Published on 30 Oct, 2017

A self-built home isn’t just a temporary residence. This is the place where you and your family will live for years to come. You may have heard the horror stories about problems with builders, budgets spiraling out of control and construction sites left half-finished. Don’t despair! You can easily avoid bad experiences simply by being careful in choosing a builder, staying on top of the project, and clearly communicating your expectations and issues to the contractor. We’ve got your back once again! Here are our top tips on how to hire the best builder for your project.

Ask about builders qualifications – Make sure you ask about the builder’s qualifications. Although very few homeowners ask to see formal documents, you should be straight to the point and always check for references, certificates, or even a diploma. Nothing is off limits here, although there’s probably no use of demanding to see all workers’ birth certificates.

Be specific. – A set of drawings is a good start, but what about the structural details? Do you want the builder to work this out? If so, make that clear or have the structural calculations done by an engineer before you ask the builder for a price. You need to make clear exactly what the builder is being asked to include in the price. If the work involves, for example, fitting a bathroom, who’s supplying the faucets and tiles? If the builder is to supply them, exactly which ones do you need? These questions and answers are crucial, so make sure you are very specific about all the details.

Check whether the builder uses sub-contractors – Most contractors will use sub-contractors at some point. It’s important that you know which workers will be at your home during the project. You should know who they are and whether the contractor will be there all the time to supervise the work. Make sure to ask for an “employee list” to make sure the contractor really has the employees he says he does and won’t be using casual labor hired off the street.

Does the builder have insurance, if something goes badly wrong? – It is important that your contractor be fully insured and capable of covering any accidents that might occur while working on your project. Remember, being licensed is not the same thing as being insured.

Establish whether you need a specialist or just a general builder. – For example, a good general builder is perfectly capable of building out a kitchen extension. You can hire a kitchen extensions company, and they would most probably do a good job as well. The most important thing is to find someone who will do the work at the highest standard and for the right price (not the lowest!).

Focus on quality first. – Your first priority when selecting a builder should be the quality of their work. Ask builder candidates what materials they use, so you can be sure that you are getting a quality-built home from the ground up. Visit a past project of theirs, if possible or at least ask for pictures of their past projects.

Get a list of their previous clients. – Are they comfortable providing you with a list of past clients? A credible builder should have no problem providing multiple references. And, you should be comfortable calling at least two of their past clients and ask detailed questions about the quality, speed, and overall experience with the builder in question.

How long have they been in the business? – Experience matters. A builder should have years of experience as well as a number of quality homes built to establish a nice reputation in the building industry. On Flattro, you can read honest feedback on the jobs they have undertaken for homeowners, as well as see pictures of their previous projects.

It doesn’t hurt to know on how many projects your builders are currently working. First, you probably want them to be a little busy – otherwise, you may begin to question why you are the only one hiring them. On the other hand, if they have too many jobs going on, this could impact the performance on your job site.

Job site access – It’s one thing to want regular site visits to check on progress and quite another to want to “help out” during demolition or drywalling. Check with your builder on what is permitted. In most cases, liability doesn’t permit homeowners to participate in the build process.

Keep a final payment until the work is complete – Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work and have all the receipts. It might even be a good idea to keep a certain amount as a guarantee (5% seems like a good figure) for at least 6 months. Have all this set in stone in the contract.

Let the builder manage the project – Views about what project management actually involves can vary, but in our opinion, the most important manager of a project is the main building contractor. It’s the builder’s responsibility to make sure that the right people in the right numbers are on-site at the right times and that they have the necessary materials to do their work. Let them do their job!

Make sure you are comfortable with them – You should ask yourself how comfortable you feel with the potential builder. You can gauge that from your first contact with them: Are they polite on the phone, do they arrive for meetings at the scheduled time, do they ask lots of questions about the project? Houses aren’t built in a day – being able to maintain good communication throughout the build is essential.

Never be afraid to ask questions – Building a home is a huge investment of both your money and time. A good builder is not only willing to answer even your most ridiculous questions, but will actually encourage you to ask them. Make sure to ask for references and check them out.

Open to visits – Watching your new home being built from the ground up is an exciting time and it is most certain you will want to visit the site periodically. Ask builders what their policy is on visits.

Payments – Don’t pay more than 10% of the job total before the job starts (this does not include any materials that need to be purchased in advance by the contractor). The contract should include a payment schedule and triggers for every payment.

Quotes – Always ask for a detailed quote. If the contractor is not able to supply a detailed offer, which is clear and allows you to easily grasp what the whole project entails, he is probably not qualified enough to carry out such a demanding project as yours.

Remember that transparency is critical – Some of the best builders to work with are fully transparent and happy to answer every question from the start. They will give you a timeline and a comprehensive estimate in a prompt manner. They will tell you their building philosophy and what products they use. Stay away from builders who have trouble answering these questions clearly.

Set up interviews – Once you have a list of names, meet with each individual personally or talk to them over the phone. Be sure to ask the same questions and take careful notes at every interview so that you have balanced information from each professional.

Timeline – When will your home be finished? This is a very important question and ensuring both you and your builder are on the same page will eliminate a lot of stress. If you are expecting your home to be done in 6 months to a year, then you need to communicate this to the builder and find out, if that is possible.

Understand the importance of a building contract. – Make sure your contract spells out exactly what will be done, including deadlines, progress payments, the exact materials that will be used down to the model number and who will provide which materials. Don’t assume anything. If you have a doubt, add a clause. Simple as that.

Visit neighborhoods or new developments you like on weekends, and ask homeowners who their builders are what their experiences have been. Find out, if they are happy with their new homes and whether or not they would enthusiastically recommend their builder. New homeowners are generally thrilled to share the excitement of building a new home with others.

Warranties – With any large investment, warranties are essential. Discuss with your prospective builder about what guarantees and warranties they offer on their construction. Any respectable builder should easily provide at least a 2 year wararnty on workmanship and materials.

Xtra requirements are off-limits – Make sure you don’t add project requirements on the go. Scope creep is the worst that can happen to any project, be it in construction or any other type of contracting. Everyone hates it and it is bad for your project. Simply don’t!

Your priorities need to be communicated – Don’t assume the contractor knows what you want or need. Make everything explicit, write it down, shout it out. Communication is where projects usually fail. Don’t make that mistake, as it can be quite costly.

Zoom out – Take a step back to make sure the entire project is going as expected. Don’t focus too much on the details, but make sure the general picture meets your expectations.

Those are the best tips you can get! Do you have anything to add? Sound off in the comments!

Cheops’ Law: Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.

Robert A. Heinlein


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