Nine Key Questions to Ask a Builder When Building a Custom Home

    Building your dream home is exciting. With a custom-built home, you should get exactly what you want and need. Maybe you can’t wait to host a party using your new outdoor kitchen or give the dog a bath in your new spacious mudroom. Or perhaps you want to be able to gaze out over your horse pasture from the front porch of your barndominium

    You’ve probably pinned ideas for countertops and closet organization, clipped magazine photos, and sketched ideas. You have a budget and funding. Now, you need a builder.

    According to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data, the Survey of Construction estimates the average length of time to complete new privately owned residential buildings in the south is about 6.8 months. Additional time also needs to be factored for outside influences such as supply chain and labor issues, as well as customization. 

    That’s a considerable amount of time to spend with a home builder so you want to make sure you find the right fit.

    Turner & Son has been building homes since 1964. As custom home builders, we understand the relationship with the homeowner needs to be built on trust with an open communication style. Tapping into our years of experience, we’ve compiled a checklist of questions you can use when meeting with potential builders. You can download your free guide here! 

    Preparation is key

    At your initial meeting with a custom home builder, you will want to take a list of important questions, expectations and goals. You need to be prepared to interview and negotiate. 

    If you already have house plans, bring them. The two of you can start discussing details, finishes, and extras.

    If you don’t have plans, don’t worry, bring your ideas. You don’t necessarily need a formal presentation, but having a clear idea or notes you could share is helpful and will make the meeting more productive. 

    The builder will need to know things like:

    • Desired foundation type

    • Number of bedrooms/bathrooms

    • Desired square footage

    • Layout

    • Design loves/hates, 

    • Lifestyle needs such as a home office or mudroom

    • Budget

    You can look at some of their existing custom floor plans to see if anything is close to your vision for a starting point.

    The builder should also be prepared and have ready a list of references of previous customers, proof of insurance, information about warranty programs, and a description of the custom home building process.

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    Questions to ask your prospective custom home builder

    Our list of questions will help you gain insight into the builder’s processes. Don’t be afraid to go through the checklist and decide which are your deal-breaker questions. And if you don’t feel comfortable or you’re not happy with the answers you’re given, don’t be afraid to look for another builder.

    From our team with more than 50 years of homebuilding expertise, here is what we recommend you ask your custom home builder.

    1. How long have you been building custom homes in Oklahoma? How many homes have you built here?

    Homebuilders and general contractors are not required to have a state license in Oklahoma. Since this is the case, you will want someone who has experience building here. 

    They need to be familiar navigating state and local building codes, and generally being compliant with the law. It also never hurts to ask about licenses and insurance.

    2. Is my land ready to be built on?

    Where you build may have a considerable impact on the price of your planned home. Rough land will need to be prepared for a build whereas land already being subdivided may already be prepared for a build. Other factors such as water availability, septic systems, drainage, and soil types can impact your build.

    3. What services do you provide to help me overcome challenges from building on my land?

    Ask the builder what specific services they are willing to provide and if they can manage specific issues. Be prepared to not just ask this question but ask about the following specific services too.

    See if your home builder can help with any of the following:

    1. Title issues
    2. Access to the land
    3. Floodplain issues
    4. Surveys
    5. Lot splits
    6. Building abstract
    7. City codes
    8. Permits
    9. Well
    10. Septic
    11. Soil testing
    12. Engineering of the foundation based on the soil test
    13. Connection to utilities
    14. Is the land buildable
    15. What if the land has hidden easements from oil/gas companies? 
    16. Lot / land prep to get ready for the foundation

    These are just a few things Turner & Son has helped our clients work through. We don’t like to leave our customers to their own connections to complete the above items, unless they choose to do so.adobe


    4. What’s your warranty?

    A custom home builder’s warranty is a contract with the homeowner to make specific repairs over a set period of time. 

    It should spell out what elements of the home are covered, how repairs will be made, how to file a claim and steps that can be taken to settle any disputes. Knowing the warranty going into the build, and if it’s favorable to you, will help you further select a great builder for your home. 

    5. What’s the price range of homes built? Is there a minimum square footage they are willing to build?

    The price of building a new home can range widely based on numerous factors. But in general, the price per square foot for a prefabricated home will vary quite a bit from the square foot price of a custom home.

    Custom home builders may set size minimums as to what they will build so it’s always good to ask up front. We have a blog that provides a more in-depth look at what is involved in the custom home design process. You can read how our experience can help strike a balance between your wants and project costs.  

    6. Do you use fixed-price or cost-plus contracts?

    You will definitely want to familiarize yourself with these types of contracts. You will also want to get the answer to this question up front. 

    Fixed price is an agreement between the contractor and home buyers for a specific scope of work with a set price for completion. Profit is built into the fee and any changes require an approved order. The key advantage here is the final price is set at the beginning. The biggest disadvantage is to the contractor if they underestimate the final total price.

    A cost-plus is a contract in which the customer agrees to pay the direct and indirect expenses for a construction project plus a fee for profit. The contractor should provide an upfront estimate along with detailed documentation along the way. The key advantage is flexibility while the main disadvantage is an unknown final price and potential disagreements over certain expenses.

    With cost-plus, an estimate may be provided at the beginning, yet the build cost may be as much as 10 to 20 percent over budget. At Turner & Son, we prefer a fixed price agreement as we believe it keeps everyone accountable to the bottom line.

    7. Do they design the house with the client’s budget in mind and create a unique spec sheet per house?

    • Do they allow allowances for items? Allowances are set amounts included in your contract for particular items. There are material (items such as flooring) and installed (countertops or built-ins) allowances.
    • What do their spec sheets look like per house? Here’s another great question as the devil is in the details. Having fairly detailed specs will do two things — reduce disputes over quality and the use of substandard materials.
    • Will they allow you to bring in your own items for the home or possibly work with trades you know? This is one way you can help control costs and make the home distinctly your own.
    • Is post-tension standard in all the homes no matter the cost? A post tension slab increases the strength of the concrete slab and foundation. In areas with poor soil conditions, the post tension is actually more economical than other measures used to reinforce the area planned for the slab.

    8. Are they Realtor friendly?

    You can use a Realtor in the building process if you choose. Perhaps you already have a working relationship with a Realtor after they helped you find the acreage or lot on which you plan to build. During the home design phase, a Realtor can provide information and answer questions about the resale value of various features you may want to add to your new home. If you’re planning on utilizing a Realtor, then knowing if the builder works well with them is important. 

    9.How much customization can be made to the home? What part does the buyer play in the design process?

    If you are building your dream home, you will want to make sure you are given the freedom to make choices. You want a builder who truly listens to what you want.

    Trick Question: What is your cost per square foot?

    This question is tricky. There's really no way for a builder to be able to tell you the cost per square foot at the beginning of the building process. And yet, they often do exactly that. It's a bait-and-switch you should be wary of when scoping out a potential builder. Make sure you ask about financing options and what might affect cost, and look for a builder who listens and answers honestly. 

    Red flags when talking to a custom home builder

    You need a trusted, skilled custom home builder to make your dream home a reality. While there are a lot of builders out there, it’s sad to say there are some you need to avoid. You need to watch for the red flags.

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    While any no answers to the above list of questions should cause you to think twice about hiring a builder, these are additional issues that can weigh into your final decision.

    • They don’t have a clear point person on communication/lines of communication are unclear. Ask yourself this, do you really want to chase answers or possibly get conflicting answers?
    • They don’t seem to have a process for questions/concerns during construction. No process may mean no resolution. No resolution equals unhappy customers.
    • They seem to want to pressure you into picking them as your builder. A good builder wants you to pick them because of their work and reputation. They know that giving you the time to do your homework will only put you more at ease with your choice.

    Keep this checklist handy

    You’re about to make one of the largest purchases of your life. And you’re finally going to have that home you’ve been dreaming about.  Finding the right builder may take some work, but the results will be a home that reflects your personality and lifestyle. Don’t head out to your home builder interview without this checklist.

    Download the checklist now.

    6 minute read