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How to find a home builder: Your guide to the best fit for you

Are you thinking about building a new home? If the answer is yes, you want to make sure you get top-quality construction from a trustworthy, conscientious builder. But with so many builders out there, it’s hard to know which one to choose. Use our guide to learn how to find a home builder that is right for you, one that will listen to you and work with you every step of the way.

If you’re in the Des Moines, Iowa or the surrounding area, we would be happy to answer your questions! Contact us anytime.

How to find a home builder

1. What type of home do you want to live in?

Before you can choose a builder, you need to know what type of home you want to build!

Do you want to live in a new condo or a single-family home? Are you satisfied with a spec home* or do you want to custom design your new home?

Think about your day to day life. What do you like about your current residence? What would you like to change about it? These questions should help you decide what’s right for you and your family.

*Spec is short for speculation. This is a home built without a specific buyer, built with the speculation of what buyers would like at a particular price point. Though you cannot design these homes from the beginning, it’s sometimes possible to make some finishing decisions.

2. Make a list of builders to contact.

What builders are actively building in your area? Include those that build your desired home style and size in the city or neighborhood you seek.

Here are ideas on how to find home builders:

  • Google it
  • Ask family and friends for recommendations
  • Find areas of new construction in your desired area (many builders put signs in front of the homes they are building)
  • Ask your real estate agent

3. Contact builders that fit your housing needs.

It’s imperative to talk to a few builders before hiring one. Start with a few simple phone calls and have this list of questions handy to take some quick notes.

Ask builders the following questions:

  • How long have you been in the business of building homes?
  • Have you ever owned a construction company under a different business name? Beware of part-time builders and those that have had other business names, or failed businesses in the past.
  • Are you licensed and insured in my state?
  • Do you build custom homes or spec homes (or both)? If you want to put your own unique touches on your new home and make design decisions, you need to work with a custom home builder. If you’re building a custom home, find a builder with multiple floorplans to choose from, along with the ability to change and modify those floor plans (usually this means they work with an architect).
  • What is your typical timeline from start to finish?
  • What is the average price of the homes you build?
  • Where are you currently building homes?
  • Are you taking on new projects?
  • If I choose to hire you to build my home, who will I be directly working with?
  • Do you offer a written warranty on your homes?**
    • What is covered and what is not covered under your warranty?
    • How are warranty issues handled/resolved?
  • Will I have access to my home as it’s being constructed?
  • How are changes during the construction process handled?
  • Can I look at one of the homes you are currently building (or have completed)?

**Some state laws require home builders to offer a minimum warranty. While Iowa does not require builders to offer a warranty, reputable builders will offer a minimum 1-year warranty. In Iowa, there is some basic protection under Iowa Code Chapter 614 “Limitation of Actions” for 15 years of implied warranty of workmanlike construction for structural defects.

How responsive was the builder to your questions?

They should take their time to thoroughly answer your questions. If you feel like your questions have been answered to your satisfaction and think you’ll enjoy working with a particular builder, keep them on your list. Eliminate any builder not willing or able to answer your questions.

Keep in mind, you’re the customer and will be working with your builder for several months. You are making a large financial decision, and building a home can be stressful at times. You have to be comfortable asking questions and confident your builder will listen to your needs and concerns throughout the process.

4. Narrow down your list of home builders (pick 2 or 3). Do your homework to find the right one.

Drive and walk the neighborhoods where the builders are working on homes.

  • If the neighbors are out, stop and introduce yourself. Ask them if they were happy with the results and the interaction with the home builder. Talk to several different people and you will get an overall feel for how satisfied they were with their home building experience.
  • Notice the exterior of the homes. Are they appealing? Do they appear to be made of quality materials?

Meet with the builder in person.

  • Can they meet your needs for the type/style of home you want?
    • Look at their floor plans.
    • Look at photos of actual homes they have constructed. (They should have these!)
  • Ask the builder about costs:
    • How are costs and budget calculated?
    • Are customers provided with detailed cost breakdowns?
    • Do customers see the invoices?
    • How do customers approve changes in construction and/or cost before or during the building process?
    • Does the builder provide a regular update on progress and costs?
  • How does financing work?
    • Do you have to take out a construction loan? Or does the builder have the construction loan?
  • Do they require a deposit?
    • How much is it?
  • Do they provide a written contract? Always have a written contract from your builder, describing payment and the builder’s agreement to build your home.
  • Can they provide you with a written copy of their warranty?
  • How are problems handled during construction? (For example, what if the quality of a certain aspect of the job isn’t satisfactory?)
  • Can they provide you with a list of references from past customers?
  • What is their cancellation/refund policy if you change your mind?

Ask the builders to tour their completed homes

  • Try to look at a home built for a customer (and not just a model home).
  • Ask how much the home cost and how long it took to complete.
  • Note the quality of materials and finishing (flooring, hardware, cabinets, trim). More on that below.
  • What are standard features? What features are considered upgrades?
  • Can you picture yourself living in one of these homes?
  • Does the value seem to be worth the cost?
    • This is a tough question, as many factors must be weighed beyond just quality of construction, including location, the price of lots, quality of finish, size, service, and warranty, etc.
  • Was the home what you expected from this builder?

***Look out for high-pressure sales tactics. Builders should not be desperate for your business. A good builder will understand this is an important decision and allow you time and space to make the decision on your own.

5. Make your decision

If a builder was patient and answered all of your questions to your satisfaction, that’s great! After going through this guide and doing your homework, you probably have a clear picture of which builder will best fit your needs.

Most of all, trust your intuition! You should feel confident and comfortable with the decision that you’ve chosen the right home builder for you.

Quality of construction and finishing materials

Some areas to look at (and ask about) when evaluating the quality of construction and finishing materials:

Cabinets

Higher quality cabinets have features that can include:

  • Solid wood pieces, rather than particle board
  • Recessed vs. non-recessed hinges
  • Soft-close/Self-closing drawers
  • Dovetail joints
  • Under cabinet lighting

HVAC

  • Is the furnace/air conditioning unit high efficiency?
  • When running, is the unit quiet?
  • Is the A/C unit on a concrete pad or other type of support? Is it level?

Flooring

  • Are seams in carpet invisible?
  • Are the seams on hard flooring spaced evenly? (tile, laminate, hardwood, vinyl)
  • Does the flooring feel level?

Trim

  • Are joints tight at mitered corners?
  • What type of material is used?
    • MDF should never be used in basements due to moisture issues.

Paint

  • Can you see the brush strokes? (With the pros, it’s hard to spot brushstrokes)
  • Are there any obvious drips or runs?

Doors

  • Hollow core or solid wood?
    • Hollow core should never be used in a basement due to moisture issues.
  • Should always open, close and latch easily

Windows

  • Should open, always close and latch easily
  • No leaks
  • Ask if they’re Energy Star certified (if that’s important to you)

Stairs

  • All stairs should be of equal height and depth (pay attention to top and bottom)
  • All stairways should have solid railings

Exterior

Gutters

  • Are gutters and downspouts included?
  • Are they attached firmly to the house?
  • Does water discharge away from the house? (It should!!!)

Roof

  • Nails should not be overdriven
  • No visible tar
  • No loose or blown off shingles

Siding

Are joints on siding properly installed?

  • There must be space for expansion, but not too much (think the thickness of a dime)
  • The cut edges at joints should be painted (on most siding)

Concrete

  • Look for any signs of flaking, cracks, blisters
  • Water should run away from the house on concrete pads

Landscaping/Grading

  • Is landscaping included in the cost?
  • Is grading around the house appropriate? (The ground should slope away from the house so water runs away from the foundation and to a storm drain.)

Whether you’re selling or buying a home, the process can feel intimidating and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to. At Coluzzi Real Estate, we answer all your questions and simplify the process. We’re there for you every step of the way. Please don’t hesitate to contact us today!

Image credit: Pixabay

2018-07-25T16:18:24-05:00

About the Author:

Amanda has lived in the Des Moines area since 1999, where she and her husband have bought and sold a handful of homes over the years, including a recent flip. Amanda enjoys writing, obsesses about personal finance and is fond of looking at houses. She loves sharing useful tips and info to make life easier for anyone wanting to buy or sell a home. In her spare time, Amanda cherishes time with her family, volunteers with IHYC, gardens, hikes, and practices TaeKwonDo.