Building a new home can be stressful, no doubt about it. Building a new custom home? Maybe a little bit more.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Most potential buyers are often overwhelmed by the process of purchasing a new custom home, and with good reason. In most cases, it can be quite unclear on the surface and often very complex. Despite these small worries, the entire process is undeniably exciting: picking out every component of your home and designing it exactly how you want it sounds great right? It certainly does. To help you get there relatively pain-free, I have assembled a list of questions that we at Eric’s Homes hear the most often from prospective buyers. These questions inquire into some of the most existential topics relating to custom home building from a client perspective. Before embarking on this fascinating journey, make sure to interrogate potential home builders with these questions!
How long will it take for my new house to be built – from breaking ground to move-in day?
Why it’s good to ask: This question is vital to ask for two specific reasons. First, and more explicitly, it is essential for potential clients to be cognizant of the timeline of their project, so they can plan moving and relocation duties on their end with minimum stress. Providing a solid construction timeline is thus necessary on this dimension alone. However, that is not all. Another important reason to ask this question is to gauge the builder’s efficiency in managing construction project. Construction timelines vary A LOT from builder to builder. For the discerning consumer, it’s worthy to ask on that reason alone as their answer may reveal much more valuable information that the builder may be hesitant to disclose: how many projects they have operating at once, if there are any bottlenecks in their current building processes, or if they suffer from scheduling inefficiencies with their various trades and sub-contractors.
The answer to look for: As mentioned below, construction timelines vary widely. It’s important to keep that in mind when probing builders for that kind of information. With that being said, any timeline between 6 to 10 months is generally ideal and realistic, although this can change dramatically based on the size of the house and its location.
The red flag: An excessively short timeline (i.e. 4 months or anything below) can be the red flag for an overtly hasty builder. While the chances of him delivering a project under that deadline are low, it is always possible. At the same time, how likely is it that your dream acreage home will be built to your exact needs and preferences in at most four months? Not very much. Conversely, an extremely long timeline can be a major red flag as well. Such timelines can be categorized as anything longer than a full calendar year (i.e. 12 months) and may reveal signs of a bloated builder who operates slow and costly projects with limited capacity for change on the go.
When should I buy my lot?
Why it’s good to ask: Most builders operate with the assumption that their potential clients will already own a lot when reaching out, or at least be in the process of purchasing one. This is a very important question to ask as builders each have their own way to synchronize their clients purchasing a lot in relation to their construction timelines. Some builders prefer a lot is already purchased before any design or consultation work takes place, while others are more flexible and may be willing to offer many or all of their pre-building services regardless of the client owning the lot yet.
The answer to look for: Flexibility is king. It’s ideal when the builder is easy-going and non-demanding in regard to client lot ownership. Finding the ideal acreage lot is no joke. It can be a time-consuming process and having your builder right by your side the whole time is a significant asset.
The red flag: Rigidity is not great. When builders are apprehensive to offer pre-building services to clients who do not own a lot, it can create a noticeable strain in the vital client-builder relationship. Additionally, this strict behavior is not conductive to achieve optimal project efficiency: the time spent looking for a lot could also be used to prepare the project to hit the ground running immediately after the lot is purchased. In this case, the project lasts much longer as a result.
How do you handle change orders?
Why it’s good to ask: When building a custom acreage home, it’s inevitable that you will require a few change orders here and there. After all, these projects are driven by extreme customization possibilities for the clients. In a perfect world, these would be handled at the start of the project – and remain the same throughout the actual construction phase. However, that is rarely the case. To remedy this, the process of change orders exists to re-conciliate previous customization selection with new ones. How builders manage these change orders is extremely important to consider for potential clients.
The answer to look for: Again, flexibility is king. Most clients are not home design experts, and even with the best of professional advice they are likely to make a few decisions requiring adjustment. Builders who offer such adjustments in a quick and painless process are worth their weight in gold. Even if these change orders come with an additional fee, it’s usually a good bargain if the changes are addressed quickly and accurately.
The red flag: A red flag in this category is likely to arise if the builder seems reticent to discuss change orders. Such behaviour exists to discretely dissuade clients from asking for change orders, despite their need for them. It can also manifest itself in seemingly rigid construction policy in regard to change orders, such as limiting them to a small arbitrary number, charging unreasonable fees, or outright refusal.
Can I see and visit some of your past work?
Why it’s good to ask: Skip the past client “references” all together. As a potential client, it’s likely that your builder has a few case studies about certain home project that ended in smashing success. However, this may not tell the whole story about this builder’s track record. Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect a completely, 100% honest disclosure of the builder’s past work, but you should at the very least strive for more than mere past client “references”. That is where house visits come in. While some builders are likely to have a show home or two, these model residences tend to be outfitted in the most extravagant of ways and display the absolute best the builder can provide – again, probably very realistic for your aspirations. Therefore, you should ask your builder to visit some of his past work – in-person. You can then gauge the quality of construction of a typical project and the current state in which the house is, sometimes years after construction. As a bonus, this question will expose the builder’s ability to manage relationships with past clients and the quality of his post-building services: something valuable for you to consider as well.
The answer to look for: You should look for a strong, but surprised affirmation. Given the seemingly “intrusive” nature of the request, your builder may find himself in a tough spot to oblige, especially in the heat of the moment. If he is proud of his past work and has excellent trusting relationships with his past clients, he will agree – perhaps with a few caveats (after all, your visit will be held in an inhabited home).
The red flag: Hesitation, attempts to dissuade, or outright refusal are all red flags – to varying degrees. Besides the obvious fact that the builder may not be proud of his “non-show home” projects, his relationships with past clients may not be solid enough to request a visit for potential future clients. This reality should certainly raise some eyebrows in concerns to the quality of his post-building services and the overall experience of building a custom home with this builder.
Can you provide a step-by-step breakdown of the project?
Why it’s good to ask: Although similar to question #1 in many respects, this is essential to ask your potential home builder as well. It’s vital for potential clients to gain a good understanding of the home building process and the timeline by which it adheres, as this understanding will allow the client to keep the builder accountable every step of the way. Being acutely aware of what happened, what is currently happening, and what is coming up can be undeniably valuable for the discerning client. Furthermore, it will aid the client in planning their own moving timeline and the many other tasks that can arise from that process.
The answer to look for: Home builders provide proposals which often contain a “breakdown of the project” categorized by steps in the construction process. This is what you want to look for. Be discerning about the quality of descriptions and detail provided, for not all proposals are created equal.
The red flag: A complete lack of project breakdown in the proposal is obviously a major red flag. However, lesser infractions like a lack of detail, missing process descriptions, or absence of timelines or duration are concerning in utmost as well, for they leave potential clients mostly clueless about the home building process.
And there you have it folks! That’s the five questions you must ask any prospective custom acreage builder. Keep in mind that many other valuable questions absent from this article are paramount to ask as well– for example, questions addressing licensure, contracts, communications and a plethora of other things of the nature. As you move towards a decision about which builder to partner with for your dream home, these questions will help you gather the necessary insights to make the best decision for yourself and your family. Until then, see you next time.