Key Things to Know When Looking for a Builder
If you are a homebuyer who dreams of building your own custom home, here are some key pieces of advice to follow when choosing a home builder. It’s natural to want to skip some of the items included here, but don’t. The worst thing anyone can do—especially in the case of building or buying a home—is to assume. Do your homework. And remember. The quality of your new home will only be as good as the builder and the people who work for them.
1. Know your budget and find a builder who typically builds in that price range.
While it’s totally feasible that a high-end builder can build a lower price home, a low-end builder with no experience building high-end homes should make you skeptical.
Narrow your field of builders by focusing on those that build the type of home you want and have a proven record of building your type of home. Consider the four home types: custom homes; semicustom homes; production/tract homes; and spec homes. Choose which one suits you best; then, look for potential builders that specialize in your choice.
2. Know your builder.
Do your research. Even a builder who has only built one home has a reputation. While finding a builder with a dissatisfied customer is not uncommon, if this is a common occurrence, that should be a big red flag. Ask around about your builder and look for online reviews on social media. Ask previous customers, friends, industry professionals—especially vendors and contractors. You can tell a lot about a builder by the way they treat the people that work for them. If the builder is paying vendors and contractors on time and treating them with respect, honesty, integrity, and fairness, then the assumption can be made that the builder will treat customers the same.
3. Follow your builder.
Check out their website, social media, and marketing. Pay particular attention to how the company markets itself. Do they do a good job of branding themselves professionally? Does the copywriting in their marketing materials seem honest and personalized, or does it just sound like marketing fluff? Some companies claim they don’t do any marketing because they don’t need to—and while this may be true—the message to you should be that they are not interested in growing their company, which means they may or may not be around for you for any problems you may have down the road.
4. Don’t overlook investigating complaints.
Go to the Better Business Bureau and see if the builder has had any complaints. Also, find out if the builder has operated under any other names in the past, as this might indicate former bankruptcies, lawsuits, and questionable business practices. Find out if your builder is a member of a trade association such as the National Association of Home Builders, the Texas Association of Home Builders, and the Rio Grande Valley Builders Association.
5. Plan for your first face-to-face meeting.
By the time you meet the builder in person, you should have already done your research and know more about them than they know about you. If you leave that first meeting still knowing more about them than they do about you and your needs, look for another builder. It means the builder did not do a good job of listening or asking questions that would determine if you would be a good fit for their company. This first meeting should be a job interview. Their job interview. Prepare a list of questions that are important to you (*see Questions to Ask a Builder). Pay attention to how the builder responds to your questions. The builder should not make you feel like you asked a silly question. Remember, you are not the one in the homebuilding industry, they are. The most important thing to keep in mind in this initial meeting is that you are trying to establish a connection. You are trying to decide if the builder you are speaking to is someone you can trust—someone who can become your partner and will have your best interests at heart, not just theirs. Make sure you pick someone you like because you will be working closely with them for 6 to 8 months, depending on the size of your project.
6. Know about energy certifications.
Builders are only required to build homes to minimum building code. The key word there is “minimum.” Put bluntly, it is the “worst home a builder can legally build.”
A fact every homebuyer should know is that the State of Texas requires all new homes built after August 1, 2016, to be tested upon completion with a blower door test and a duct leakage test to make sure the home meets the 2015 IECC requirements. Will your builder be in compliance with the State law?
If you are not satisfied with bare minimum standards, you should ask your builder if they build “above code” homes verified by high-performance home programs like BUILT TO SAVE® or ENERGY STAR®. Homes with these certifications are inspected during construction and tested upon completion by an independent third party home energy rater who verifies that the homes are high-performance homes (BuiltToSave.org and energystar.gov). The certification will be invaluable if you decide to sell your home.
7. Don’t get blinded by the home’s bling.
Those gorgeous granite countertops, designer ceilings, fabulous building materials, or spacious open floorplans will not give you what every homebuyer really wants. Those things are great bling to look at, but none of them affects the most important things: heating and cooling home comfort, healthy indoor air quality, utmost energy efficiency and savings, and durable construction. All of these items and more are key elements of BUILT TO SAVE® and other high-performance home programs. The bling is a bonus.
8. The small things matter most.
Just like the little things in a home’s construction, like sizing the air-conditioning unit properly to the size of the home or making sure the insulation was installed properly, it’s the little things about how the builder treats you as a customer that you should focus on. For example: do they return your calls in a timely matter or at all? Not responding to texts or phone calls is too common in today’s business world. It is a sign of disrespect but also a good way to measure how much a person really values your relationship. If this happens when you are thinking of hiring a builder, you can expect more of the same afterward— especially if you have a problem with your home.
So be aware of how the builder you are thinking of hiring responds to you. If all goes well and the two of you make a connection as you plan your custom dream home together, then you can be sure you have selected the right builder.
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