10 Tips for Choosing and Working with a Builder

You may have heard horror stories about problems with builders, budgets spiraling out of control and sites left half-finished. But the reality is that the vast majority of builders are both professional and capable, and you can do a great deal to avoid bad experiences simply through the way you choose, manage and communicate with them. Here’s why it’s worth laying the foundations for a good relationship with your builder — and how to do it well.

Photo by Architect Your Home
1. Don’t approach a builder too soon. It may seem logical if you’re thinking of having construction work done to start by approaching a builder, but don’t be too hasty. Builders are generally good at pricing once they know exactly what’s wanted, but asking for a price before you have any drawings or detailed information about the project is as good as inviting them to tell you simply what they think you want to hear.

3. Establish whether you need a specialist or just a general builder. A really good general builder is suitable unless the work in question is unusual.

For example, a good general builder is perfectly capable of converting an attic or building out a basement. You can, of course, go to a loft or basement company, and they, too, may do a great job. The most important thing is to find someone who will do good work for the right price.

Similarly, you can use a staircase company to make a staircase or a door company to sell you doors — or just use a good woodworker to make such things. With a clear design, a good builder will be able to coordinate the right people (cabinetmakers, electricians and so on) to build exactly what you want.

4. Aim for one point of responsibility. Rather than using one general contractor, it may seem wise to try to save money by directly engaging separate tradespeople, such as plasterers, electricians and carpenters.

While it’s true that a general contractor will take a small slice of cost from the subcontractors, I would argue that this money is well-earned. Managing and coordinating the separate trades on-site takes a great deal of mettle and experience.

I’ve seen lots of people who try to do this themselves get into a horrible mess and end up with a botched job that goes over time and over budget — not to mention the stress they’ve suffered.

While it can work to pull out certain specific and well-defined parts of the work (for example, laying the carpet), I strongly recommend using one building contractor who will take responsibility for the project overall.

8. Understand the importance of a building contract. A building contract is simply an agreement between a builder, who agrees to undertake a specific set of works, and a client, who agrees to pay a set amount of money.

There are many forms of contract, but the one that I most regularly use for residential projects has the drawings and schedules attached to the contract, so it’s clear what’s included and what’s not. The payment terms and so on are agreed upon upfront.

The important thing the contract does is set out the “what ifs” —such as, what if the work is changed along the way? What if it takes longer than agreed?

Ideally and, I’m glad to say, usually, once signed and filed, the contract isn’t needed again because everything has gone smoothly. But that’s often because everyone knows it’s there in the background.

Modern Hall Modern Hall9. Consider who will do the rough-in and finish work. With a kitchen or bathroom, for example, the rough-in involves bringing the waste, plumbing and electrical services to the right places. So pipes and cables are installed in walls and under floors, and are left poking out. Typically, walls are then lined and plastered, and floors laid, before the finish work.

The finish work is where the cabinets, appliances, faucets, light fixtures, tiling and so on are done, connecting up to the pipes and cables that were set in place before.

It may be that you ask your builder to do both, but it’s not unusual for the finish work to be done by the person who supplied the kitchen or bathroom. This can work perfectly well as long as all parties understand in advance exactly what is (and is not) expected of them.

When the main work is going full tilt, everyone tends to be happy, but toward the end of a project, there are typically a thousand small items to attend to, requiring an array of tradespeople, and this can be both difficult and expensive for the builder to organize.

Combine this with the fact that the client can see the finish line and usually desperately wants the home back after a long wait, and frustration often boils over.

Again, my best advice is to be really organized. Communicate clearly on expected timetables, then give the builder the space to do what’s needed. When it comes to inspection at the end — checking for works not completed, or not completed as requested, which the builder will rectify — go around with your builder and agree on one comprehensive list. Of course, additional things may come to light, but it’s also not really fair to keep coming up with more items over time.

Tell us: What have you learned from working with builders on a project? Share your insights in the Comments below.

 Reposted article, written by Hugo Tugman for Houzz

9 Responses to “10 Tips for Choosing and Working with a Builder

  • I like how you emphasized on understanding the importance of having the agreement between you and the builder down in writing. If I had a project like this, I’ll make sure that everything we’ve talked about is in a contract for protection. It’s also a good source of visibility for anything that may come up along the way.

  • Your advice to choose a building contractor that fits the scope of your project, such as if it’s for a luxury retail project or a retail home. This could be important to make sure they have access to the necessary equipment and have the skills and knowledge to do it correctly. If you check out the builder’s website it would probably help you learn about them and the services they offer to see if they’re a good choice for your project.

  • I agree that you need to consider if you need a specialist when hiring a building contractor. Determining what kind of things they specialize in would allow you to ensure that they will do a good job. Getting the right contractor would also be nice because they could help you get quality building materials for your project.

    • Yes, sometimes a specialist is more suitable than a general contractor. Some companies might do it all, but specialize in one area. You have to do your research and ask the right questions when you are in the bidding stage of the project.

  • I like how you talked about the possible changes in construction that are contained in the business contract. It is important to hire someone that can handle unexpected events like rain or snow. My wife and I want to remodel our living room and I think it would be nice to have someone with a lot of experience in any weather situation.

    • I agree. A business contract is very useful for all parties involved in a construction project. Everything is on the table and both parties know about the expectations for the project. There may be unforeseen events that come up, but hopefully they can be resolved easily. If working through any weather situation is important to you and your wife, it should definitely be in the contract. We have a listing of many energy efficient builders and contractors on our site. Just search by your zip code. Take a look – http://homeenergyheroes.com/find-a-hero/.

  • It was really nice how you suggested that when planning the home that we want to build, we have to be specific so that the builder will be able to give us an accurate estimate for the construction. My sister was planning to get a house built for our parents soon, so I think it’s a good idea that I discuss this with her. That way we can decide on the things that are important and those that can be removed from the plan so as to save money. Thank you for the idea. I appreciate it.

  • It’s interesting that you talked about getting a schedule attached to any contract you sign. My wife and I have been looking for someone to build a house for us this year. It would be nice to have a timeframe included so we could know exactly when the contractor is able to finish the job.

    • Yes, a schedule or timeframe in a contract is important while also allowing for some flexibility for unexpected delays in the construction process. Best of luck with your new home construction!

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