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What is the difference in a custom home builder vs. a speculative home builder?

A custom builder does not start a new home without having a client for the finished product. He will usually spend a good amount of time with the client to make sure that the finished house will meet the client's wants and needs. Each house is usually unique because it is built specifically for that client.

A speculative builder will start a home out of his own pocket with the hope that he can sell it to someone by the time he has it finished. He will not usually have a specific client in mind when he starts, but can make some adjustments or allowances if a client comes along during the building phase.

Generally, a "custom house" is more expensive than a "spec" house because of the additional time the builder must spend and because of the special touches that go into a "custom house". This doesn't mean that a custom builder won't build a "spec" house, or vice versa.

How can I find a good builder?

Deal with someone whose work is known. Talk to friends, neighbors, associates. Ask for names and addresses of previous customers. Check with those people who have had work done and ask if it was satisfactory. Inspect the work a builder has completed for someone else. Local building or material supply firms deal with builders on a daily basis and can be a good source for recommendations. Homebuilder associations can also recommend reputable member firms.

Obtain references from customers, material suppliers and financial institutions, if possible, to determine whether a builder is financially responsible. Questions about a builder's dependability, meeting schedules and bill-paying habits will get you started.

Make sure the builder has liability insurance coverage and workers compensation (if required).

Try to obtain three quotes for your home; do not automatically accept the lowest. Remember, the cost of materials and quality will affect the bid. A low bid based on inferior materials may not be any bargain; so consider more than the price alone. Also, beware any bid substantially lower than the others.

Make sure the builder has the appropriate license, if required. You have little recourse, Legal and otherwise, if you hire an unlicensed builder. Since few unlicensed builders have adequate insurance, they may expose you to significant financial harm in the event of injury or property damage. Although an unlicensed builder may give you a low bid, the risks of possible financial and legal consequences you may face probably outweigh any benefits a lower bid may seem to offer.

When you have narrowed your search down to two or three possible builders, call your local Better Business Bureau, your city or county building inspection department, and the appropriate licensing board to see if there have been serious complaints against any of them.

Do I need to have blueprints to get started?

It depends on whether you are beginning the process or getting general information. Look at existing new homes on the market that will give you some idea on building cost. From that point you will have to identify two or three builders that are comparable in the quality of construction and pricing. You can then begin the process of open discussion, share your ideas with the builders, show them representations of different plans that you have in mind. Walking through that process will get you closer to identifying the plan or plans that meet your needs. Now you are ready to narrow the field of plans and get ready for a purchase.

Should I keep a copy of the blueprints for my own records?

Yes! You need to have it in hand any time you go to the job site, any time you go to pick out all the assorted products that will be used in the construction: doors, windows, brick, stucco, interior trim, plumbing, hardware, counter tops, flooring, light fixtures, and for any other issues/questions that may arise. Another planning note for the future - As soon as you finish building, go back and mark changes you made on the blueprints prior to filing them away. This will come in handy in time should you make changes to your home or at the time of sale.

What are general contractors and sub-contractors?

A general contractor is the foreman or point person for the construction of your home. It is his job to hire the sub-contractors, purchase most of the materials, and oversee the entire process to make sure it is completed according to your plans and schedule. A sub-contractor is hired, or contracted, by the general contractor to do a specific part of the construction. Some examples include: the excavation, plumbing, concrete work, framing, electrical, HVAC, brickwork, roofing, interior trim, floor coverings, etc. A separate person or company, all of whom answer to the general contractor, may do each of these jobs.

Does the general contractor supervise the work of the sub-contractors?

The sub-contractors work for the general contractor, who is responsible for making sure the work has been done satisfactorily, on time, and on budget.

Does the general contractor guarantee the work of the sub-contractors?

In most cases, yes, unless it is stated otherwise in the contract. However, sub-contractors warrant their work in different ways, under different terms. Some warranties can be transferred directly to the homeowner. It would be good to decide at contract what and who warrants to whom.

How often should I plan on communicating with my builder?

You should have regular meetings on the job at specific stages prior to significant construction stages: lot preparation, foundation forming, plumbing, framing and electrical, interior and exterior trim out. Communication is one of the most important ingredients in making sure your builder understands what you expect from him or catching an oversight before it is in place.

What if I discover things need changing/corrected after construction begins?

Most builders are willing to make adjustments in a home while under construction, but be prepared for a change order fee. If the walls are in place and you decide to make a change, framers have to be paid and there may be a need for additional materials. If there is an oversight by the builder, he usually will do his best to mend the error. That is not always the case especially if the construction has reached a near completion level. This is why you may need to seriously consider a contract addressing "what ifs."

How do I monitor the progress and quality of workmanship as the project goes on?

It's a good idea to work with your builder on a plan to photograph or videotape progress on your house as construction begins on an agreed upon schedule. Not only does this provide you with great memories, it may also help you notice deviations from the plan before construction goes too far (such as a window or door in the wrong place, etc.) You can also hire an independent inspector to assist you in your review.

What is a "punch list" and how does it work? (See Punch List on Home Page)

The "punch list" is the list of all items which are required to be repaired by the builder prior to your final acceptance of the home. With respect to inspecting the house, an effective way to handle this is with a checklist. The list should include everything that needs attention, and you and your builder should agree to a timetable for those adjustments.

Builders prefer to remedy problems before you move in, because it is easier for them to work in an empty house. Some items may have to be corrected after move-in. For instance, if your walk-through is in the winter, your builder may have to delay landscaping adjustments until spring.

It is important that you be very thorough and observant during the walk-through. Carefully examine all surfaces of counters, fixtures, floors and walls for possible defects or damage. Sometimes, disputes arise because a buyer may discover a gouge in a counter top after move-in, and there is no way to prove whether it was caused by the builder's workers or the buyer's movers.

Many builders ask their buyers to sign a form at the walk-through stating that all surfaces have been inspected and that there was no damage other than what has been noted on the walk-through checklist. Ask a lot of questions during the walk-through and take notes on the answers.

Never be afraid to ask questions. That is how you learn. It is important to view the walk-through as a positive learning experience that will enhance your enjoyment of your home. Here is an example for you to use in developing your own checklist.

Are there any construction warranties or laws in place to protect me?

A builder's warranty should be an important part of any new home building decision. Whether you're buying from a builder with a household name or one that is new to the business, what a warranty says and the ability to get warranty work completed should not be overlooked.

There are several general types of warranties and each is important to you.

At the most basic level, a home must meet local building code standards. Building codes are complex and have detailed requirements, which govern home construction. Such rules are largely designed to assure safety and habitability, they do not address workmanship issues.

Many states have mandatory home warranty provisions. These are limited warranties (virtually all warranties in all fields are limited) which say that if something goes wrong with the home then the builder must step up and make repairs. In some cases, state warranties last 10 years, but coverage is not equal during the entire period -- for instance, the home's structure may be protected during the entire warranty period but workmanship defects may only be covered in the first year. Consult your state's Department of Consumer Affairs for more information about your particular state's laws and regulations.

Builders may offer limited warranties for homes. Request a written warranty from your builder, outlining the areas he is or isn't responsible for, as well as your responsibilities actions to take. Read your new home warranty carefully. If you are unsure that the requests you may be making of your builder are within the proper warranty guidelines, you may ask for the builder to send a representative out to examine the issue, before sending a repairman.

Many new homes now come with limited warranties from third-party insurers. Under such programs, builders buy coverage and the warranty cost is included within the home's price. If there is a covered defect, the builder must make repairs. If the builder does not or cannot make repairs, then the warranty company does the work.

Third-party plans typically last 10 years. In the first year there is coverage for workmanship and materials, in the first two years basic systems such as plumbing and electrical work are covered, and for the last eight years structural items are protected.

You should review all warranty information carefully to insure that you understand what is covered, what isn't covered, the claims procedures, any out of pocket expense you may incur, and the dispute resolution procedures.

How do I make sure the construction site is kept clean?

You would think that this is something you shouldn't have to worry about. But the fact is, this happens a lot and can lead to long-term problems. Untreated lumber scraps buried during the final grading can invite termites into your house. And eventually, whether you are an avid gardener or not, you will want to dig in the flowerbeds around your house. You don't want to be unearthing Styrofoam lunch plates, aluminum cans, broken bricks, etc. Explain to your builder that burying trash is unacceptable and you will be checking to see if that is happening. If he has a problem with that, reconsider your options.

These Questions and Answers cover a broad range in the process though certainly doesn't answer every question that could arise but there's a lot of information at your fingertips. Visit The National Home Builders site or your local association's site and others like Home and Garden or do specific searches for more results. Never hesitate to ask the questions and if they don't satisfy you, get a second or third confirmation.

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