New Construction Meeting with a Home Builder

Planning your dream home is an exciting process.  You can pick out the perfect floor plan, select all your paint colors, and design the kitchen of your dreams.  But finding the right builder for the job can be stressful.  And are you really asking ALL the questions you should be?

Bring your buyers agent

The first step you need to take to ensure you select the right builder is to ask your buyers agent to be present during any conversations you have with a builder or their representatives.  Your buyers agent likely has experience working with builders on new home construction, and they can guide you in discussions with the home builder, and make sure any and all questions you have are answered.

Do some research

As a buyer, there is some independent research we recommend you conduct.  Begin by typing the builder’s name or company into a search engine, along with the word “complaints” or “lawsuits” to see if anything comes up.  If the builder has done shoddy work in the past, it is likely this search will result in some hits.  You will also want to ask  the builder if he is insured, and find out what he would be willing to do, other than give verbal assurances, to demonstrate that his business is financially sound and you won’t be on the hook if his business goes under before your home is complete.  Lastly, check with the state to verify he has an active general contractor’s license at http://www.nclbgc.org.

Ask for references

We advise you to ask the builder to provide you with references from previous clients – not real estate agents – and make sure you call them.  I once asked a builder for references, and his response was “I don’t provide references because they don’t mean anything.  I wouldn’t give the name of anyone who would say bad things, so what’s the point?”  To which I responded, “Because I’d like to know there IS someone who will say positive things about you.”   When speaking with previous clients, you should ask them questions such as, “What did you like best about the builder?” “What did you like least?” “Do you feel you received your money’s worth?” “If you were to build again, would you use this builder? Why or why not?” 

Determine the quality of the builder’s homes

It is important to assess how well the builder puts together a home.  Does he simply meet minimum code requirements, or does he exceed them?  What materials does he use that exceed code, particularly those that affect the building’s energy efficiency or ability to withstand strong winds?  Ask the builder if you can go inside of a home he has built similar to one you are considering, so that you can see the quality of his work. 

Ask for a detailed quote

If you ask the builder for a quote, ask that it be detailed.  Don’t settle for “I can build this house for X dollars”.  Demand that you be provided with a list of materials that specify models, sizes, etc.  Find out which materials you will be able to choose, and which materials the builder chooses.  You may also want to find out if the builder will include blinds or shades for the windows, and toilet paper and towel holders in the bathrooms.  Ask him how many paint colors he will allow, and what his allowance is for light fixtures.

Warranty and financing questions

You will want to ask for details on the builder’s home warranty.  Does he only offer a 1 year warranty or a longer one?  If he offers a longer one, find out what is covered and for how long.  Make sure you discuss timelines and financing.  How long will it take for your home to be built?  Will the builder build it with his money or will you need a construction loan?  If you have to use a construction loan, how will deposits and payments be structured?  If the builder uses his own contract, request a copy and review it with your buyers agent and your attorney.  Keep in mind there are no standard contracts for new construction when 1. The builder is not the seller. 2.The land is purchased separately and then the house is contracted. 3. The buyer owns the lot.  4. The buyer is financing the construction (as opposed to the complete land/home package when construction is complete).  In these cases, an attorney must draw up a contract if the builder does not have one.

Project management

Ask the builder for a guide or form that he gives buyers to guide them through the construction process.  You will also want to know who will be managing the project.  Is the builder on site every day or does he have a supervisor or project manager overseeing most of the day to day operations?  It would be helpful to know who that person is and what their experience is.  You may want to ask for his or her name and contact information, so you may periodically check in with them.  Ask what the builder’s policy is regarding visits to the site.  Some contracts prohibit the buyer from visiting unless accompanied by a member of the builder’s team.

Unexpected changes

Changes are almost inevitable.  How does the builder respond to buyers’ requests for changes after the contract has been signed?  Can you change your mind about some detail after construction has begun?  Is there an extra charge for making such changes?  What if the builder needs to make changes?  For example, if you select a particular floor tile that is then discontinued by the manufacturer before the builder orders it, will the builder contact you for a new tile selection, or will the builder select something similar on his own, without consulting you?

Details often not thought of

Some of the smaller details are often forgotten.  Most builders won’t ask you what type of toilet you want.  Would you want the standard 14 ½” toilet, or the more comfortable 17” version?  Many builders automatically use almond or white bathtubs and toilets, and sheet mirrors in the bathrooms – Is that okay with you? Regular light switches are often standard too.  Would you want any dimmers installed?  Make sure to ask your builder about lights on the front, back and sides of the house.  Where will they be and how many?  Will you need any additional hose bibs than what comes standard?  Does the home come with gutters?  If it doesn’t, would you like to add them?  Will there be a porch or deck on the home?  Ask the builder about the type of lumber he uses for the porch or deck, and if he uses nails or screws to hold it together, and what type.  Here, in southeast North Carolina, rust-proof screws tend to be the best option.  Would you want a water softener installed?  It is easier to plumb and wire for that during construction, rather than to add it later.  Will there be an unfinished FROG that you may want to finish in the future?  You may want to ask your builder if he can stub out the plumbing, electric and HVAC, so it will be easier to finish later.

All of the options, choices, and questions involved with building a new home can leave you feeling overwhelmed.  Working with an exclusive buyers agent can help to ease your mind during the planning and construction process.  If you or someone you know is considering building a new home, we’d love to demonstrate for you how an exclusive buyers agent can be your advocate during the building process.  You may reach us at [email protected] or 910-202-4813.

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