Can I trust the builder?” As a rule of thumb, if a person is dishonest on little things, you can almost be sure they will do the same on the big ones. You want to make sure your builder will not cut any corners on your home, no matter how small. Here’s a tip: when a Parade of Homes event take place, pay attention to those builders who open their homes near the official Parade homes in order to capitalize on the traffic, without paying the entry fee. If a builder doesn’t see a problem with doing that to a non-profit Builders Association, what do you think they will do when dealing with a homebuyer?
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Find out if the builder is agreeable to having your new home inspected by a third-party property inspector after it is completed. A good builder will not be afraid to let someone else inspect his/her work. Builders who certify their homes in the BUILT TO SAVE™ program do this as part of the certification process and include these inspections during the construction, before the walls are put in—another great reason to make sure you choose a BUILT TO SAVE™ builder.
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