What to Ask a Custom Home Builder

By Dotty Brothers | July 14, 2023
What to Ask a Custom Home Builder

For most people (and most of our clients), building a custom dream home is the largest single investment they will make in their lives. Even if it’s not the largest, it’s still a big investment, and one that is usually the culmination of a long time of working and dreaming.

At Dotty Brothers Construction, we count on our design/build process to deliver on those custom home dreams for our clients. If you are in the market for a custom dream home, it’s important to interview potential builders. Below are some of the questions to ask to determine if a builder is the right fit for you.

The Basics

The questions to start with are basic, almost pre-qualifying questions. So much so that you might not even have to ask. The answers are probably on the builder’s website. Ask how long they’ve been in business, and how many homes they’ve built. If you have a specific home style in mind, find out if they have experience building in that style. If they don’t have at least a few photos of impressive homes highlighted on their website, it might be best to move on.

You’ll also want to be sure they are licensed and insured. Not all areas require licensing, but Minnesota does. An unlicensed or uninsured builder should be an immediate ‘thanks, but no thanks.’

General Questions

Do not be afraid to ask about price. It’s something people often dance around, but a good builder will be able to quote you a price. Obviously, this will be affected by design and style choices, but think of it this way: the more details a builder knows about your dream home, the more precise they should be in giving you a total cost.

Ask about the process, too. How does the builder work? They should be able to run you through the process from lot selection and siting the home to groundbreaking and building all the way through final touch-ups. Ask for a timeline, as well. How long will the project take? Again, in these early stages of interviewing potential builders, you can’t expect a precise answer, but the more details the builder has, the more closely they should be able to map out a timeline.

How does the builder handle change orders? At Dotty, because every house is a custom build, we try to keep the changes in the design stage. That helps minimize change orders, but they do still happen. Every builder has a change order process, and you should find out what it is before you’re thrown into it.

Another important area for questions is communication. How will you and the builder work together in the design phase? What about construction? Is there a process in place to keep you updated on your house’s progress? For example, at Dotty we use a homeowner portal. You can log in through our website and see pictures of your build in progress. We try to post 3-4 times per week. You can also access your contract information there, too. It’s a great resource for keeping you up-to-date on your project, especially for customers who don’t live in the area.

Don’t forget about the landscaping surrounding your custom build. Ask questions before, so you’re not surprised later. Some builders don’t include it in their process, or it’s subbed out to another contractor entirely. Our custom home plans take landscaping into account, but it’s the kind of thing that can get overlooked in the excitement about the home itself.

Ask about who’s doing the work. There’s nothing wrong with a builder subbing out aspects of the job, but who do they use for subcontractors? Have they worked with them for a long time? How many projects do they (both builder and subcontractors) have going on at any one time? You should get a clear feel for how hands-on and attentive the builder is going to be for your project.

What’s Important for You?

Think about what’s important for you in the design and construction of this house. For instance, if energy efficiency is something you insist on, ask about it. How do you plan to insulate the home? What about heating, air conditioning, and other indoor air quality characteristics?

Maybe you need to plan for limited mobility as you age. Have they ever built to ensure accessibility, such as wide doorways, zero-entry showers, single-floor living, and a host of other concerns?

Everyone has their own circumstances and needs, and your builder should meet them. These are custom homes, after all! But it’s worth finding out how the builder’s experience and skills overlap with the things that are most important to you.

What Happens After?

When the house is complete, what’s the final walk-through process? And how does that line up with the final payment? You don’t want to have made the final payment only to discover that your builder isn’t answering or returning your calls, and there are still some blemishes that need to be fixed up.

Another good question is about a home warranty. Does the builder offer one? What does it cover, and how long does it last? Lots of home warranties cover things like siding, doors and trim, drywall and paint for a year, but HVAC, plumbing, and electrical for two years. Some offer a longer warranty for structural issues or water infiltration. It can vary quite a bit from builder to builder, so finding out the details in advance is a good idea.

In the end, the design/build process on a custom dream home is a collaboration between you and the builder. You should have a good rapport and feel like the builder understands what you value and want from your home. It’s an expensive, long project, and you want a builder you can trust to help make your dream a reality.

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