Before we delve into the topic of choosing a builder – let’s examine for a moment what a builder is and what a builder does. A builder is someone you hire to build your house, correct? Well, yes and no. It has been said that when you hire a builder you are really hiring four people: the builder, the builder’s crews, the builder’s subcontractors, and the builder’s suppliers. What this means is that most builders do not build houses by themselves, but hire outside subcontractors to do part of the work–plumbers and electricians are good examples.
Except for a few very large builders who have the requisite staff and tradesmen on their payroll to build a house from start to finish, most builders are not only builders, but also general contractors, or GC’s as they are known in the trade. That is, they hire and schedule other specialized subcontractors to work for them in the building of your house.
There is nothing wrong with this practice, we are simply calling it to your attention so you have a clear understanding of it. With a firm grasp of this trade practice, let’s move on to considerations for choosing a builder.
The difference between a well built house and a poorly built house is not necessarily the materials being used, though these are important, or the tradesmen working on the house. It is mainly the person in charge of making it all happen – the builder! The builder’s job is to schedule the tradesmen and materials, while keeping a close eye on the subcontractors, and keeping everyone on time. No, it certainly is not rocket science; but, it does require experience and expertise in the building process to do it well.
The builder you hire to build your house is the expert – you are not! You can and should learn as much as you can about the process of building a house but, ultimately, the builder you hire is YOUR expert on the subject, so you should hire someone with whom you are comfortable, someone whom you can trust and someone with experience.
If you do a good job of hiring a builder, things should go reasonably smoothly. If you don’t, then you are going to put yourself in the unenviable position of supervising your builder. And, if you haven’t been through the building process before, there won’t be enough hours in the day for you to learn all you need to know to have a chance of doing this well.
One of several steps in the process is to interview the builder. Here is a partial list of questions that should be asked. A more complete Builder’s Questionnaire and Interview Guide can be found on the House N Home Building website:
1. How long have you been in business?
2. Have you or your partners built houses under any other names?
3. How many homes do you build per year?
4. How many homes do you build concurrently?
5. How much time do you spend supervising the building process?
6. Do you do the supervising yourself or do you have a foreman or site supervisor?
7. What work will you do with your own crews – what work is subbed?
8. Do you have contracts with your subcontractors? Can I see a copy?
9. Can you provide us with a list of all of your subcontractors, including name, address and phone number?
10. How long has each sub worked for you?
11. Can you provide us with a bank reference?
12. Can you provide us with a copy of your insurance certificate?
13. Have you had any suits brought against you by any homeowners for whom you built?
14. If yes, why, and what was the outcome of the suit?
15. How many change orders would you consider “average” in the process of building a home?
16. Are there charges or fees for initiating change orders (other than the obvious costs for the change – some builders charge a flat fee of say $50, plus the construction charges)?
17. Can change orders be initiated by the builder?
18. If a mistake is made during the building process, who pays to fix the mistake?
19. What kind of warranty do you provide? (some States may mandate warranties)
20. Do you do the warranty work on your houses or is it some third party?
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this choice and getting it right. It very well could be the difference between a pleasant dream and a bad nightmare. So, take the time and do it right.