Choosing A Builder

One of the things that causes the most stress when you start a building project is finding a good builder. Hiring a builder, dealing with them and their team in your home and ensuring that they do a good job is listed as one of the most stressful things we can do, in line with organizing a wedding or having a new baby. We don’t just want a builder that can build, we want one who’s going to be friendly and understanding; a builder that’s trustworthy, polite and adaptable, and we want him to be available when it is convenient for us and cost slightly less than our budget. Most of these goals are achievable (you’ll probably go over budget), if you go about looking for your builder in the right way.Choosing a good building contractor that you can truly trust and feel comfortable with may seem a little overwhelming, but it needn’t be, providing you follow a few simple guidelines.


Without doubt, your first call of action is to try and source a building contractor by word of mouth recommendation. This in itself is worth it’s weight in gold. Try to think of any friends or family who’ve recently had work done which is similar to the kind of work that you want. You can get some feedback from them and ask whether they were happy with their contractor and what they learned through their experience. Ask them what they would do if they could start over, or what they would ask their contractor before starting. Try to go and see the work they’ve done so you can also judge for yourself. This may or may not be possible depending on the type of contractor you need. A custom home builder may not have houses sitting that you can walk through, but a spec home builder may have numerous homes sitting for sale. The custom home builder may be able to arrange a tour of an existing home, but realize that you will be visiting someone’s personal residence. Ask your builder if this is an option, but only if you are very serious about using that particular builder, and you have narrowed your choice down to one or two. This may also be a good time to ask the existing homeowner about their experience with the builder. If you can’t get any direct recommendations from friends and family then you can try local home builder associations. Most associations will probably be hesitant to recommend one builder over another, but they should be able to point you to a list of local builders. You can actually find some very good home builders via this source but the chance you take is that you won’t know a great deal about the builder themselves. You can, however, safeguard yourself by asking to see previous work or insisting on references to be supplied so that they may be checked. Some tradesmen may be put off by this as they see it as ‘too much hassle’ just to get a job but at the end of the day, if they have a good track record, they should be more than welcome to supply past customer references. Also use your basic instincts about the builder you are considering. I for one have always found a lot of truth in the phrase ‘first impressions last’ as I believe it to be very apt in a majority of situations.

Third party recommendations

Your banker, mortgage broker, real estate agent, or local architect all know builders in your area, but they may be reluctant to give you the name of one for fear of losing another‟s business. However if you have narrowed your choice down to one or two, ask if they have heard anything about either of them. If you approach this right, and “listen” to their answers, they generally know who the good builders are. Ask them “of these two builders, which one would you feel comfortable building your own house?” By listening you should be able to hear what they aren’t saying. They may say, they are both good builders. I have heard that builder A is easy to work with…‟This could be a strong recommendation for builder A, and/or a strong warning against builder B.


Whilst the best way to find a builder is to go by recommendation, there are other good ways of ensuring that you’re not hiring a so-called cowboy builder to handle your project. Here are some things to remember about a genuine builder. Giving references – a good builder will be happy to give references about similar work he has done in the past. When you get the references, try and view the building work, so you can talk to the owners and look at the work.

The Quote

Detailed quotes – in order to ensure they can do the job properly, a good builder will want to give you a comprehensive written quote based on the information you give him. It makes sense to know exactly what you want before you contact any builders for quotes. That way, you can be sure they are all quoting on the same job, giving you a good basis for comparison. Be suspicious of any builder who won’t give you a detailed quote on paper.

The Money $$$

Payment – professional builders know that you will want to agree on payment before they start work. It makes it easier for both parties if you have a written contract or agreement that covers payment among other issues. If any problems arise with the amount you have been asked to pay, you will have a document to refer to. If your project changes, don’t forget to amend this document to reflect any additional costs or payments.

Their Memberships

Your builder may have a business card or information on his vehicles that states he is a member of one or more building organizations. Always check this out. You can do this easily by calling the organization and checking the builder, or by visiting the organization’s website. Untrustworthy builders have been known to claim membership of various professional bodies, so it is always worth checking. A good builder will be happy for you to do this.

The Hard Questions (ask them!)

In today’s housing market it is wise to ask your potential builder if he has ever declared bankruptcy, or worked under a different business name. Beware of builders who want you to pull or file the building permit. Ask them how their cash flow is, you don’t need specific details, but listen for clues in the way they answer your question. A red flag on any of these should be reason to move on to another candidate.

You tell your kids to do their homework, now follow your own advice!

Do your homework – ultimately your choice of a builder will impact everything about your new home. And it only makes sense that each candidate will be putting their best foot forward in the “sales” process. It is up to you to make sure that they both talk the talk, as well as walk the walk. To some builders, quality is only skin deep, to a quality builder, it is through and through.

  • Contact your local home builders’ association for the names of member builders and remodelers: You can also ask family, friends or coworkers for recommendations.
  • Make sure the builder or home remodeler has a permanent business location and a good reputation with local banks and suppliers.
  • Find out how long they have been in the building business. It usually takes three to five years to establish a financially sound business. You want to make sure they will be around after the construction is complete to service any warranties.
  • Check out the company’s rating and if there have been any complaints filed with your local Better Business Bureau:
  • Make sure the builder/remodeler has sufficient workers compensation and general liability insurance. If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises.
  • Ask the builder/remodeler to provide you with names of previous customers. If they won’t, beware. If they do, ask the customers if they would hire the builder/remodeler again.
  • Ask if you can see the builder/remodelers work, both completed and in progress. Check for quality of workmanship and materials.
  • Do you feel you can easily communicate with the builder/remodeler? Remember you will be in close contact with them throughout the construction process and afterward as you live in your new home.
  • Make sure the builder/remodeler provides you with a complete and clearly written contract. The contract will benefit both of you. If you are having a new home built, get and review a copy of the home warranty and homeowner manual as well.
  • Be cautious of unusually low-priced bids. If the builder/remodeler is unable to pay for the materials and labor as the project proceeds, this may indicate a potential problem. Keep in mind that less expensive does not necessarily mean better!