To make the process of choosing a builder for your renovation a little easier, below is a list of questions you may want to ask when meeting with your top 2-3 candidates:
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 renovating homes similar to the style and quality of my home?
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 past renovations with a similar style and scope.
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, created after an in-home consultation and a clear scope has been defined) 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 & 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 weeks. If the builder thinks it will take longer than that, be sure to ask why. You may have a particularly complex home renovation design which would understandably take longer than three 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 renovations, so your project should be under direct supervision either every day or every other day.)
6. How will questions and concerns be addressed during the renovation?
Looking for a “good fit” here. Hiccups are inevitable in any renovation. 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. How do you qualify the capability of the subcontractors that will work on my home?
Try to gauge how familiar the builder is with their current sub base. Have they built lasting relationships with Houston’s high-quality subs? Do they thoroughly vet any new subs before putting them on one of their projects?
8. In the event there are changes to the design or unforeseen conditions that result in extra cost, what does that process look like?
For custom renovations, it is extremely likely that you will encounter a change order due to the complexity and unknowns 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.
9. How long do you anticipate the renovation 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 renovation scope and design. 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.
10. Can you give me examples of specific building 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 renovating 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. How do you service warranty issues after we move-in?
Right answer: quickly and thoroughly with minimal headaches and intrusions for you!
12. Can you provide me with a sample contract, budget, schedule 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.
13. Can you provide me with a few references, preferably 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.
Try not to skip this step… no matter how tempted you might be. It’s a given that the references will be clients who had a positive experience with the builder, but these conversations can be helpful in getting a feel for what the builder’s specific strengths and weaknesses are.
Questions to ask references:
- Did you enjoy working with this builder?
- What would you say are their strengths?
- Was your renovation finished on time? If not, what were the reasons for delays?
- Did the builder communicate the schedule clearly?
- Did the builder ask for decisions in a timely manner?
- Did you feel your original budget estimate was thorough?
- Did the renovation finish on budget? What were the reasons for overages?
- Were your projects finances clear and transparent?
- How did the builder react in stressful situations?
- What role did the builder take once the project began?
- Who specifically worked on your project? Who would you request if you were building again?
- Was the project clean and organized?
- Were their certain subcontractors on your project that you would strongly recommend or avoid?
- How has the builder responded to warranty issues since you moved in?
- If you were building or renovating another home, would you choose this builder again?
If you have any additional questions about this step in your custom homebuilding journey, please feel free to reach out to our team. Happy hunting!