When interviewing a home builder, take advantage of this one-on-one opportunity to get information and feedback that you just can’t get anywhere else. To break the ice, deal with less sensitive topics. Asking him about his business practices is a good place to start. Hopefully, having established a rapport with the builder by first having him field questions about more objective and less personally challenging issues, you can move on to talk about financial, legal, and, indirectly, ethics issues.
When you get together with the builder, be observant. A builder once told me that you can learn a lot about a builder by looking inside his truck. What you get is a glimpse of how the builder operates. Is the interior neat and clean, or dirty and trash-strewn? If you meet at the builder’s office, notice how clean and organized it is. Draw your own conclusions. This isn’t a make-or-break criterion, just another bit of insight.
Here are the questions to ask when interviewing a home builder:
What kinds of homes is he most experienced in building?
What is the size, style, and price range of the homes he most typically builds?
Does he consider himself to be a specialty home builder? If so, what is the specialty?
How flexible is he in the kinds of homes he builds? Does he build homes only from his own sets of plans? Does he build customized versions of homes from his own sets of plans? Does he build only custom homes?
Will he build a home on your land or must you buy one of his lots?
How well does his experience match up with your needs?
How long has he been a general contractor building new homes? How long has his current business been around? If those two time frames don’t match up, find out why.
Has he built homes under a different business name? If so, what happened to that business?
How long has the builder been working in this local area?
A builder’s answers to these questions will give you a sense of the stability of his business and the strength of his ties to the local area.
How big is his company?
Does the builder own his own company or work for another company?
If he works for another company, what is his relationship to that company?
A local builder may have allegiance to the local area that a salaried employee of a national building company may not. On the other hand, a company affiliated with a national home construction corporation may have access to materials and manpower resources in times of tight supply that a local builder may not.
How many homes does he build each year?
How many homes does he have going at one time?
What is the geographic range in which he does business?
Where will your project stack up in his list of projects?
Information you learn here will give you a sense of how far the builder stretches himself and his subcontractors.
How long have each of his subcontractors been working for him?
Does he always use the same subcontractors? If not, why not?
How many sets or crews of subcontractors does he employ at one time?
Do all of the subcontractors work exclusively for this builder? Which ones do not?
How does the builder deal with work done incorrectly by a subcontractor?
What would cause the builder to remove a subcontractor from a job? Has this ever been necessary? If so, what happened?
If it turns out that you have a serious objection to using any one of his subcontractors prior to the start of the project, what flexibility does he have to use another subcontractor?
Which subcontractors does he use for the major tasks like excavation, concrete work, framing, plumbing, electrical, drywalling, finishing, painting, roofing, siding, etc.?
The answers to these questions help you understand the builder’s relationship to his subcontractors. A high turnover of subcontractors might be a concern. Blind loyalty to poorly performing subcontractors is also undesirable. If the builder will share them, get the names of subcontractors’ companies. Check them out just as you checked out the builder’s company through a background check.
Staying on Schedule
How firm is the completion date the builder provides?
How often does he encounter significant project delays? Can he provide a recent example or two?
When he has encountered delays, what is most often the cause?
When he knows a significant delay in the home completion date is inevitable, how does he work with his clients to manage the situation?
Construction delays are unpredictable and can be caused by many things over which builders have no control. Inclement weather, poor availability or materials, and unforeseeable subcontractor problems are good examples. How often does the builder experience significant delays that are preventable? A builder’s responses here allow you to gauge his humility and pragmatism. If a builder tells you he never experiences significant delays, be suspicious.
On the other hand, you don’t necessarily want to hear that a builder will do whatever is necessary to finish the home on schedule. When some aspects of construction are rushed, quality may suffer.
Does the builder have liability insurance that covers his construction work? What is covered?
Is he willing to show you his insurance certificate?
What other insurance, if any, does he carry that will cover your project? Ask him to explain in general terms what the coverages are.
You may want to consider taking out Builder’s Risk insurance on your own.