Finding a Custom Builder: Tips and Questions


What defines a custom home builder? What questions can you ask a custom builder to be sure you’re getting what you’re looking for? I looked online myself to see what options came up and my search for “Custom Home Builders Mobile, AL” returned over a million results, and an advanced search produced 12,000 results. Seem excessive?  You bet! So how do we answer the question, “What is a Custom Home Builder”?, and what steps can be taken to finding a builder that will create a truly one of a kind home for you?

Finding A True “Custom Home Builder”

A true Custom Home Builder is fully aware of time and budget needs and is also extremely knowledgeable in all facets of residential construction as well. With each Custom Home involving hundreds if not thousands of details and products, it is extremely important to know who, where, when and how to deal with each one. With no two homes being alike, regular communication with the homeowner is a must. In reality, being a Custom Home Builder in the traditional or true sense is a time consuming, tedious and complex job. That’s why true Custom Home Builders are limited to constructing only a few homes at one time. A Custom Home Builder builds extra fine homes. (There is no allowance for sometimes.) No attention to detail or customer request is overlooked.

In todays’ market true Custom Home Builders are rare. Most laying claim to the title can be likened to fast food franchises. They can make their burger your way, but it still looks, smells and taste like their fast food burger. And, if they forget to hold the mayo, well that’s fast food service. (You can use your napkin to wipe it off.). Point is, most builders that claim to be Custom Builders fail the true test in several areas. For example, these builders:

1. Sacrifice quality for production.
2. Choose subcontractors and products solely on price, not quality or value
3. Don’t spend the time needed at the job-site and/or lack the knowledge to supervise the project.
4. Don’t communicate with the homeowner regularly.

So how do you know what to look for? There are several questions that you can ask the builder.

Tips and Questions to Ask Your Builder

No matter how you define Custom Home Builder, choosing one that meets your needs and leaves you satisfied can be difficult. Here are a few tips:

1. References – Get as many as possible from an array of sources. Customers, suppliers, subcontractors, etc.

2. Ask the right questions – To customers you might ask:  Was the job completed in a timely manor? Was the budget maintained? Were change order cost reasonable?  Was the builder easy to reach? Did the builder respond promptly to call backs? Was the builder able to satisfactorily correct the issues concerning call backs?  Would they use the builder again? To suppliers and subcontractors you might ask:  How long has the builder done business with you? Do they pay their bill on time? Do they place orders or schedule work requests in a timely manor? Would you hire this builder yourself? (Keep in mind suppliers and subs want to sell their product and may hesitate to give a negative response. It’s best to ask for information on several builders at one time. This allows them an option).

3. Inspect the product closely – your expectations of quality may exceed those of a friend who recommends a builder.

4. Consider consistency – This is a key factor when considering any purchase. Although some builders may please some people some of the time, very few are able to please most people all of the time. (Sorry, pleasing everyone all of the time is, well…..I’ll just say, you live in a perfect world).     

4. Price – This is where a lot home buyers make a big mistake. They think they’re getting “apple to apple” estimates. I’ll offer this analogy: styling aside, try comparing every part (there are thousands) of a car of comparable models from different manufacturers before buying. Your best bet is to ask for a well defined itemized quote reflecting all subcontractor prices along with product prices. (My typical estimate contains over 100 line items). As a third generation Home Builder I can tell you that cheap prices reflect cheap products, inferior subcontractors and lesser quality.  In short, the old saying, “you get what you pay for” typically holds true.

– Randy Broadway