If you have not been able to find the perfect house on the market and you decide to build on a vacant lot, you’ll be faced with a very important decision – choosing a builder. Your builder is someone you are going to have an ongoing relationship with for about 12 months. There will be some bumps in the road as the process unfolds; and you must have an open and frequent line of communication and share a common goal and vision that goes beyond the blueprints for your new home. Start your search by asking your real estate agent for a few referrals. He or she will have local knowledge about area contractors, their reputation and the quality of their work. Once you have some direction, here are a few basic tips to help choose a builder and keep your project on track:
Get references - and don’t hire a builder until you have visited 2 or 3 other houses completed by the builder. Ideally, get the address of every house the builder has built in the last 2 or 3 years and contact several of the owners randomly. Don’t expect a perfect report card. Building a house is tough business and it is almost impossible to make a homeowner happy at every turn. Ask what each owner might have done differently if they could build the house all over again.
Pick a day and time to meet with your contractor each week and in person. Don’t ever miss this meeting - it will keep the project on track, keep costs and changes to a minimum and establish a great working relationship. Make sure that all “change orders” are reviewed and signed during the meeting. Above all, make sure that your builder agrees in writing to the weekly meeting in your contract.
Visit the builder’s other working job sites to make sure that they run a tight ship. Specifically, look to see if unused materials are organized and protected from the weather. Make sure that there is some evidence of a temporary workspace to review plans. Insure that garbage and construction waste is routinely removed from the job site. Also, investigate to make certain that work begins and ends each day on a regular schedule – same time, every day.
Make it clear to your builder that you expect progress every day of every week. Your money is being used to build a house that you cannot move into until it is completed. A day of inactivity at the site costs you money and you deserve progress in exchange for that money.
Don’t expect your builder to have a crystal ball. Do expect some minor deviations from what is planned. You will have fewer surprises cost-wise if you take the time to make sure that every possible item is included in the construction price. Before making a commitment to use any builder, make sure you have a comprehensive list of what is included in the price and what is not included in the price. If you add something extra in mid-stream, that will result in additional time and expense to the builder. Don’t expect changes for free.
Building a house can be a great experience. Chances are, if you take this advice, you will move into your new house on time, within budget and as a happy customer. The builder will be happier at the end also.
Noel B. McDevitt, Jr. is the Managing Broker of McDevitt Sotheby's International Realty, offering distinguish Pinehurst and Southern Pines, NC Homes and Properties