Choosing a Reputable Builder
The Manitowoc County Home Builders Association (MCHBA) understands that for most people, their home is the biggest investment they will ever make. A home is also a place where people need to feel comfortable and safe. For these and other reasons, we urge all homeowners to gather as much information as possible about a contractor before signing a contract or allowing any work to begin on a new home or remodeling project.
There are a few things to consider when searching for the right builder to construct the home of your dreams. You should shop for your builders as carefully as you shop for your home. For most people, a home is their most valuable asset. Building a home designed to your family’s specific tastes and needs is a special endeavor that calls for an expert. Seeking a professional builder to work closely with and trust to make your dream home a reality requires time and a little legwork, but the effort spent in choosing a builder will help ensure your home project is a success.
Your home is one of the central building blocks of your life and family center. When you choose to build a home, you’re asking a contractor to take your personal tastes and needs and turn them into a functional, livable home for you and your family. You need to make sure you make the right choice in a builder.
Whether you are buying a condo, a townhouse, a house in a sub-division, or a custom-built house, you want to know that you are buying a high quality home from a reputable builder.
Start Your Search -- Have thought about the type of house you want? The Manitowoc County Home Builders Association has a list of builders who construct homes in the area. Local real estate agents may also be able to help you in your search. Make a list of builders who build the type of home you’re looking for in your price range.
The real estate section of your local newspaper is a good place to start. Looking through the ads and reading the articles can help you find out which builders are active in your area, the types of homes they are building, and the prices you can expect to pay.
Ask friends, family, and co-workers for recommendations. Ask about builders they have dealt with directly, or ask them for names of acquaintances who have recently had a good experience with a builder. Choose builders who are familiar with your area, have experience constructing the type of home you’re looking for, have a permanent address in your community, and have a strong reputation in your area.
Take a Look Around -- Once you have a list of builders, find out about their reputations and the quality of their work. The best way to learn about builders is to visit home they have built and talk with the owners.
Ask the builders on your list, for 10-12 references from people they’ve worked with on projects similar to your own, addresses of their recently built houses, subdivisions, townhouses, or condos. Builders may even be able to provide names of some new homeowners who would be willing to talk to you. Drive by on a Sunday morning when homeowners may be outside doing chores or errands. Just introduce yourself and say you are considering buying a home from the builder that built their home.
Visit several owners, and try to get a random collection of opinions. The more people you talk with, the more accurate impression of a builder you are likely to get. At the very least, drive by and see if the homes are visually appealing. Look at homes that are like the style you plan to buy-for-example, if you are interested in a two-story home, look at two-story homes rather than split levels.
When you talk to builders and homeowners, take along a notebook to record the information you find and your personal impressions about specific builders and homes. Doing so will help you make comparisons later.
What to ask the references -
- Are you happy with your home?
- Did the builder do what was promised in a timely manner?
- How is the builders’ quality of work?
- How was the builders’ response time if follow up calls were needed?
- Would you buy another home or work with this builder again in the future?
Usually, people will tell you if they are pleased with their homes. And if they are not, they’ll probable want to tell you why.
Shop for Quality and Value -- Always keep value in mind when shopping. Just because a home is less expensive than another does not mean that it’s a better value. Look at new homes whenever you can. Parade of Homes and open houses sponsored by builders are good opportunities to look at homes.
When examining a home, look at the quality of the construction features. Inspect the quality of the cabinetry, carpeting, trimwork and paint. Ask the builder a lot of questions. Never hesitate to ask a question. What seems like an insignificant question might yield an important answer.
Another important aspect of value is design quality. When you look at a home, determine whether it will suit your lifestyle. Is there enough living space? Are there enough bedrooms and bathrooms? What about storage space? Will you have room to accommodate special interests or hobbies?
Meet the Builder -- Personal meeting with potential builders are just as important as checking out their craftsmanship. After all, once you select a builder, your relationship will continue through the warranty period, so choose someone with whom you will be comfortable with for the long term.
Sit down with your prospective builders to talk about the home building process, what you expect, and the project from the builder’s perspective. Choose a builder you feel comfortable communicating with and whose personality and building process blend with your attitude and expectations.
Review your contract carefully. Look for the notice of lien rights in your contract and talk to your builder and lender about how and when lien waivers will be obtained during the course of construction. A lien waiver is proof that materials and labor have been paid for.
Questions to ask the builder –
- How long has the company been in business?
- Does the builder have a permanent location and a good reputation with local banks and suppliers?
- Will the builder provide you with a complete and clearly written contract?
- Whom do you contact for customer-service after the sale? Should requests be in writing?
- What responsibilities does the builder assume for the work of subcontractors?
- Who will be responsible for correcting problems with major appliances?
- Does the builder use state-of-the-art energy features? Equipment, insulation, design and landscaping can all affect a home’s energy efficiency.
- Ask the builder if you can visit any of his completed or in-progress homes
- Is the builder a member of the Manitowoc County Home Builders Association?
- Because builders associations bring together experts from all facets of the building industry, members are exposed to the latest trends, educational opportunities, and technologies in the industry. Associations also often require builders to meet a certain set of criteria before accepting them as members. Contact the Manitowoc County Home Builders Association at 920-682-6222 for a complimentary Membership Directory or see the online membership directory.
- Is the builder properly insured and/or certified? Does the builder have proof of worker’s compensation? If not, you may be liable for any construction related accidents on your premises.
- Check the builder’s name with the State of Wisconsin Department of Commerce, Division of Safety and Buildings to see if proper certification is on file. While the State of Wisconsin does not require that builders be licensed, any builder taking out a building permit must be certified with the state. (The exception is if a homeowner is acting as the contractor, in which case certification is not required.) Call the Division of Safety at 608-266-3151.
Criteria to consider during a personal meeting –
- How well does the builder listen?
- Are the builder’s suggestions and comments helpful and relevant?
- Are your questions answered clearly and completely?
Does the builder have a record of complaints on file with the state’s department of consumer protection?
- If yours is a remodeling project rather than a completely new home, you can call the State of Wisconsin Department of Consumer Protection at 608-224-4960, or visit them at 2811 Agriculture Drive in Madison, to check on remodeling complaints filed within the last four years that were justified by Consumer Protection. Be cautious in your selection of a company with a substantial history of complaints.
Ask Questions about Service -- One important criterion for selecting a builder is the warranty provided on the home. Most builders offer some form of written warranty. Many builders back their own warranties on workmanship and materials, typically for one year. Other builders offer warranties backed by an insurance company. Ask to see a copy of the builders’ warranty. Although reading legal documents is tedious, read the warranty to understand what protection you would have. Don’t wait to read it until after you move in and a problem arises. If you have questions about the coverage, ask the builder. In addition, be cautious of unusually low-priced bids or builders who refuse to supply you with a list of references.
Also, find out from each builder what kind of service you can expect after the sale. Typically, a builder makes two service calls during the first year after you move in to repair non-emergency problems covered by your warranty. The first call is usually 10-120 days after the move-in and the second is around the eleventh month – right before any one-year warranties on workmanship and materials expire. For emergencies, the builder should be able to send someone to your home right away.
Price Quotes & Contracts -- Remember, you may never do this again, so make sure you are doing it right this time. All agreements should be in writing. If you have any questions or don't understand something, ask before you sign. Get more than one quote and question the differences (three is a common amount). Don't let price be the only factor you consider. Comparable quotes are great, but do your homework on the contractor.
Don't try to rush a contractor into getting your estimate together. Allow the necessary time to get through the process. It will help avoid unpleasant surprises later. Don't have unreasonable schedules in mind. Allow for reasonable amounts of time for quality workmanship. Don't be disappointed if a project is not done on schedule. Contractors cannot control the weather and most jobs have changes and additions which change the time factors for completion.
Congratulations! Buying a home is on of the biggest and most important purchases you will make in your lifetime. By doing your homework, you will be able to shop for a home with a sense of confidence and the knowledge that will help you make the right decision. The energy and time you put into choosing a builder will be well spent. A responsible builder with a strong reputation and positive references will help ensure you’re getting the best home possible.