How Do I Choose a Custom Builder?
Of all the choices you need to make when planning a custom build, your builder is easily one of the most important. They will be the ones interpreting your vision of your dream home and helping you to bring it to life. They will also be responsible for creating one of your largest assets and the place you and your family will call home.
But picking the perfect custom builder can be a real challenge, particularly if you have not worked with one before. You need to know where to look for one and what you should be looking for in one. You also need to know what questions you should be asking and the warning signs you should be looking out for.
Why is choosing the right custom home builder so important?
You might assume that most custom builders operate in much the same way. After all, they all provide largely the same service, and most should have fairly similar skills and abilities. However, in reality, custom builders are just as diverse as the homes they create.
Each builder will have their own way of doing things, from planning build activities to communicating with their clients. They will also have varying levels of experience and qualifications – though most should meet the same minimum standards. Some builders will also specialise in certain types of projects (like knockdown and rebuild) or certain design styles (like French Provincial homes).
As such, you want to make sure the builder you choose matches your custom build plans. This should mean they will have the expertise to carry out all building works to the highest possible standard. It should mean that if any issues arise, your builder will be able to advise the best ways to overcome them.
A custom build is also a long and involved process, and you will need to work with your builder throughout. Depending on the scale and complexity of your design, this could mean engaging with them regularly for 12 months or more. And if you choose a design and build builder, this process will be even longer and more involved.
As such, it is important that you get along with your builder and are happy to work with them long term. This will make your interactions much more comfortable and the whole process less stressful and more enjoyable. Having a good rapport with your builder will also make it easier to have the difficult conversations that a custom build usually involves.
Where should I be looking for a custom home builder?
The first step in choosing a custom home builder is coming up with your shortlist of potential companies. Depending on where you are located, there will be no shortage of builders who could do the job. So narrowing down the list to the best options for you and your build will take research and careful consideration.
As a starting point, you can ask people you know for any advice and recommendations they can share. For example, you could speak to family and friends who have recently built and ask them how they found the process. You could also ask your broader network to connect you with any quality custom home builders that they know.
The internet is also a great resource for information on, and insight into, potential building companies. For example, you can search for the leading companies working in your area that specialise in your preferred style. You can also look for customer reviews for any company you are considering and even check out their previous work.
Importantly, once you have a shortlist, make time to meet with any builder you are considering. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your plans with them and ask any questions you have about their experience. It will also allow you to get a good sense of who they are and what working with them would be like.
What should I be looking for in a builder?
When researching potential builders, there are a few main things you should be focusing on. This includes their:
Experience and qualifications: At an absolute minimum, any builder you are considering should be fully licensed and qualified to do the job. Preferably, they should also have significant experience delivering projects that are similar in scale and style to yours. This is particularly important if your plans include any unique features or unusual materials, as these will usually require specialist skills.
Previous work: A builder’s portfolio will tell you a lot about their preferred style of project and the quality of their finishes. It is also a good way to get a sense of any relevant experience they have. For example, if you are planning a large modern home design, you should look for similar properties in each builder’s portfolio.
Working style: Each builder will approach the different components of their job in their unique way. Some will be quite structured and sequential in their activities, while others will be more intuitive and deal with issues as they arise. To make your working relationship easier, it is best to choose a builder with a similar approach to you.
Customer service: Similar to their working style, each builder will have their own approach to managing communications with their clients. Some will provide a single point of contact and regular updates, whereas others will only update you at key milestones. To avoid unnecessary stress during the build, it is best to choose a builder whose client engagement approach matches your engagement expectations.
Project management approach: How activities are scheduled and the overall timeline is managed can also vary greatly from builder to builder. In addition to affecting your build experience, this can have a major impact on how long your build will take to complete. As such, if time is an important factor for you, a builder with a more structured scheduling approach may be best.
Scope of services: While most builders have the same core service offering, some companies will support a wider range of activities. For example, most design and build builders provide an end-to-end service, whereas other builders only manage certain elements. As such, it is important to check what is included in each builder’s contract and what is not.
Price structure: The last thing you want is to be caught out by unexpected expenses and not be able to finish your build. That is why we generally recommend opting for a build contract that has a significant fixed cost component. This gives you greater budget certainty and limits the risk of you experiencing a budget shortfall.
What are the biggest mistakes homeowners make when choosing a custom builder?
As part of your research and decision-making process, there are a few traps you should try to avoid. This includes:
Focusing purely on price: While you want to be sure you are getting a good deal, price is not the only factor to consider. You should also be wary of any company quoting a significantly lower cost for your custom build project. This usually means they lack experience, could cut corners, or that there will be a bunch of hidden fees.
Picking the wrong type of builder: If you are planning a custom build, it is important that you choose an experienced custom home builder. While the shorter timelines and lower advertised price of a volume builder may be attractive, this is a distinctly different service. Volume builders also tend to struggle with custom projects and will charge a premium for any deviations from their standard plans.
Trusting a single recommendation: Recommendations can be extremely helpful when trying to find a custom builder. However, no matter how much you trust the person making the recommendation, you still need to do your own research. This means looking for other reviews and meeting with the builder to make sure their approach will work for you.
Being afraid to ask questions: Like any other major investment, it is only natural that you will have questions about your build project. And any decent custom home builder should be willing to discuss any issues or concerns with you. As such, you should not shy away from asking any questions you have – no matter how simple they may seem.
Not taking the time to understand the contract: Build contracts are often quite complex and confusing documents, full of legal and technical jargon. While this can make them difficult to read, it is critical you understand exactly what your contract says before you sign it. It may even be worth engaging independent legal advice to make sure you do not miss anything.
Want to discuss this further?
If you are planning a custom build and need help choosing a builder, give Carmel Homes a call. As one of Melbourne’s leading custom home builders, we understand how complex and confusing this process can be. We are also committed to making the building process as easy as possible and are always happy to offer advice.
For more information on what we do or to discuss your build plans and arrange your free design consultation, contact us today.