Top 5 Questions: Builder References

Selecting a Builder

You just left an impressive presentation with a professional homebuilder, one among the few you're considering for your new home project.

In addition to a brochure about his business and highlights of his recent work and the communities in which he builds, he provided you with a list of recent homebuyers for you to call or email to ask about his quality, ethics, skill, and professionalism.

Now the ball's in your court to actually reach out to those references and gain some valuable inside knowledge about your builder before you consider negotiating and signing a contract for your project.

But what to ask? For many prospective homebuyers, we suggest a few questions to solicit the kind of information that will help them make an informed and confident decision. Of course, you may have your own agenda and priorities, which we encourage; if you need them, these questions just may help get the conversation going.

1. Was the company easy to work with? Ask how the builder managed communication with the buyers before and during construction, ideally through one point of contact (typically the site supervisor) with the authority to make or negotiate decisions as opposed to a bureaucratic quagmire that is frustrating and confusing.

2. Was the jobsite clean? The best builders leave the job site clean at the end of each day. They sweep and haul their trash away, store or take their tools, and stack their materials. Not only does the jobsite look good (as good as anything can under construction), but also is one that's safer should the owners want to check out the progress of the job on their own after work.

3. Did they finish on time? Finishing on time reveals the builder's commitment and organizational skills. If the answer is "no," dig a little deeper into why; it may be that the owner made changes that caused some delays, or that bad weather was an unavoidable factor.

4. Did they finish on budget? Like finishing on time (or within the owner's expectations), finishing on budget indicates a builder's organizational and business acumen, specifically his cost-estimating skills. If the answer is "no," ask why and look for clues about change or special orders by the owners that may have been outside the scope of the original budget, or if the builder neglected to calculate a cost and tried to make the owners pay for it at closing.

5. Did they disappear after move-in? Perhaps a new-home owner's biggest worry is what happens after they close escrow and move in. A builder who has been available to answer questions and respond to reasonable warranty issues is an important indicator of a builder's long-term commitment to the quality of his homes and the ultimate satisfaction of their owners.

This handful of questions probably does not satisfy all of your needs, but it's a start and often will inspire more questions that further reveal whether the builder you're considering is one you can trust and rely on to do the job right.

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Selecting a Builder