Size Matters: Choose Your Contractor Wisely

Selecting a Builder

The low-bid, budget company may cost more in the long run. Here's why.

Does your builder have the size and -- more importantly -- the management systems needed to handle a custom home project? If not, the final cost in dollars and frustration may be more than you bargained for.

There are innumerable 'horror stories' on the Internet about the downsides of hiring the lone contractor. In the extreme, you may read about solo builders who lack the needed licenses and insurance to protect the owner from accidents or fraud. They may lack written warranties or human resources to keep their promises and complete a job as promised. The failure rates of homebuilding companies are second only to restaurants, and there is no guarantee they will be around when problems surface.

On most jobs, this type of fly-by-night operator isn't our real competitor. Customers looking to build complex custom homes are savvy enough to avoid the blatantly unethical builder. A more subtle, yet often equally difficult set of issues is presented by a builder that lacks the internal management systems to focus the manpower and attention required to successfully complete a complex project. Understanding the difference between them and us will help you decide who's right for your project.

Understaffed companies typically talk up the personal attention they supposedly provide. This kind of company often has a field staff of one: the owner. If the builder is present on a job all day, every day, who is running the business? Along with managing a project, the builder must market, sell, bid future work, schedule subcontractors, meet with new prospects, pay bills, and on and on. Can anyone spread this thin provide the attention to detail a custom home requires?

By contrast, the adequately staffed, well-organized professional builder delegates work to a team of specialists. Custom homes have innumerable details that require the coordination of dozens of employees, suppliers, and subcontractors, all of whom need to start and finish at just the right time. The professional builder has the manpower to smoothly manage all these moving parts, including onsite project managers, office contacts, purchasing agents, designers, and others.

This staffing, along with comprehensive communication and project management systems, means that when multiple jobs are underway, no one has responsibility for more than he or she can handle. No one is overwhelmed.

It stands to reason that when adequate human resources are available, customers get better service, jobs stay on schedule, and the inevitable issues that come up during a lengthy project get addressed more efficiently.

Established, larger custom homebuilders also have more leverage with suppliers and subcontractors. We provide more work for our subcontractors than the small operator, so our jobs get priority. Fair or not, the small company and its clients take a back seat to our phone calls, our requests, and our clients.

A well-run company helps ensure that the final price is the one to which the homeowner agreed. Staffing, systems, and relationships mean efficiency. This enables the professional builder to get homes built faster than the competition -- often months faster if it's a large home. Many homeowners are paying construction loan interest and real estate taxes during the build, along with current living costs, so this saves real money.

The bottom line is that the best company for a custom home will have the experience and organization to handle that particular type of project. Hiring a professional company with the resources needed to do a great job, on time, and with minimal stress can save big and be a better value in the long run.

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Selecting a Builder