How do we find the best builder for our house?



We have been planning to build our new home, which has already been designed. We have already purchased our property and have been talking to people and getting the names of reputable builders with the intent to interview them and hopefully get started sometime this summer. We have been saving towards this goal, but we are nervous that we may have not saved enough. A friend of ours went through this process a few years back and the builder he used was nearly 60 days late in completing the job and 10-15 % over budget. How can we protect ourselves from falling victim to the same problem? Obviously we will not use the same builder our friend did.

Best regards,

Bill, Grand Junction


As always the solution is really quite simple, but easily overlooked. I too have fallen victim to the promise of a 8 month job that turned into 18 months and escalated to 20% over budget. When it happened to us it was one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences of my life.  The stress of when will the job end and how in the world will we pay for the overages, was constantly stressing us out. The best way not to fall victim is to get everything in writing prior to the start of your job.  Make sure the contract you sign spells everything out, in detail. If you do not have a detailed contract, bid and schedule then I would move on to the next builder. If you feel more comfortable have an attorney look the contract over to make sure all your bases are covered.

I am one of those who has an innate trust of people, call me naive if you wish, but it is one of my short comings to believe what someone tells me. I have learned, or should I say am still learning, to trust what is in writing and ask the hard questions up front. If you have already had your home designed and have building plans then you should be able to have a couple of builders put your job out for bid to their subs and get a number back that is fairly tight. In their bid number you should have allowances for lighting, flooring, fixtures etc. When you look over those numbers you will need to go out to the stores and see if the allowances are going to cover your tastes. In my experience where you see the numbers really start to escalate are in the finishes. If the builder only budgeted Granite tile for the counter tops and you wanted Slab Granite, you can easily do some serious budget damage with that one upgrade. Like lighting for instance, when we recently did a remodel our builder budgeted X for lighting, but when we looked it over we told him to double it. What he did not know was, we are lighting freaks! He could have never known that, but luckily we knew it about ourselves and thus averted blowing our lighting budget. Check the numbers up and down and make sure that you can live with the allowances the builder has set forth in the bid for your job on all your finishes.

If I were to do it again, which I may never do, I would make sure that the builder provided a detailed building schedule and I would build in incentives to make sure that the schedule is met. Let’s face it, one way to get what you want is to provide incentives and bonuses for goals that are met. I would easily pay my builder 3% more to come in on budget and on time than save the 3% and suffer through 2 months of inconvenience and coming in over budget. Set it up as a win/win for everyone involved.

Lastly, check references and ask the builder what happens when he comes in over budget? What percentage of jobs has he had that are on time and on budget? When your previous jobs have gone over schedule, what were the delays caused by?

Lastly, check references and ask the builder what happens when he comes in over budget? What percentage of jobs has he had that are on time and on budget? When your previous jobs have gone over schedule, what were the delays caused by? Do you have 5 references?  When you call the references, drill them with questions about the experience. Would they use the builder again? Would they refer them to their own family? If they could change 3 things, what would they have been? These are all questions that will lead you down the path of if they are the right builder. The more homework you do, the better you will generally do on the test! : )

Dave Kimbrough
The Kimbrough Team