We have never met a client looking for an average home builder.
Choosing the best home builder for your needs and for the kind of home you are after, is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make in your home building process.
While some custom builders construct a broad scope of homes, many of them are experts in a particular type of house construction, price range, or style.
Case in point, not many builders build starter homes for first-time buyers and also million dollar homes for wealthy custom home buyers.
If you’re in the market for a new home, you should shop for your builder as carefully as you shop for your home.
A builder whose complete portfolio comprise of contemporary houses may not be the first choice for a traditional home you are after, and another way around.
While many custom builders have knowledge in a variety of designs and styles, in most cases, look for a builder whose work includes at least some examples of the style of home you want.
The building materials, trade contractors and even the construction process itself can differ significantly by type and price of the home. Look for a fitting trait here.
A suitable custom home builder does not need to be a huge outfit with 20 trucks on the road and a million dollars marketing budget. The right builder needs to have the interest, financial resources, the time, communication skills, organization skills, and experience to build your new home.
Do your homework!
First order of business would be to look for builders in the area you are planning to build in. Do an internet search and check with your local building department. Drive through your neighbourhood, stop by houses you like and ask who built them.
What do I look for in a builder?
Before we begin, we have to state our first assumption: You are looking to build a new home and would want to do it without too much of a headache. You are also looking for high quality, reasonable cost, and sensible timeframe.
Price is not a good way to distinguish Builder#1 from Builder#2.
An old saying says that between cost, speed and quality you can get any two but not the third!
This article is our attempt to give you a few easy to understand tools that you can use to find the builder that will give you a great experience while building your home.
So, how can you, as the one that pays for it all, with minimal understanding of the dark world of “construction”, be sure not to get taken.
But before we go any further you have to understand the building is a relatively complex job.
It takes 20 to 30 weeks (most of the time longer), 49 different experts, architects, engineers, inspectors and skilled trades and thousands of components to build a typical house.
It requires planning ahead, and careful management throughout the process. Everything must be done within a context of municipal and provincial regulations, permits, inspections and approvals.
A home builder needs to deal with it all and do it well.
Besides the questions of “How much does it cost?,” and “When can we move in?” here are some other questions you should ask a list of potential builders to find out about a builder’s skills, experience and professionalism.
- How long has the company been in business?
- How many homes do they build annually?
- What are their background and experience?
- What kind of training do key people in the company have?
- Does the company have the required licences and registrations?
- Does the company have the required WSIB and a liability insurance?
- Are they a member of “Tarion” a new home warranty program?
- Does the company have an established after-sales service policy, and how does it work?
- Will the company provide a list of previous clients for a reference check?
- Do they have an established network of sub-trades who work with them on all or most of their homes?
- Is the company familiar with new trends in housing, such as energy-efficient and healthy housing?
Visit at least one previously built home for each builder you interview.
Think about the particular characteristics you equate with quality; make a list and check it against homes you visit. Look carefully at each home you visit. Consider the design and layout. Is the home environmentally friendly and energy-efficient?
Does the home make efficient use of space? Would it work for your lifestyle, could you see yourself living there or what changes would you want to make?
Check the products used in the homes. Are they brand-name products that you are familiar with, and do they come with a manufacturer’s warranty?
Note which features are upgrades and extras to get a better sense of the basic model. It should be indicated in the model home; if not, ask the builder or salesperson to explain.
Visit a work site.
Ask builders you are considering buying from if you can get a tour of a home in progress. Visiting a home under construction offers an excellent opportunity to see the quality inside the walls, floors and ceiling before everything gets covered up.
While it may be difficult for a layperson to evaluate construction techniques, there are many obvious things to look for—straight lumber, smooth cuts, neat seams, well-installed insulation, well-sealed air barriers, and so on.
Whether the home is being built on a single site or in large development, you can tell a lot about the builder by looking around the job site. Does it seem well organized, with tools and materials stored neatly and no garbage lying around?
Are workers wearing safety gear such as hard hats, boots and safety harnesses? Do they appear to be working efficiently? Are they courteous? Do they seem to have a good rapport with the builder?
Every company has its way of doing business.
It has often been said that the single most important key to a successful new home purchase is a good working relationship with the builder.
Even if you like builder’s homes, you still need to be sure that you will be comfortable buying from this company.
At some point during your house search, you need to start talking business. This can happen as you visit sales offices or model homes, or you can call builders or their salespeople, depending on the size of the company, to arrange a meeting.
Think of these meetings as an interview—you are questioning them to find out if you want to buy from them.
Bear in mind that they are interviewing you at the same time to determine whether you can buy from them, and what kind of customer you will be.
Talk about your new home, your vision, your needs, your desires and the price range you are considering. Let the builder know which of the company’s models and floor plans appeal to you. Or, ask them to show you different models and plans that reflect your vision and fit your budget.
The key to getting information is to ask questions. Don’t worry that you are demanding too much or that some of your questions may seem obvious to others—ask about all the things that are important to you, both about the house and about the buying process.
It is a good idea to write down your questions in advance; it helps you stay focused and ensure that you get the information you need to make a decision.
Here are some suggestions:
- If the company offers standard plans, how much change is allowed?
- Will the builder modify the floor plans to your needs?
- Can you change some of the finishes?
- Add more features?
- Does the builder have experience with the type of home you are contemplating?
- Can they design a home for you, or recommend a designer or an architect?
- Could you see a builder’s Agreement of Purchase and Sale or the contract?
- What are the standard features included in the basic price of the home?
- Does the builder offer upgrades and options, and what do they cost?
- Beyond the basic price of the home and any upgrades or extras that you choose, what other building or closing costs will the builder charge you for if any?
- Are the HST as well as the HST New Housing Rebate included in the price quoted to you?
- Does the builder offer a mortgage?
- How does it compare to the financing provided by your lender?
- What size deposit is required, will it be placed in trust and is it insured?
- Does the builder require construction draws, i.e. payment at various stages during construction?
- When will the builder be able to start construction on your home?
- What would be the completion date?
- Will there be a pre-construction meeting to review everything before starting construction, to make sure every last detail is clearly understood?
- Will you be able to visit your home during construction?
- Are there any restrictions, such as a number of visits or who can accompany you? What’s the procedure for arranging visits?
- Will you get regular updates during construction, and will the company appoint a contact person that you can easily reach if needed?
- What is the builder’s policy on change orders?
- Will you be able to make changes after construction begins?
- If the builder has to make alterations to the plans or specifications for any reason during construction, will you be advised and how?
- Will your home be covered by a third party new home warranty?
- What happens if construction falls behind schedule?
- Does the company have a clear process in place for dealing with delays, including informing you within a reasonable timeframe?
- Will the builder conduct a pre-delivery inspection of the home with you before you take possession, to verify that things are done as agreed and to identify any outstanding items to be completed?
- Can you bring others to this inspection, such as a family member or a professional home inspector?
- Does the company have any written information, e.g. a brochure or manual that explains the buying and construction process step by step?
Throughout the discussions, note the following:
- How well does the builder listen?
- Are your questions answered clearly and fully?
- Does the builder seem knowledgeable and able to offer suggestions or alternatives to meet your needs and preferences?
- Are you treated with respect?
It can take several visits and a number of conversations before you have covered everything to your satisfaction and feel that you are ready to make a decision. Don’t rush. Take your time and make sure that you have a good sense of each builder that you may be considering—how their process works, how they would treat you, and what it would be like to buy from them.
Ask builders to explain their after- sales service policy—what can you expect from the company once you have moved into your new home? If there are items outstanding, when will they be completed? How should you deal with warranty issues that may emerge later? Who can you call if you have any questions? What if you have an emergency and need immediate help?
Knowing upfront that your builder has a well-defined after-sales service process helps to take the anxiety out of your purchase decision. While varying from one company to another, the process will typically include a number of contacts and visits to your home as required.
There may be other aspects of the builder’s after-sales service. Some companies approach homebuyers a month or so after move-in to see how they are doing in their new home and to ask questions about the home buying experience.
This is a chance for you to discuss any thoughts you may have, negative or positive, about the company and your home, and for the company to find out how it’s doing and where it may need to make improvements.
Other builders may stay in touch with their customers through newsletters or bulletins, providing updates on the community, general homeowner advice and other information of interest.
Before handing the home over, most builders will give you “orientation” tour to show you how everything works—how to operate and maintain the mechanical systems, for instance. This is usually done at the same time as the pre-delivery inspection.
Many builders will provide you with a homeowner’s manual describing the various elements of your home and setting out the requirements for regular maintenance and service.
This not only helps you to keep your home in great condition, but it also contributes ensuring that you don’t void the warranty on your home. Failure to follow the builder’s or manufacturer’s instructions may mean that they are not responsible for any repair work needed.
Builders should be able to give you a list of references—past customers who have bought from them within the last couple of years. Do check the references—too often homebuyers neglect this step. Don’t worry about disturbing people; they have agreed to let the builder give out their names and will not mind you contacting them.
Before you call, make a list of questions you would like to ask, such as:
- In general, what was the builder like to buy from? Was it a good experience?
- What particularly did they appreciate about the company? What did they not like about it?
- Did they run into any problems, and if so, were the problems solved to their satisfaction?
- Was the home completed on time and budget? If not, what were the circumstances?
- Were there missing or defective items at the time of possession, or items that had to be fixed?
- Were all of their colour selections, upgrades and extras done as requested?
- How was the company’s after-sales service?
- Are they happy with their home? If not, why?
- Would they buy from the company again?
- Would they recommend the company?
Your choice of builder will have a significant impact on your entire buying experience.
It is also key to your satisfaction with your home. As you get ready to make the final decision, carefully look over all the information you have collected and compare builders to determine who offers the greatest overall value for your investment.
There are a number of areas to consider:
The first point of comparison is often price—how the price of one builder stacks up against those of others. Price is important, of course, but you are well advised to consider carefully what’s included in the price, and what’s not.
Compare standards and upgrades. The standard features offered by one builder may be an upgrade and cost extra with another company. Some builders include a broad range of features in the basic price of the home; others include far fewer features or use products of a lower quality to keep the price down.
Look closely at the bottom line. Beyond upgrades and options for your home, what other additional items will builders charge you for, if any?
From utility hookups to tree planting, a builder’s extra charges can add significantly to the cost of your home. When it comes to taxes, make sure you are comparing “apples to apples”. Some builders include the GST/HST in the price quoted, as well as the GST/HST New Housing Rebate.
Others don’t, and you may need to calculate the tax as well as the rebate, when applicable, in order to compare prices effectively. To find out more about the GST/HST new housing rebate, call your local Canada Revenue Agency office or check www.cra-arc.gc.ca
Remember that old adage – getting what you pay for holds true for home buying as well.
Quality construction, attention to details, the use of brand-name materials and products, and right before and after-sales service, come at a cost—it may not be wise to select a home based on its price alone.
Compare the quality of the labour and materials from one builder to another. Is the construction quality satisfactory? How does the finishing compare? Does a builder use standard products and finishes of a good quality, or do you have to upgrade many items to reach the level of quality you’d like? Are you comfortable with the brands used by a builder, are they warranted and for how long?
Also, consider the quality of the “living environment” that each builder offers. Are their designs attractive, and will the layouts work well for your household? Are they paying careful attention to light, heating, cooling and ventilation —in other words, creating a healthy, comfortable place for you to live?
Compare the builders’ warranties. Do they all offer a third-party warranty on their homes? If not, you could find yourself without protection if something goes wrong before, during or after the construction of your home. At the same time, not all new home warranties are the same; in provinces with several warranty providers, you may need to compare different warranty programs offered by various builders.
Part of the confidence of buying a home from a reputable builder comes from knowing that you can rely on the company to continue to provide service after you have moved into your new home. This could mean dealing with warranty items, responding to your concerns or just staying in touch with you to make sure you are enjoying your new home.
Compare: does a builder have a clear after-sales service process that’s written down, with milestone check-ups? A separate service department? An independent telephone number with a 24-hour emergency line? A clear policy on returning phone calls from homeowners?
Last but not least, you need to select a company you feel comfortable with. The “personal fit” between you and your builder, or the builder’s representative, should be an important part of your decision.
You may respect a builder’s credentials and appreciate the quality of their homes. You may learn that a builder is highly valued and recommended by past customers. This doesn’t automatically mean that this is the right builder for you.
A satisfying home buying experience depends on open communication, a good working relationship and mutual trust. Consider what it would be like to build your home with each company and compare.
Does the company’s approach to the buying and building process work well for you? Will you be able to work well with the people in the company throughout it all? Does the company offer the kinds of information, assistance and reassurance that you want? Are there any restrictions that you would have difficulty with? Do you feel confident that they will deliver the home you want?
Making the final decision
Carefully compare the builders you are considering—who they are, what they offer and what they would be like to buy from. Then choose the company that provides the best overall value and quality, and gives you the greatest sense of confidence.
Once you have selected the builder, you are ready for the next step—working out the details of your new home and putting it in writing. Before you sign a contract, ask your lawyer to review it.
No matter how carefully you have selected the builder, you still have to take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your investment. Then you can enjoy the home buying experience and look forward to the day you move into your new home.
It would be false for us not to remind you that we think that we do deliver a good building experience for our clients, but how can you know?
Interested in interviewing us?
At ICFhome.ca, we can answer your all of your questions with the greatest confidence.
We manage each construction project with our knowledgeable, highly qualified team of building professionals who act as stewards of your money and your new home.