Choosing a builder for your dream home is not a decision that should be made lightly. And spoiler alert, You may change your mind – that is okay! Or maybe we’re just biased because that’s what we had to do.
Before we get into our 10 considerations when choosing your custom home builder, we thought it would be helpful to share a summary of our experience so far.
Prepping For Our First Meetings:
We started the process of meeting with builders shortly after our offer was accepted on our lot. Like the Monday after it was accepted. Efficiency means a LOT to us. We compiled a list of local builders that we were interested in and did a little bit of research into them. However, it was ultimately our realtor’s recommendations that we valued and let lead us to our next steps. After we narrowed it down to 2 builders she arranged initial meetings for us.
We were both kind of nervous for these meetings. Yes excited, but we were wanting to have our thoughts and ideas organized, agreed upon and presented in a way that was easy to explain.
We prepped HARD for those first meetings. Do you really have to? Likely not – a builder is going to guide you and help you through the process. BUT Kristin’s a planner and really enjoyed this part. We both also don’t like surprises and wanted to stay one step ahead so that we’re ready and able to keep this process moving.
Quick Tips for a productive meeting:
- Know your budget and what you prequalify for in regards to a home construction loan
- Have your basic floor plan ideas agreed upon if you’re building with a partner (e.g., must have rooms/bathrooms)
- Find a way to present the ideas in your head
- Google slides
- Google Docs
- Printed images
- Know or start thinking of your style: craftsman, farmhouse, modern, colonial (etc).
- Think of what you’d be willing to do yourself/what you want completed for you
Getting Started With A Custom Home Builder:
We met with one builder on a Monday night (March 1) and then a second builder on a Wednesday (March 3). We ended up going with the second builder after he had shared with us about his next steps of drafting. We paid 2K for the drafting of a home that was to be approximately 4K square feet.
So we let the first builder we met with know that we appreciated his time and that we were going to be working with an architect to get our plans drafted first. Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect. It wasn’t that we thought one builder was “better” than the other but one was quicker to get us to next steps and this ultimately resulted in us going with him initially. dun dun dun dun… Okay I’m kidding but all this to say don’t just go with someone that gives you next steps vibes like we did (more on this in the considerations below).
We received our first draft of our home floor plan on March 25th (almost three weeks from signing the drafting agreement). This builder mentioned a date that we’d hear back from him by and then he didn’t meet this date. We heard nothing from him until we reached out and expressed concern that a deadline he set wasn’t met. (Let’s get realistic – 3 weeks is NOT a bad timeline to get back a first draft – BUT if you’re told something different then you definitely should receive an update if a deadline isn’t met). Like with any relationship, sometimes you just have to ask for exactly what you need. So we did that in efforts to prevent any difficulties with communication and to be clear on our expectations. We expressed that we understood when deadlines may need to be extended but that we would appreciate being told when a change is going to have to happen so we’re all on the same page.
Our second meeting with this builder was on March 30th to review the first draft of the plans. We prepped for this meeting by printing off the first draft and using a pen to mark up what needed to be edited and we brought a copy for the architect. This meeting lasted 30 minutes. Focus was exclusively on design but we did mention our budget yet again at this meeting. It seemed like this process was flowing well and there was never any push back which should have been a red flag to us (we didn’t know what we didn’t know). We worked with the architect on edits for the exterior elevations, lighting (etc) and sent our “final revisions” on April 17. When we got the “final copy” of our plans we saw the total square footage of the draft for the first time… over 7K square feet. We brought up our concerns right away after reviewing this email. Our next step at this point was pricing and we both agreed that we weren’t sure that it would be appropriate to price out these plans as we thought we should probably set up a meeting to cut the floor plan significantly. The builder led us to continue to price out the plans as they were. We ended up waiting 3 weeks for bids to come back and we were quoted for a house that was 2x our budget. With emphasis on the fact that we’d be the 3rd largest house in the community (not what we were going for, AT ALL). Josh and I used to have blow up furniture and folding chairs and try to live simply. We are looking for our forever home but are not wanting to exceed our budget and stretch beyond our means. Needless to say we lost trust in this builder, we felt like we wasted time and energy. We know that waiting to start can lead to increase in cost of materials and we while we try to stay realistic with timelines we were starting to lose patience. We were told that our home would cost 2x our budget (on May 14) and after a week of no response to our email, we decided to back out of building with them.
Making the Switch To Our Current Builder:
Sending the email to let the builder we drafted with know that we were no longer going to be able to work with him was hard. I swear I looked at that email over and over before Josh just came over and was like SEND IT. Once we sent it though we realized how much stress we really were carrying from the first builder and how relieved we felt to be moving forward. Discerning when to pivot is SO important in this process and you won’t regret over communicating and standing up for yourselves. While these builders are incredible with their craft, you’re also paying for their services. You need to be able to trust the builder, have honest conversations and if you value the budget have someone who will continue to adhere to it throughout the process.
We are much happier so far, now that we have met with our now current builder as of May 25. His process is that he will not even draft plans until the square footage, specs and budget are agreed upon. Then once these are figured out he will have the floor plans drafted to those specifications. If anything exceeds the agreed upon budget then we will be told specifically what the amount is so that we’re never blindsided with a high figure and we stick to the budget as closely as possible.
- Know your Options – make a list of local builders to start your research.
- View their Portfolio/Past Projects + Reviews – can be found on websites, facebook pages, instagram or in person meetings. So important to hear from past clients in a way that isn’t curated. Reviews on websites aren’t always the best ones to find. Look at facebook, houzz, and google reviews.
- Credentials – make sure your builder is licensed and insured and his/her licensure is up to date.
- Ask about their Processes and Timelines! So important to know how the builder plans to proceed with drafting, budget and the build. While some of this information comes in time, the more you know upfront the better you are able to make informed decisions on which builder would be best for you.
- Personality – Do you enjoy conversations with them. Are they informative, do they appear genuine, are you learning about the build in the process. A build lasts several months to a year, having a good working relationship with your builder is important.
- Communication – what is the builder’s response rate. When you email to inquire about a project how long do they take to reply? Are they direct and honest. We prefer someone who isn’t afraid to say things that we may not want to hear.
- Office Hours/Meeting Times – how flexible is the builder? Will the appointment times available work with your schedule.
- Openness about Cost/Budget – are you getting any push back about your ideas? With our first builder they drafted our “vision” not what we could actually afford. You need someone who is not afraid to tell you how much things cost and who readily lets you know if you need to scale back or what may be a better option for you.
- Consider the drafting process like an interview for the build – if you aren’t happy with the drafting process, chances are that you won’t be happy for the build. A build takes many months. If you need to switch the best time to do so is before you have a construction loan started and an agreement in place with a builder.
- Trust Yourself – if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to communicate and pivot.
We hope that hearing about our experience and learning about these considerations can help save you time and get you closer to your dream home.