Pick A Builder, But Choose One That’s Right For You


The kind of house you want to own usually determines whom you want to build it.

Some buyers prefer dealing with a large homebuilder with hundreds of employees. Others want a smaller builder who, they believe, will offer a comfortable, “family” feeling.

Before you choose, you’ll need to investigate the builder thoroughly. Look at the builder’s current and previous developments. Talk to the residents. See whether the builder has kept to construction and delivery schedules, and how rapidly he or she responded to concerns, changes and punch-list items.

Check the building sites to see whether they are protected from weather and theft. The introduction of factory-built components in residential construction has begun to limit the effects of weather on construction, but since most new houses are “stick-built,” weather plays a role.

With the recent doubling in the price of oriented strand board (OSB) and exterior plywood used in construction, security at job sites to prevent theft of these materials has been increased.

Although nuances abound, there are basically three kinds of residential builders.

Production builders are those who build in high volume. They build standardized models. They offer a limited list of choices for floor coverings, fixtures, cabinetry, and interior and exterior finishes that makes it faster and easier for the buyer to make selections.

The standardized list means that costs are known up-front, which should make it easier to select what you want for your house.

High-volume construction means that there is a lot of repetition, allowing the builder to work the bugs out of the floor plans early on. Therefore, construction time is much shorter, and costs savings are fairly large.

Because of this, production builders typically attract first-time buyers.

However, production builders usually aren’t willing to change the floor plans to alter structural elements such as foundation walls. Such changes require reengineering, which can disrupt the rhythm and schedule of an entire subdivision.

Semi-custom builders are more flexible with changes, though they, too, tend to work with standard floor plans, and any alterations can disrupt construction schedules and result in higher prices.

Custom builders tend to construct one-of-a-kind houses. The builder will design a house to the buyer’s specifications, usually using an architect. Custom houses require a substantial initial investment in design, end up costing much more than either production or semi-custom houses, and take longer to build.

However, the high-end buyer usually ends up with the dream house he or she has always wanted.

There are a number of sources for finding a builder: newspaper advertising and real estate agents, for example, or simply by driving to new-home sites.

Local homebuilders’ associations also can provide lists of members.

When you meet a builder, begin asking the questions that matter to you.

Try to get a sense of the builder’s personality. Because you are going to be spending a lot of time with the builder and his employees, determine at the outset whether you and they are compatible.

Be certain to ask to meet the person who will be in charge of building your house. Find out what experience that person has, and especially how long the person has been with the builder.

If the builder’s staff changes often, consistency in service will be lost. Frequent personnel changes also may hint at problems inside the company that could affect your dealings with it while your house is being built.

Find out the name of the person to contact with questions. See whether there are routine times when you can tour the house as it is being built, accompanied by the builder’s representative, to talk about what’s going on.

At the outset, you should find out what the builder’s policy is on design changes. Also check whether the builder offers a home warranty policy, and ask to have a copy of both the policy and the builder’s standard contract to take with you, to review at your leisure.

Many larger homebuilders now publish manuals that help guide their buyers through the entire process.

The manual is a reference book for the buyer after settlement. Make sure you obtain a copy of that manual and read it. Knowing what the builder’s policy is concerning warranties and repairs reduces the opportunity of misunderstandings that could lead to lengthy litigation and make you dissatisfied with your house.

Written by Al Heavens


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