How To Find The Right Builder -April/May 2012

Many of us dream of the day we can build or renovate a home that reflects our personal style. How our homes are designed and laid out says a lot about who we are and how we prefer to live. The right builder makes all the difference in assuring our dreams become reality.

When you’re ready to take the plunge and begin a building project, it’s vitally important to think about how you will choose your builder. It’s the most important first decision you will make about one of the largest expenditures of your life. Every decision a builder makes involves spending your money. The more thorough you are in the evaluation process, the better the chances you will be satisfied down the road.

The National Association of Home Builders recommends a number of steps to ensure you’ve made the best choice you can before signing on the dotted line:

• Ask friends, relatives and colleagues for recommendations. Ask about builders they have dealt with directly, or ask for names of acquaintances who have recently had a good experience. Real estate agents may also be able to help you in your search.

Once you’ve got your choices narrowed down, ask prospective builders for references – from homeowners, architects, designers and even other tradespeople – said Chris Komenda, marketing manager of Woodmeister Master Builders, which has offices in Nantucket, Newport, R.I., Boston and New York. Ask questions about the quality of work performed, adherence to budget and schedule, how well they communicated throughout the project, the contractor's safety record, and if they pay their invoices in a timely manner.

• Contact a professional organization like the Nantucket Builders Association for the names of qualified builders. Once you have some specific builders in mind, contact the Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no outstanding complaints on the builders you consider. Once you have your choices narrowed down, ask for proof of all relevant licenses, certifications and insurance. Reputable builders will always have them on file and readily available at your request, Komenda said.

• Take a drive. Ask builders on your list for the addresses of their recently-built homes. They may even be able to provide names of some homeowners who would be willing to let you view the interior work. Drive by on a Saturday morning when homeowners may be outside doing chores or errands. Introduce yourself and say you are considering using their builder. Talk to several owners, and try to get a random sample of opinions. The more people you talk with, the more accurate an impression you are likely to get. Some questions to ask: Are you happy with your home? If you had any problems, were they fixed promptly and properly? Would you use this builder again?

• Communication and collaboration are key. Remember, you will be in close contact with your builder throughout the construction process and even afterward as you live in your new home. Working together from the very beginning ensures a building process that meets expectations and a finished home or renovation that dovetails perfectly with your lifestyle.

• Determine the level of on-site supervision provided by the builder. Only the largest building companies can afford to employ all their own workers. As a result, many of today’s builders are managers of people, hiring independent subcontractors to provide each of the services needed. A builder is only as good as the subcontractors he hires. If the builder is not available when a problem arises on the job site, an independent party is left to make decisions concerning how to spend your money.

• Ask for timetables, detailed estimates and clearly-written contracts. The building timetable is important to your expectations and ultimate satisfaction. You should receive a clear and realistic projection of how long the job will take, so that you can plan your personal schedule accordingly. In addition, your contractor should communicate in a timely manner schedules, change requests, revised job costs, updates, and progress reports, Komenda said.

To minimize disruption to your lifestyle, discuss with your builder ways to work around your family’s schedule and activities. If the project involves disturbing areas like the kitchen, plan to make other accommodations and arrangements well in advance.

When you receive your bids, compare them not only for total cost, but for the manner of preparation. Are the details spelled out? Does it look as though the builder took everything into consideration?

When it comes to contracts, homeowners “have to establish the ground rules right in the beginning. Don’t assume that the contractor you’re dealing with is going to do things the way you’ve had them done in the past,” said Ted Goodnow, owner and founder of Woodmeister.

Keep in mind: The cheapest builder may not always be the best. Consider all aspects of working with a particular builder. One who works inexpensively but does not do quality work – or a builder with whom you have trouble communicating – is probably not the best choice.

Following these steps won’t guarantee you will find the best, most reliable person to build or renovate your home, but you can rest assured that if you do the leg-work up front, you have done as much as you can to find the right builder. 

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