As you prepare to meet face-to-face with your short list of potential custom builder candidates, you might be wondering when the best time is to begin contacting and interviewing them. The answer is either before you begin the design phase with an architect or very soon after. Bringing a builder on board early will ensure that your home’s design and your desired budget stay aligned throughout the process, and so much more. For a complete list of the value that an experienced custom builder can add to your architectural design phase, check out this page on our website.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of builder candidates to your top 2 or 3, use the questions below in meeting(s) with them to help you identify the very best partner for you and your family.
1.How closely do you work with my architect and interior designer?
You want a builder who prioritizes a collaborative partnership with your architect and interior designer. This will prevent miscommunications that can lead to unnecessary tension, schedule delays, and extra costs. More importantly, listening to how they approach relationships with your design team will also give you a clue as to how they will approach communication with you.
2. Do you have experience building the style and quality of the home that I want?
This is extremely important, as each style of home presents unique challenges. You want to feel confident that your builder won’t be trying something new on your project, but instead will be applying a vast catalog of knowledge and lessons learned from similar homes they’ve built in the past.
3. Can you tell me a bit about your estimating process? How do you make sure your budgets are accurate?
Lots of layers here. Listen to make sure the builder’s estimating process is extremely thorough. Their preliminary estimate will be based on historical hard costs as well as current market pricing, so you want to feel confident in their custom homebuilding experience and expertise. Their detailed budget estimate (completed after plans and specs are finalized) will largely be based on hard bids from vendors and subcontractors in the builder’s network. You want to make sure that multiple bids will be secured from high-quality subcontractors and that those bids will be scrutinized to make sure they are comprehensive. You want to come away knowing that the builder’s team shoots for no holes in their budgets.
4. How long does it take for you to produce an estimate for my home?
A preliminary estimate can take as little as a week, and a detailed budget estimate can take as long as three to four weeks. If the builder thinks it will take longer than that, be sure to ask why. You may have a particularly complex home design which would understandably take longer than a few weeks to estimate, or they may be overloaded which could be a red flag that your project won’t get adequate attention if you choose them as your builder.
5. Who will be assigned to my project, and how often will my project be under direct supervision?
If you’re early in the design phase, it’s unlikely that the builder will be able to tell you for sure who will be assigned to your project when construction finally begins months from now. Instead, you’ll hopefully learn two things from their answer:
- What each of their project teams look like (Construction manager only? Construction manager and project manager? What kind of in-office support does each project team get?)
- How heavily their project teams are loaded up at any given time (We’re talking about complex high-quality custom homes, so your project should be under direct supervision at least every day or every other day.)
6. How will questions and concerns be addressed during construction?
Looking for a “good fit” here. Hiccups are inevitable in construction. You want to make sure that you like the builder’s communication style and that you trust the builder will value your opinions and concerns throughout construction. Bonus points if the builder tells you their team will establish a regular meeting schedule with you, your design team, and their subcontractors. This shows that they value organization, accountability, communication and efficiency.
7. In the event there are changes to the design or unforeseen conditions that result in extra cost, what does that process look like?
For high-end custom homes, it is extremely likely that you will encounter a change order due to the complexity of these projects. You want to know that when you want to make a change, they have a system in place for documenting changes, presenting costs and options to you, getting your approval, and efficiently implementing those changes.
8. How long do you anticipate the construction of this project will take? How do you mitigate challenges to stay on schedule during construction?
This answer will vary depending on the size and complexity of your home’s design. A custom home can take anywhere from 10 months to over 24 months. What you also want to know is how organized the builder’s systems and processes are, how experienced their team is, how diligent they are about updating your project’s schedule regularly, and how proactive they are at anticipating and solving problems before they arise.
9. Do you offer fixed-price or cost-plus contracts?
Hopefully, the home builder you are interviewing allows you the flexibility to choose the contract type that you feel most comfortable with. They should thoroughly and patiently explain both options to you as well as present the pros and cons of each so that you can feel good about whichever option you choose.
10. Can you give me examples of specific building methods or materials you prefer to use and why?
This question is your window into two things: how deep their knowledge and expertise runs when it comes to building high-end homes, and also what level of quality represents their minimum standard. Ask follow-up questions, not to become an expert yourself, but to feel comfortable with how patiently and thoroughly they communicate themselves as the expert.
11. Can you provide me with a sample contract, budget, and warranty?
The builder may not have these resources available at the time of your meeting, but they should be able to get them to you soon after. You may also want to ask about the builder’s warranty process after you move in. The right answer here is that you’ll be able to get warranty issues resolved quickly and thoroughly, with minimal headaches and intrusions for you!
12. Can you provide me with a few references, preferably at least one past client and one current client?
This shouldn’t be a problem for the builder. They may have to contact their homeowners to get permission first, but any other hesitation from the builder may be a red flag.
For printing ease, here are all of the questions in list form:
- How closely do you work with my architect and interior designer?
- Do you have experience building the style and quality of the home that I want?
- Can you tell me a bit about your estimating process? How do you make sure your budgets are accurate?
- How long does it take for you to produce an estimate for my home?
- Who will be assigned to my project, and how often will my project be under direct supervision?
- How will questions and concerns be addressed during construction?
- In the event there are changes to the design or unforeseen conditions that result in extra cost, what does that process look like?
- How long do you anticipate the construction of this project will take? How do you mitigate challenges to stay on schedule during construction?
- Do you offer fixed-price or cost-plus contracts?
- Can you give me examples of specific building methods or materials you prefer to use and why?
- Can you provide me with a sample contract, budget, and warranty?
- Can you provide me with a few references, preferably at least one past client and one current client?
Feel free to reach out to our team with any questions you might have as you interview your potential custom builders. Happy hunting!