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The 7 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Custom Home Builder

When seeking the right builder for your custom home, it's important to find a contractor who understands your personal style, communicates well, enjoys a good reputation and has lots of experience. Once you've found the right contractor, it's important to be open and honest with your builder from the very beginning. Below are some of the common problems that can arise in these early stages of the process when hiring a custom home builder. You can avoid these mistakes by being aware of the potential pitfalls and taking action to avoid them.

Don’t Ask for Quotes by Square Footage

Many building companies create misleading advertisements as a way to attract new clients. Marketing materials may make claims like “Build a brand-new custom home for less than $100 per square foot!” Transparency is absolutely paramount when choosing a builder. Builders relying on these types of ads are only looking to secure a contract and then reveal the significant difference between their advertised and actual pricing.

Every custom home is completely original with unique features and floor plans. For instance, a 2500 square foot home with 3.5 baths will have a higher price tag than a 2500 square foot home with 2.5 baths. A single-story ranch will not have the same cost structure as a two-story colonial. Inclusions such as larger kitchens, expanded garages, and finished basements create variables in final costs.

In other words, a reputable contractor cannot realistically make promises about how much you will spend per square foot for your custom home. A builder who makes these claims is starting your professional relationship with a misleading statement, and that's not the way to begin the home building process.


Don’t Choose a Builder with Limited References

Experience is important. Builder references offer a glimpse into past projects while also giving you a chance to inquire about customer service, quality craftsmanship, business practices and problem solving skills. Beware of custom home builders who will can only provide a two or three names of previous clients.

If they're using the same two or three names over and over again, they aren’t providing you the means to research their company thoroughly. This could be an indication they're not proud of their previous work, or it could be a lack of consideration for the process you're going through. Look for a custom builder who is able to provide many pages of client references, if you require. Recent references and older references can be very helpful. While recent references speak to the builder's current business practices, older references can tell you whether the home that was built is withstanding the test of time.

Don’t Be Shy About Questioning References

When contacting references, choose open-ended questions that provide an in-depth look into the customer's experience. Yes and no answers to questions are less than helpful. Ask questions about topics such as punctuality, cleanliness, communication styles, and post-construction support. Some common questions to ask include:

  • When was the home built?
  • Did the project begin and end as projected? If not, why not?
  • What challenges did you encounter during the building process? How did the builder handle these challenges?
  • What went really well during this project, or what were the builder's greatest strengths?
  • What were their weaknesses?
  • Would you use this builder to create your custom home again? If not, why not?
  • Would you refer this builder to friends and family?
  • Did the contractor stick to your budget? If the project went over-budget, why?
  • Did the contractor display good communication skills?

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Compatibility

Find a builder with a team you can envision working with on a long-term basis. Projects from planning stages to post-construction support can take place over a year. During that time it's very important to feel comfortable with your builder. When you communicate with your builder, it's important to feel that your builder shares your vision for your project.

You should not get the sense that your builder is prioritizing their own aesthetic preferences or building desires over your own. If your contractor feels like an idea is not going to work out, they should be able to explain why that is the case. In an ideal world, you should be able to start your project with a strong feeling that your builder is trustworthy, open, transparent and prioritizes your needs.

Don’t Choose a Builder with Poor Communication Skills

Nothing is more frustrating than not hearing back from your custom home builder. If you’re waiting for a long period between responses, then your builder isn’t likely a good fit.

Builders should be available through their cell phone numbers and should not require you to leave messages through a receptionist or answering service. While a good builder is likely to be busy, and may not be able to answer the phone all the time, your builder should establish a point person to communicate with you, and that person should be available directly.

A company that is so large or just structured in such a way that you must communicate with your builder through an intermediary is likely to experience communication problems, which can lead to problems throughout the building process. The contact you're given should be managerial level or higher to ensure you're communicating with someone who has the authority to address your needs directly.

Don’t Go for Lowest Price

Always choose highest value over lowest price when selecting a custom homebuilder. Many home buyers are tempted to contract with builders who provide the lowest quote. Low price could indicate one or more of the following:

  • Incomplete or inaccurate proposal
  • Purposefully misleading estimates
  • Builder inexperience and lack of awareness of true costs
  • Low quality materials
  • Inexperienced workers or inexperienced subcontractors who do low quality work
  • Contractor going out of business

Either way, you could end up spending far more money trying to fix the property after the home is built if you choose to hire a contractor with an extra low bid. Hire a builder you can afford, but do not prioritize price over quality or experience. If you are unable to afford a quality builder, then this may not be the right time to build a custom home.

Don’t Try to Deceive the Builder

Experienced custom home builders have seen and heard it all. Many clients make the conscious decision not to disclose everything they want for their new homes upfront. Sometimes clients do this because they think they can live without, only to be tempted later in the building process.

Other times, clients do this because they're under the mistaken impression that if a feature is not listed in the contract, they don’t have to pay for the inclusion. Don’t use these tactics to reduce the price, especially if you really want these features in your custom home. Revealing all details upfront saves you and your builder time and money.

For more information about the home building process, contact GTG Builders LLC. We're a family-owned business with over 65 years of experience helping homeowners like you build their custom home.

Custom Home Guide [Free PDF]