NEW HOMES: The Shrewd Homebuying Guide
to Selecting the Best Builder
If you have already determined that a new home will be the best choice
for you, one of your first jobs will be selecting the right builder.
Whether you plan to purchase an existing home or have your home built
from scratch, you will need to evaluate the builder. Look at their
track record. How long has the builder been in business? How many
homes have they produced?
While you may be considering one of the large national builders,
don't assume that such a choice will make your search easier. Simply
because a builder has a national presence doesn't insure that their
homes are built with quality. Remember, even those builders who have
produced thousands of homes will still rely on local construction
superintendents and subcontractors to produce your new home, and the
levels of training and competency vary widely.
Also, you should not let a builder's seventy-five point inspection
process lull you into a false sense of security. Many such programs
are nothing more than marketing gimmicks, created to impress purchasers,
investors, and to garner marketing awards, and are of little or no
value to consumers. And don't assume that the largest builders necessarily
offer the greatest value. Their massive presence probably generates
a massive overhead.
It may sound as if I'm partial to smaller companies, but that's not
the case. In reality, the differences in size pretty much equal out.
The key is to select the builder that's right for you.
While I don't think it's necessary for a builder to have produced
thousands or even hundreds of homes before they're qualified, the
level of experience is important. A builder should be able to demonstrate
a successful track record as part of their portfolio.
Look at the homes prospective builders have constructed. If it's
a small company, you may have to tour several neighborhoods in order
to see examples of their work. Even if your choice is one of the larger
companies and you can see many homes in a single neighborhood, I still
advise touring other locations where the company has built. A visit
to a neighborhood where all the homes are completely finished will
give you an idea of how a builder's homes withstand the aging process.
Homes that are two or three years old will evidence a builder's use
of inferior materials and workmanship. (Look for peeling paint, warped
and split exterior trim, and landscaping that never developed.)
*WARNING: Be cautious of builders who can not show you several
examples of their finished product. It's not worth the risk.
Have your prospective builder give you a list of recent clients.
(Ask for at least a dozen.) Be wary of builders who won't do this.
However, there are other ways to determine the qualifications of your
builder. Drive neighborhoods where they have built and talk to existing
homeowners. Afternoons and weekends are the best time to do this,
insuring you'll have a sufficient number of homeowners to quiz.
While you may have reservations about approaching complete strangers,
you'll be surprised at the number of homeowners who are eager to cooperate.
Ask about the building process. Were completion dates met? Did the
builder comply with the terms of the contract? Were there significant
problems or disputes during construction and, if so, did the builder
make a sincere effort to resolve them fairly? Was the final walk-through
checklist completed as promised? Did the on-site superintendent demonstrate
proficiency and deal with subcontractors, suppliers, and homeowner
requests in a professional manner? Finally, ask how the builder has
handled warranty complaints. Are responses made in a timely fashion?
Is the builder sensitive to emergency situations and do their subcontractors
show up when scheduled?
Answers to such questions can be worth far more than the handouts
provided by the sales staff and may keep you from making a dreadful
mistake. In most cases homeowners love to talk about their builder,
especially when the news is bad. Be aware, however, that some people
will have negative comments about the best of builders, and you must
weigh them against the results of your other research.
Another way to get a feel for the competency of a builder is to talk
to some of their subcontractors. Visit neighborhoods with active construction
and talk to the crew members. Tell them you're a prospective buyer
and ask what they think of the quality of the homes they're working
Although some workers may be reluctant to be totally candid, you'll
get a feel for their attitude and their concern for quality, and you'll
get an introduction to the people who actually build the homes. Remember,
regardless of how good a builder may be, their homes will only be
as good as the subcontractors who do the work. And many of the subs,
sometimes to the chagrin of a builder, will tell you exactly what
*WARNING: Be careful when visiting work sites. Construction
is dangerous and you can hurt yourself or others. Be polite. Don't
interfere with the work in progress and don't press subcontractors
who are reluctant to talk.
If you are uncomfortable approaching workers on the jobsite, you
can still talk to some of them by writing down the names and phone
numbers of those workers who have their trucks so marked. And you
can sometimes get the names of the mechanical contractors (Heating
and Air Conditioning, Electrical, and Plumbing) from the local authority
that issues building permits.
Finally, check on the builder's financial stability. Does the builder
have sufficient funds to complete your home and will they be able
to provide warranty service after closing? Builders who are struggling
financially may not be able to pay some of their subcontractors and
suppliers. In some states unpaid vendors can place liens on your property
and force you to pay unpaid bills after closing, even though you paid
the builder in full. Such payments can range from a few hundred to
several thousand dollars and can literally cost you your home.
In order to avoid this problem, have the builder include a list of
subcontractors, suppliers, and lenders as a part of the reference
package. You can then verify the builder's financial condition.