How to Choose a Builder
The quality of a new home will in large measure be determined by the skill of the builder who constructs it. That’s why you should shop for a builder as carefully as you shop for the features of a home. Whether you are buying a condo, a townhouse, a house in a subdivision, or a custom built house, you want to know that you are buying a good quality home from a reputable builder.
Once you have thought about the type of house you want, how do you find a skilled builder? First make a list of builders who build the type of home you’re looking for in your price range. A housing guide is a good place to start. Looking through the ads and reading the articles can help you find out which builders are active in your area, the neighborhoods in which they build, the types of homes they are building and the prices you can expect to pay.
In addition, your local homebuilders association has a list of builders who construct homes in your area. Local real estate agents may also be able to help you in your search. Ask friends and relatives for recommendations. Ask about builders they have dealt with directly, or ask for names of acquaintances who have recently had a good experience with a builder.
THE BUILDER’S REPUTATION
Once you have a list of builders, how can you find out about their reputations and the quality of their work? The best way to learn about builders is to visit homes they have built and talk with the owners. When shopping for a new home from particular builders, you should try to talk to people who have purchased homes from the builder. Ask builders on your list for the addresses of their recently built houses, subdivisions, or condos/townhomes. Builders may even be able to provide names of some new home owners who would be willing to talk with you.
Don’t be shy about approaching people. Even knock on some doors if you have to. The worst that usually happens is that someone will refuse to talk to you. However, in most cases, a builder’s previous customers will be quite open with you. If they are unhappy with their homes, they will let you know. And if they are happy, they will want to give the builder more business. Try to talk to at least three of four home owners per neighborhood and do not rely on the view of only one person.
Try not to rush through the process of choosing a builder. Set a reasonable timetable for your search, and do not make your decision until you feel comfortable about what you are doing. When you talk to builders and home owners, take along a notebook to record the information you find and your personal impressions about specific builders and homes. Doing so will help you to make comparisons later. Some questions you can ask people include: Are you happy with your home? Did the builder do what was promised in a timely manner? Would you buy another home from this builder? You might also want to check with the Better Business Bureau.
SHOP FOR QUALITY AND VALUE
Look at new homes whenever you can. Home shows and open houses sponsored by builders are good opportunities to look at homes. Model homes and homes displayed in these shows are often furnished to give you ideas for using the space. You may also ask a builder to see unfurnished homes.
When examining a home, look at the quality of the construction features. Inspect the quality of the cabinetry, carpeting, trim work, and paint. Ask the builder or the builder’s representative a lot of questions. Get as many specifics as possible. If you receive the answers verbally rather than in writing, take notes. Never hesitate to ask a question. What seems like an insignificant question might yield an important answer.
Always keep value in mind when shopping. Just because a home is less expensive than another does not mean it is a better value. Likewise, a more expensive home does not automatically assure higher quality.
A home is primarily a place to live, but it is also an important investment. Consider the appreciation potential of any home and the possible future influences that location, housing supply and demand, and other market factors will have on the value of your new home.
Another important aspect of value is design quality. When you look at a home, determine whether it will suit your lifestyle. Is there enough living space? Are there enough bedrooms and bathrooms? What about storage space? Will you have room to accommodate special interests or hobbies – for example, a large kitchen for casual entertaining, or a room for a home office or exercise room? Think about the amount of upkeep required both indoors and out. Consider also the location of the property. Is it convenient to transportation, shopping, schools or other places of interest to you?
ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT SERVICE
When you buy a new home, you are not just buying a structure. Along with the structure comes a package of services, and the quality of those services will have an important effect on your enjoyment of the house. One important criterion for selecting a builder is the warranty provided on the home. Most builders offer some form of written warranty. Many builders back their own warranties on workmanship and materials, typically for one year. Other builders offer warranties backed by insurance companies. Ask to see a copy of the builder’s warranty. Don’t wait to read it until after you move in and a problem arises. If you have any questions about the coverage, ask the builder.
Also, find out from each builder what kind of service you can expect after the sale. Typically, a builder makes two service calls during the first year after you move in to repair non-emergency problems covered by your warranty. The first call is usually 30 to 120 days after the move-in, and the second is around the eleventh month – right before any one-year warranties on workmanship and materials expire. For emergencies, the builder should be able to send someone to your home right away.
Since virtually every home is going to need at least minor adjustments and repairs during the first year, you should look for a builder who will provide quality service after the sale. The best way to find out what kind of service a builder offers is to ask previous customers. Find out what the builder has recently built in the area near where you are thinking of buying. Then visit one or two of the previous projects and ask the residents about their experiences with their home and the builder. The best time to visit is usually a Saturday morning when people are out doing yard work or chores.
SOME OTHER QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT ASK
- How long has the company been in business?
- Whom do you contact for customer service after the sale? Should requests be in writing?
- What responsibility does the builder assume for the work of subcontractors?
- Who will be responsible for correcting problems with major appliances?
- Does the builder belong to the local builders association (affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders)?
- Does the builder use state-of-the-art energy features? Equipment, insulation, design, and landscaping can all affect a home’s energy efficiency.
A new home is one of the biggest and most important purchases you will make in your lifetime. By doing your homework, you will be able to shop for a home with a sense of confidence and the knowledge that will help you to make the right decision.
HOW DO YOU SELECT A NEIGHBORHOOD?
Location is one of the most important considerations when shopping for a new home. Weigh the pros and cons of living in the city, the suburbs or the country. Compare neighborhoods as carefully as you compare houses.
Consider practical aspects such as time and distance to work, schools and shopping, and the availability of public transportation. Make personal observations, but also consult with your builder, local government, friends, and if possible, people in the neighborhood.
As you explore each home, use the following checklist to determine whether the neighborhood suits your needs:
- Shopping. Are adequate shopping facilities nearby?
- Police and fire protection. Are police and fire protection adequate?
- Medical facilities. Is there a hospital or medical center nearby?
- Schools and day-care. Are schools in a convenient location? Are convenient day-care facilities available?
- Traffic. Are the streets quiet enough? Does the speed limit on the streets suit you? If you have children, will they be safe from traffic hazards?
- Parking. Are parking and garage facilities adequate?
- Transportation. Is public transportation frequent and convenient?
- Trash and garbage collection. Are trash and garbage collection adequate?
- Recreation. Are there suitable parks and recreational facilities nearby?
- Places of worship. Are places of worship available and convenient?
- Privacy. Do the lot and house offer adequate privacy?
- Water. Does the community have a reliable source of drinking water with adequate capacity to meet present and future needs?
- Sanitation facilities. Is the sewer system or septic tank adequate and reliable? Does it meet present and anticipated future needs?
- Landscaping. Is the land well-drained? Has proper landscaping been done to prevent erosion? Is the landscaping attractive and likely to enhance the value of the home?
- Taxes. Are the property tax rates reasonable? Is either the tax rate or the value of the house likely to change enough to cause a substantial increase in your tax payment?
- Assessments. Are there special assessments covering a portion of the lot, street or community development costs that will force you to pay added monthly charges for a specified number of years?
- Nuisances. Are there nearby sources of noise, smoke, soot, dust, odors or other hazards that will affect the housing environment? Are any development plans under consideration that could substantially change the nature of the community?
- Flooding. Is flooding from nearby waterways a potential problem?
Source: National Home Builders Association