Uncover 7 steps to finding your perfect builder
The decision to build a custom property inevitably leads to the question of how to choose a home builder.
The choice of a home builder is a huge decisions. There’s compatibility to keep in mind—in design sensibility, budget, and, let’s face it, personality—and then there’s the question of whether you’re going to be investing in a property that endures.
The good news is that choosing a builder doesn’t need to be more complicated than finding the right hairdresser, orthodontist, or lawyer.
For example, it’s important to consider whether your chosen builder has a good reputation, whether you’re compatible enough to work together, and whether you trust them.
Whether you’re looking to build in the Lower Mainland of BC or elsewhere, the following guide of 7 steps to choosing the perfect custom home builder will help you decide and, ultimately, help you build your dream home.
Research, research, research
The first step on your quest to find the right builder is to research your options.
A quick Google search of custom home builders in your preferred area of, say, the Fraser Valley will bring up a list of options. From there, the results that pop up will show you a builder’s:
- Years of experience
- Contact information
- Client testimonials
- Reputation in the form of online reviews
Pay special attention to a builder’s reviews, customer comments, and testimonials; we’ll cover these details next.
You can tell a lot about a company by what previous customers have said about them online.
From your Google search of builders, do the following:
- Look at each builder’s Google reviews
- Note their overall star rating
- Take a look at the number of reviews they’ve received to get this rating
- Read the client comments and testimonials
What you’re looking for is a combination of a high star rating and a larger number of reviews. A custom builder with one 5-star review is not as powerful as one with a 4.5-star rating received from 50 reviewers.
Online comments and testimonials
When you read online reviews, you can understand the collective experience of dozens if not hundreds of customers, something that would be impossible to do in-person.
Read not only the positive comments but also the negative. Why? Because:
- Negative comments are as insightful as positive ones. What are the customer complaints? Are they very specific or more generic in nature?
- You’ll be able to pick out trends if they exist.
- For example, are there numerous customers who mention a builder’s exceptional customer service? Do several mention their inability to use their home warranty after living in their home for a while?
- You’ll get a feel for how the company addresses negative comments when they receive it.
- Do they ignore negative, or all, comments? Do you reply back, empathise with the customer, offer a solution, and invite the customer to continue the conversation offline?
From this tiny bit of online research, narrow down your search results based on reviews and—violà—you’ve got your long list of options.
View their portfolio
Now that you have a builder long list, start the fun part of researching their work. Get a feel for what they offer by doing the following:
- Visit their website
- View their portfolios, galleries, custom home showcases, and featured pages
- Notice their style, design, type, and size of homes and properties they specialise in
Like online dating, you can determine if you’re a ‘match’ based on what you see on their site. Then, ask yourself:
- Do my design preferences match the builders?
- Have they built homes that look like what I’m envisioning in my dream home?
- Do they normally build in my exact preferred location?
For example, at Cressman Custom Homes, our portfolio includes examples of the spectacular custom homes and beautiful semi-customizable pre-designed properties we’ve built. All tend to have a warm, contemporary style.
From your portfolio exploration, create a short-list of top custom home builders to pursue and then go see their work!
Visit their previous builds
You’ve curated your short-list of top custom home builders. It’s now time to visit their work.
You can do this in one of two ways, informally and formally:
- Informally: Take a trip to the homes they’ve built in the past and go have a look at their lots, their design, and the communities they’re located in, or
- Formally: Visit their presentation centre and showhome, if they have them, and book a tour.
Before taking a trek to a builder’s presentation centre, ensure that you don’t need to make a reservation first. You’d hate to go to the trouble of visiting a builder only to find the show centre closed.
Finally, certain custom home builders, like Cressman, have had exclusive rights to build in particular communities; visit those areas as well.
Interview your top builder choices
After the research and exploration phases, the next step is to schedule consultations with your top home builders.
Your chosen list should have a clear and simple way to reach them on their website. Many will have a form you can fill out to book a consultation. Otherwise, you can call them directly.
How the company responds to your request for a meeting will be the first way to vet builders. Ask yourself:
- How fast do they respond to your inquiry?
- Could they meet with you quickly or do you have to wait?
- How clear are they about the consultation process and what you can expect of them at the meeting?
- Are they open and willing to answer your questions?
- Do they do what they say they’re going to do?
Even if you only communicate through email at this step, the manner in which you do so can tell you a lot about the builder and whether or not you’ll work well together.
Aim for compatibility
A custom home build isn’t a quick process. Consider your eventual relationship with your builder as a long-term relationship.
Ask yourself, “Will I want to work with this team for the year (or more) that’ll it’ll take to construct my home?” If the answer is no by the time the consultation is over, it’s time to move on to another option.
After your initial meeting together, you should have the impression that your builder is:
- Open and honest,
- Transparent—they’re not vague about their contracts, insurance, builder’s warranty, or when answering your questions,
- Genuine and personable,
- Client-focused and collaborative—they prioritise your wants and needs over their own even before you’ve signed a contract to work together, and ensure that they’ll be working with you directly throughout the project
- Quality-focused—they care about the quality of workmanship and materials used.
- Team-focused—they prioritise having a highly skilled, loyal, and dedicated team and treat them well!
As you’re interviewing builders, keep a list of questions handy that you will ask for easy comparison. It’s called an interview for a reason. It’s a chance for both you and the builder to decide if working together is a good fit.
The type of builder you want to work with will care about your questions. They’ll be happy to answer them thoroughly, clearly, and openly.
The best builders will offer up information without being asked. Part of their job is to make you feel comfortable, after all. You’re considering making a major purchase. If the builder makes you feel at ease, that’s saying a lot.
20 questions to ask custom home builders
Here’s a helpful list of questions to get you started—print it out and bring it with you to the consultations. Add other questions to the list as-needed.
- What type of custom home do you specialise in? Which do you enjoy building the most?
- What’s your preferred design style and why? Can a home buyer deviate from this style?
- Can you give an example of a former project that stands out to you? Why?
- How do you address problems as they come up? Can you give me an example and how you dealt with it?
- How many of your builds finish on time?
- How many of your builds finish over budget? Under budget? How will you work to ensure our project doesn’t exceed ours?
- Could you tell me about your team? What are their credentials, how long have they worked in the industry, and how long have they worked for you?
- What does your design and construction process look like?
- How do we establish a budget for my project?
- What can I expect as a timeline for completion of my new home?
- Who would I be working with during the project? How will you communicate together?
- What are your expectations of the client during the design and construction phases? How involved can they be in the project?
- Do you build custom floor plans?
- Do you offer custom finishes and if so, what levels of finishes?
- After construction is complete, what type of support do you offer the homeowner?
- Who are you licensed and insured under?
- What level of warranty do you offer?
- If we decide to work together, what are the next steps?
- What do you require to begin a project, e.g., proof of purchased land, a construction loan, etc?
- Why should I choose you over another custom home builder?
Don’t be shy to ask lots of questions
Remember—no question is silly or insignificant. Don’t be shy to ask too many questions.
If you forget to ask something during the consultation, or if you think of a follow up question after the meeting is over, ask it. The right builder will be happy to answer any and all of your questions.
While you’re having your questions answered, we recommend you touch upon a few points in more detail, starting with their warranty.
Discuss their warranty
When you meet with your short-list of builders, take additional time to discuss their homeowner warranty. A reputable builder will offer coverage and support to their homeowners for years after their build is complete.
For example, Cressman offers a 2/5/10 warranty for your new home:
- 2-Year Materials & Labour Warranty
- 5-Year Building Envelope Warranty
- 10-Year Structural Defects Warranty
Openly discuss your budget
If you’re in the market for a semi-custom pre-designed home and a home builder’s website profiles multi-million dollar estates, it’s more than likely they didn’t make your short-list.
Nonetheless, it’s important that you discuss your budget openly and honestly with your potential builders. You may discover that you’re in disagreement over what the builder can offer or what you can afford.
Keep in mind a lower price doesn’t always mean a better product. High quality materials, experience, and professional workmanship come at a higher cost. Consider these qualities a worthy investment.
Ask about accreditation, certifications, and insurance
Choose a custom home builder that is a member of the Canadian Home Builder Association (CHBA). CHBA is a federal not-for-profit organisation that works to support their members, professionals working within the Canadian construction industry, and to serve the interests of Canadian homeowners and home buyers.
Visit the CHBA website to learn more about the organisation and how you’re protected as a home buyer.
Ask whether the builder holds other accreditations and certifications and if they’re adequately covered with general liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
Ask for references
At the end of your first meeting together, ask the builder for a list of references. If they say they don’t have any or they can’t provide them right away, move on.
Never choose a custom home builder with little or no references! If they can only provide two or three references, be wary. You’ll want pages of references from different time periods, some recent, some older.
Newer references will give you an idea of a builder’s current way of working. Older references can tell you what it’s been like living in their custom home over a long period of time.
Builder references offer you a glimpse into how they’ve worked with clients in the past. The more a builder can provide, the better.
Contact Their References
You have your list of references, now it’s time to call them! References are useless unless you use them.
When contacting references, keep in mind the home owners have probably been asked to be on a builder’s reference list. Proper etiquette dictates as much.
If a reference acts surprised when you call them, don’t immediately assume it’s because they haven’t been asked (we all forget things at times) but do keep it in mind if it’s a trend with multiple home owners.
Once you’ve broken the ice, explained why you’re contacting a reference, and ensured with the person it’s a good time to talk, you can move on to asking them questions.
Next is a list of open-ended ones to get your started.
Curate a list of questions to ask builder references
There’s nothing worse than asking for someone’s opinion on a builder then not knowing what to ask or say once you have them on the phone. Respect their time, and yours, by preparing for the conversation in advance.
Before you start contacting references, we recommend you write up a list of questions to ask them. This will keep the conversation focused and help you to compare answers as you speak with more homeowners.
Overall, are previous clients satisfied?
Once you’ve contacted a decent number of references and received their honest feedback, you’ll have a good idea of what you can expect from a builder if you decide to work with them.
Remember the online reviews and comments we mentioned earlier? Consider reference feedback in the same way.
If, for example, the overall feedback is that a builder is decent, professional, experienced, and provides top-quality work, you can give lesser weight to any minor grumbles that may come from references. There is subjectivity to consider here.
If, on the other hand, references paint a similar picture about poor communication, a lack of punctuality, an inability to deliver on promises, or an overall dissatisfaction on the quality of their work, best to heed these warnings and choose another builder.
Choose an experienced builder
A custom home builder’s experience speaks volumes. If a builder has been in business for a while, it’s an excellent indicator that they’re good at what they do.
Experienced builders know the industry, they’ve had to navigate the ups and downs of the home building market, and have strong relationships and connections with suppliers and tradespeople.
They’ve also grown their own reputation. They’ve built a name for themselves for their quality of work, for how they treat their employees and contractors, and for how they treat their clients.
Stay away from new builders without a proven track record. They may have a good reputation, or no reputation because they’re so new, but that doesn’t mean they’re the ideal choice.
They hire experienced craftsman
Experience isn’t only about the number of years they’ve been in business, it also has to do with the knowledge of their team.
Your custom home builder is only as experienced as those on their team. If, say, the owner has run the business for 30 years but their lead project manager has only been in the business for two, there’s a disjointness here (no pun intended).
When evaluating a custom home builder’s experience, ask about their team. Find out if the tradespeople they work with have also been in the business for a while, or at least are accredited, licensed, and working under another experienced lead contractor.
You’re now ready to choose a custom home builder
You’ve done the research, you’ve met several builders, and you’ve contacted references. It’s time to choose who will be your new custom home builder!
Use the rapport you’ve built with a particular builder, take their answers to your questions and referral feedback to heart, and use your instincts to make your final decision.
The decision to build a home is a huge one and shouldn’t be rushed. Don’t ever feel pressured to make a choice—especially by a home builder!—and take your time.
By following the steps in this article, we’re confident you will find the home builder, and home, of your dreams.
Are you ready to choose your custom home builder?
We hope that when you choose a custom home builder in Lower Mainland BC, you’ll consider Cressman Homes. We’d be happy to put our over 30 years of experience to work to build you the perfect custom or a semi-custom pre-designed home.
Contact us to schedule a consultation. We’ll book a time to meet, answer your questions, and decide whether we want to work together.
Schedule your consultation—and let Cressman Custom Homes build your dream home.