10 Questions to Ask a Builder

Keep your finger on the pulse.

When you’re dealing with something as important as your home, it helps to be on the same page as your builder. Here are some questions you can ask any project-lead to ensure you share a common understanding and sense of direction with your new project.

Do you have references for the most recent 5 completed projects?

Typically a builder has a list of satisfied clients that have agreed to be references. Talk to those that have recently utilized their service to get an idea of what it will be like when you work with them. It is also a good idea to get the unsolicited references. Knock on the potential neighbor’s door and get their off guard response. This is the best way to gain knowledge about the builder and how they operate.

What is the company’s financial status?

It’s important that the builder is not in financial constraints because this could slow down the construction process. Get a sound, established builder that has the resources to get the job done correctly and quickly. Ask the builder if he is sitting on any spec homes that have not sold. They may be burdened with costs not associated to your home and may need to use capital from your home to cover these costs.

How long have you been in business for yourself?

Builders that have been around a long time usually have a good reputation. Again, always ask for references, this is the best source of information. If they have any homes under construction in the area, ask if you can visit the site and talk to the homeowner about their experience so far. A new business may lack the capital or experience to complete the job.  Also make sure they are not involved with any pending legal disputes.

Have you been in business under any other names?

If they have, that could be a red flag that they changed their name because of a bad reputation or worse, bankruptcy. Be cautious and don’t be afraid to ask why they now operate under a different name.

On your last 5 projects, were any projects over budget and why?

It is important to know that you will finish the project according to the agreed upon price. In the beginning, it is important to discuss any and all possibilities upfront. Ask what the builders change order policy is. This sometimes can be a huge profit center for the builder.

How realistic are my allowance numbers?

This is where a lot of builders can make their “price per square foot” number look really attractive. Unfortunately, this is an area that many owners may not find out their allowance numbers aren’t realistic until midway through the project. Do selections early to eliminate this possibility or ask your builder how they established your allowance numbers.

What is not included in my price that will be required to complete our project?

In some cases, builders may eliminate items such as landscaping, surveys, soil tests, insurance and other necessary items to complete the job from the contract price and may call them “owner items”. This may be in the fine print of their proposal or contract.  Ask builder to clearly spell these items out.

Are you flexible?

After all, you are building a custom home so there will be changes along the way. Ensure the builder is equipped to give you what you want and at what cost.  Consider all the amenities desired and see if the builder can accommodate all of the wants you have. What is the process to make changes? You want to avoid unnecessary change orders.

How long will it take to complete my project? What percentage of projects are finished on time?

Find out the time table normally associated with the construction of a new home. An established and experienced builder should be able to give a fairly accurate timetable on the construction time frame for the type of structure being built. Then hold them to it. Make the time table a part of the construction contract to ensure the work you pay for is done in the allotted amount of time you agreed upon.

What exactly is going into my home?

Make sure the builder gives you specific specifications as to what types of materials are going into your new home. This is another area where one builder can make his price look better than his competition. Believe it or not, not all homes are created equal. You should ask for an itemized list of items that are going into every room of the home.  For example, one builder may specify tankless water heaters and another may specify traditional tank heaters. In this instance, not only will there be a substantial price difference between the two, there is a huge performance difference as well.  Again you want to eliminate any surprises down the road.