Are You Being Served?

The best custom builders understand that service is as important as product.

When choosing someone to build your new custom home, there’s a truth that you ignore at your peril: your ultimate satisfaction has as much to do with your day-to-day experience of the project as with the final result.

This is very different than buying a tract home, where you have only minimal interaction with the builder once things get underway. With a custom home, you’re crafting something unique and highly complex. It’s a hands-on experience that involves ongoing discussions between you and the builder and requires lots of decisions and trade-offs.

That experience can include plenty of emotional ups and downs, and a good builder knows how important it is to manage those feelings. The huge financial and personal commitment required for a custom home means that people often have vivid memories of their emotions during the build. With that in mind, ask yourself the following: once in your beautiful new home, will you remember that constructing it was a great experience or that it was full of conflict and disappointment? The answer will depend in large part on your builder, which begs the question of how to choose the right one.

First, realize that all builders want to do good work that makes their customers happy. But sometimes the pressures of a big project make it tempting to just focus on completing the job, which can lead the builder to forget the homeowners’ experience.

The best builders always keep that experience in mind. They understand that they are providing a product and a service, and their systems and processes ensure a great result as well as a great experience. That’s the kind of builder you should look for.

It starts when talking with references. Homeowners who call the builder’s references usually ask about budget, schedule and work quality. While those are crucial questions, you should also dig deeper. Did the builder made them feel like a partner in the process? Were their concerns and suggestions treated respectfully?

Also pay attention to the builder’s business processes. These are a big deal and can make or break the experience of building your new home. Things to consider include:

  • How organized is the builder during the first meeting? Do they ask random questions or do they take you through an orderly questionnaire?
  • Does the builder do most of the talking during this meeting or do they ask questions about your needs, listen closely to your answers, and explore solutions with you based on those answers? (There may be a variety of ways to provide what you want within your budget, so you want a builder who can suggest creative options.)
  • Once work gets underway, how often will you meet? Will these meetings be face-to-face or virtual?
  • Is there an online customer portal where you can check on progress and communicate with the builder?
  • Will they give you a binder at the beginning of the project that includes the plans and schedule, as well as deadlines by which you need to make design and product choices?
  • Do they tell you what ups and downs you can expect at different stages of the build?

These and other well-organized processes are a sign that the builder understands how important it is to have clear communications and to keep homeowners involved. Great processes go a long way toward ensuring a great result.

They also minimize project risk. That’s because strong processes are a sign of business sophistication. A builder who has them will be more likely to do good work on schedule and for the agreed-on budget. Those results are an important part of the positive experience you want.