Boy, is my mind tired! I spent last week designing my imaginary home with my dream architects and now I need to build it. Making it only imaginary (and also not having to interview architects, have consultations, review building regulations, create renderings and consult with engineers, etc., etc.) means I managed to compress at least six months — and probably three times that — into seven days. I’ve got momentum, so I’m ready to keep rolling, and the next step is to find a builder to turn those dreams into reality. (Well, pretend dreams into pretend reality.)
When you’re looking for a builder, there are quite a few things to keep in mind. Mistakes can be costly, of course, but so can indecision, lack of guidance, and poor communication. Before the first board gets cut, make sure your contractor measures up.
- Get an intro. Just like with architects, the first place to start looking for a builder is through friends who’ve recently built homes. Don’t just ask if the experience was good or bad, but dig in to find out about how courteous, responsive, flexible, and punctual the contractor is. Next, stalk those recommendations on the web, Facebook, Instagram, and review sites before you reach out.
- Think about your (other) needs. If you are a hands-on person, find a contractor that will schedule weekly walk-throughs, and responds to concerns quickly. If you’re more the type who wants someone to take complete control, then you need to make that known as well. But if you’re a blend of the two — someone who cares deeply about details but has trouble meeting deadlines — you need a contractor who is comfortable keeping both the build and YOU on schedule. The last thing you want to discover is that your finish date is delayed because you forgot to specify the finish on your door hinges.
- Consider a matchmaker. If you’ve got a complicated architectural design or lots of unconventional detail work, have your architect make a few builder recommendations. Remember that a contractor is not really following plans, but interpreting them. An architect will be happy to tell you which firms have been most true to previous designs’ artistic visions.
- Give yourself space. Whether it’s a small renovation or a ground-up project, friction and frustration can erode the relationship you have with your builder. If you’re the touchy type, consider hiring a builder liaison to serve as a buffer. They’ll make your wishes known, make little decisions on the spot, and generally save you time and frustration. If you get a great one, you’ll be able to have your status meetings over a bottle of wine and a laptop, rather than on a concrete slab in the rain.
- Find someone who understands you. Look for a builder who is familiar with the style of home you’re building. Someone who builds grand Victorians can handle wainscoting, but are they committed to the perfect ceiling seams of your crown-molding-free modern? While these may seem like cosmetic differences, often there are substantial differences in construction methods. Plus, someone who knows your style will have an easier time sourcing materials and skilled craftsmen.
- Shop around. Sure, he seems nice. Stable, responsible, able to express his needs. But is he really the one for you? Play the field a bit, and find two or three builders you could work with, then ask for their estimates in writing.
- Get it in all in writing. If the previous six tips sounded like dating advice, here’s one difference: You get to write down the terms and conditions of this relationship. Get a contract that details all the work to be done, the finish date, security and safety, working hours, change order fees, and words to cover every nightmare scenario you can think of.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before choosing your builder? Tell us in comments!
Mary Spalding is a Nashville based interior designer with over 30 years of experience. She has overseen countless home revitalizations, renovations, and restorations. She can be reached with your projects and ideas at email@example.com.