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Quick Guide to Finding the Right Home Builder

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The right home builder will make your custom building project a delightful experience that you look back on with joy. And when all is said and done, you will be living the dream in your stunning new home, just as you’d envisioned. But choose the wrong home builder? We’ve all heard the horror stories, and it’s true. Frustration and misery, in the form of arguments, delays and higher costs, are likely to accompany you through the entire building process, with disappointing results when you’re finished.

To help you select the best home builder to fit your personality and your goals, Ernst Brothers + Builders has created a guide that draws on our nearly four decades of behind-the-scenes experience building and renovating beautiful homes for clients across the Philadelphia region.

The advice that follows contains valuable insights to give you greater confidence as you conduct your search, whether you’re setting out to construct your first custom home or the most recent of several new builds over the years. Topics address ways to:

1. Identify the best custom home builders in your area

2. Set your criteria for choosing your builder

3. Avoid common mistakes when interviewing the firms you’re considering

4. Review the necessary documentation, including contracts and proofs of insurance and licensing, before you sign anything

So you can hire the builder that is the best fit for you and your project.

Find local home builders.

The more familiar you are with the custom home construction business in your area, the easier it is to assemble a list of fine candidates for your own project. But even a newbie—to custom home-building or to your area—has excellent resources.

The best referrals, bar none, will come from other professionals you know, like and respect. So make a point to ask the architect or interior designer you hired for your new home which builders in the area they like to work with most. These design professionals can name firms they trust for exceptional quality and competent collaboration. They will also tell you which home builders they know will interpret their designs most dependably so you get the home you want. They can also advise you which ones to steer clear of and why.

Don’t neglect to ask new-build homeowners to tell you about their home builder, their experience and how pleased they are with the results, especially if you love their home. Ask if they’d be comfortable giving you a comprehensive tour. Ask them to point out where issues arose and were addressed, their favorite features or experiences, any instances of conflict or dissatisfaction. Would they do anything differently if they were building right now? And especially, ask if they’d hire this home builder again.

A note about referrals from professionals: You may settle on your ideal builder before you’ve chosen an architect, interior designer, landscape designer or other significant professional. In that case, do ask your builder to recommend a designer.

Good partnerships in a custom home-build project give homeowners a huge advantage. The different partners in the collaborative relationship tend to draw the best out of each other so everyone performs well as part of the home-building team. It should be no surprise that a well- coordinated team of professionals results in better communication. For the homeowner, that translates to higher quality, fewer errors, more deadlines met and fewer change-orders. And that makes everyone happy.

Your home builder criteria.

What qualities are you looking for in a luxury custom home builder? You’ll want to consider the character and skills of their own team members and the trade partners they hire, the quality of their materials and the craftsmanship of every square inch and nook and cranny. Not to put too fine a point on it, you should expect it all to be la crème de la crème. If you’ve done this before, you probably know exactly what you want. If this is new to you, here are some things to put on your list and prioritize. (You’ll need all this when you begin interviewing, so take notes!)

·      Experience. How long has this home builder been in business? Is the company new to high-end, custom construction or have they been at it long enough to have developed a significant portfolio? How many custom residential projects have they built of comparable square-footage? What other diverse building experience do they have that gives them an advantage when complex issues need to be resolved? How long have each of the construction team members been working for the company, and how many years does each have under their belt as custom craftsmen?

·      Reputation. If you respect the candidate’s colleagues and design partners and they believe this home builder does terrific work, you’re more than halfway there. (If they don’t, go no further!) When you do receive referrals from other professionals or homeowners, be sure to follow up with the named party and carefully weigh the feedback they give you.

·      Trade partners. A home builder is only as good as the contractors hired to fill out the team: demolition contractors, plumbers, electricians, painters, etc. And do ask your candidate how they choose their trade partners. The answers could reveal a lot about the builder’s values. For example, choosing primarily by the low bid fails to put the emphasis on reliability and how the partner meshes with the rest of the team—which needs to be virtually seamlessly. If a contractor doesn’t show up or complete the work as expected, it throws off the whole schedule, resulting in costly delays.

·      Communication. Put this at the top of your list of criteria for the right home builder. On your initial phone call or in the interview are they clear in their answers to your questions and concerns? Or do you feel as though they’re avoiding giving a candid response? How responsive are they? Do other professionals and homeowners say they make themselves available with regular in-person meetings, cheerfully answered phone calls or prompt return calls, frequent email updates about the status of the project, onsite visits by the principals so everyone is equally in the know? If communicating with a home builder is difficult during the initial interview process, it’s probably a sign that you won’t be able to get answers to your questions or to negotiate contracts and construction issues.

·      Leadership. If your home builder is expected to take the lead on a project, managing not only the construction teams but also overseeing the design professionals, you need to be certain they’re up to the job. Ask about jobs where they have held a leadership position. Pay attention to how the principals provide leadership to their crews. A good leader is solution-focused, communicates well, manages diverse and complex elements deftly, helps keep tasks on schedule, clears obstacles to achieving agreed-upon objectives and team members’ accomplishments, and makes all members of the team shine.

·      Attention to detail. You need a luxury home builder that pays attention to the small stuff. Ask to see samples of their work, including close-ups of installations. Ask them to point out construction details that please them. Ask about how they’ve developed solutions to challenges they’ve faced on a project and what their process was. In addition to touring a recently completed home, ask if you can step onto an active job site—you’ll pick up an amazing amount of information by watching the team members, including the builder’s craftsmen and trade contractor crews, interact.

Interviewing home builders.

You should have narrowed your list of candidates to just two or three that you will interview—or perhaps only one, if your architect has enthusiastically referred a contractor they’ve worked with successfully in the recent past. When you schedule the interview, make sure to meet with the person or people at the company most likely to be knowledgeable about the daily progress of your project, can answer your questions about the issues you expect to face and would be your point person if you hire this builder. Use your list of criteria to get the most accurate and complete feel for this important relationship, and take the time to weigh your decision before you confirm your choice of home builder and move forward with the bidding process.

Your instincts are important, so don’t ignore any discomfort or concerns that your interview raises. Ask more questions, ask for more referrals, go back and talk to trusted friends and professionals if you need to do so. Do we need to note that if your candidate rushes your commitment or balks at answering your questions, this is a red flag and a reason to cross them off your list?

Home builder paperwork.

Do your due diligence: follow up. It is your right, your responsibility and in your best interests to read every word of a contract or other document, ask for clarification when you need it, request items be added or removed and take any document to your own legal or construction advisor for a professional review.

·      Because the scope of work to build a luxury custom home can be complex, you will probably ask your attorney to look at project bids and the contract before you sign.

·      If you haven’t already, this is a good time to confirm with your attorney and local municipality that your home builder and any other professionals you hire directly are fully licensed and insured and have all the necessary local permits to work in your area.

However, I would like to talk a bit about quotes, how the best contracts are set up & what they include, what you should do on your way to drawing up a contract…and more.

A qualified custom builder will respect that homeowners are taking on what is probably the largest single expense of their lifetime, and treat your project accordingly. When the homeowner-builder match-up is the right one for you, it is certain to also be the right one for the builder. Together, you will build beautiful things.

Your Takeaways

Selecting the right custom home builder for your dream home may seem daunting at first, especially if you are unfamiliar with the professionals in the area or this is your first custom new build. But it doesn’t have to overwhelm you. Remember, your ideal luxury home builder already has the experience, skills and proven capabilities to fulfill your vision and deliver a beautiful experience in the process. With this guide, you can begin right now to discover your perfect match and ultimately, your dream home. The steps are simple:

·      Collect referrals for home builders from professionals and friends you know, like and trust.

·      Identify what characteristics and capabilities are most important to you before you interview candidates.

·      Interview the folks you’ll be interacting with most on your project to get a feel for that relationship before you choose a builder.

·      Don’t just accept another’s referral or documentation. Follow up—with professional consultation, if it feels right—before signing anything!

The folks at Ernst Brothers + Builders love to talk about building extraordinary homes. We welcome your questions and would enjoy discussing your project, with no commitment. Happy house-building!

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