The following is written by President and founder of ProBuilt Homes, George Davis, who has over 20 years of construction experience.
I frequently get calls and emails from friends and family around the country asking my advice on how they should select a builder for their dream home. You are picking the company that you are going to entrust to build you, what is usually, the largest purchase of your lifetime. Spending time to dig a little deeper is definitely prudent.
Check past customer references.
Be aware that if the builder is giving you the past clients to call they are most likely that company's happiest clients. Ask questions designed to extract how the builder handled challenges not just are they happy with the home. Ask how the builder handled mistakes that arose during the build. The building process is not perfect. Mistakes happen, but it's how the mistake was addressed that gets you inside the company culture of the builder. Ask if the builder was organized and detailed or if they felt like they had to manage the construction themselves in order to keep the project moving.
Good builders will survey their customers.
Great builders will use a third party company to do it so as to get more honest, unbiased feedback. Ask to see the surveys, look at the scores, and read the client comments. Google the builder's name, location, and the word "reviews". For example "ProBuilt Homes Ohio reviews". See what comes up.
Visit communities where the builder is building and the builder's model homes.
Are the jobsites clean and orderly? Do you like the quality you see? Ask to see some of the homes the builder is building for clients that are complete or near completion and see if you notice the same quality in the client builds as the models. You should expect model home and client home quality to be the same. Believe it or not, some very large production builders have an entire different team of trades that build the models.
Ask to have a list of trades and suppliers that the builder uses.
Good builders will have a consistent team. This way the trades and suppliers are familiar with the way the builder operates and quality is more consistent. If the builder says they bid out the work and switch trades a lot be very cautious. Call some of the trades and suppliers and ask how the builder is to work for. Ask if the builder pays bills in a timely fashion. One of my most rewarding experiences I have had as a builder was when a trade of mine told I prospective client that ProBuilt was a little difficult to work for because we were very organized and demanding but then went on to say that if he was building a home he would only use us because we were that way.
Ask if the builder has been sued.
Ask if the builder has had liens placed on projects it was building. Ask for details as to why if they answer yes. Lawsuits and Liens sometimes happen and are not always a bad thing, but a builder consistently in court is a big alarm. And a builder who is getting liened by trades and suppliers is an even bigger red flag.
Dive into the organizational chart of the builder.
Are they a small firm where the owner himself is responsible for many functions of the business? A lot of times people assume that a small builder where you deal directly with the owner from beginning to end is better. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it's impossible for one person to do more than one or two roles in the business well. How can one person do the sales function, estimate the projects, be on the job sites managing the day-to-day construction activities, address warranty concerns, find land to build on, and then also handle the back office accounting and answering of the telephone? There are exceptions to this but they are few and far between.
If you are looking at a builder with staff, inquire about the staff you will be working with.
I personally feel that the sales person should stay involved throughout the build and not disappear after contract signing. If the builder's procedure is to have the sales person step away after contract signing then ask to meet with the staff member or members who will be taking over. Ask about your onsite project manager. What is his or her experience? This is the individual handling the day to day construction of your home so ask about how the references liked working with the project manager. Does the builder have a dedicated warranty department to address concerns after move-in or do they just give you a list of the trades and suppliers and say call them direct if you have any issues? There are over 30,000 parts that go into a typical home. There will be some items that need attention during the warranty. Make sure the builder handles those issues properly.
If you follow the outline above, and spend a little more time researching your builder, your chances of having a smooth, successful home construction experience increase tenfold.