Picking out the Right Builder
I wanted my home to have a studio in it. So I picked out several Spokane home builders, did my homework, asked questions, and finally, I settled on the right one. I’m hoping that this post can help save you some of the headache that I experienced.
Now, what was surprising when I started researching my home builders was the amount of regurgitation that I found. Eek.
First of all, everyone basically just says, make a list, do your homework, go see the work they’ve done, blah blah blah blah.
Not very informative. I mean, sure that’s part of it, but come on, folks, give me something to work with here other than the same old same old.
Okay, so list aside, I needed to find someone who was able to work with the vision that I had for my home and my studio. I do body painting, sculpting, painting and even some woodworking in my studio. So I needed floor drains, proper lighting, proper cabinetry, and proper flooring. I didn’t want a floor that would be cold on my models’ feet. I also REALLY needed quiet. Call me crazy or OCD or what-the-hell-ever, but when I work, I want it silent. Oh, and I didn’t want to break the bank. So, part of “doing my homework” was figuring out which contractors were able to be creative. Go figure, a creative looking for another creative in a different field.
When you’re looking for a list of home builders, by the way, check out the local home builders association, like shba.com.
Some of the questions that I found helpful were:
—Based on what I told you, what do you think the time frame would be?
—I’m really open to saving money on the materials, are there any alternatives that would do just as well?
—It seems like I get different quotes based on the time of the year I ask—why? If you quote me a lower amount in the winter, are you going to try to charge more in the summer if that’s when I decide to build?
—What about workspace economy (if you’re not doing a studio, think for your kitchen, laundry room, bathrooms, etc)? I know it’s my project, and ultimately my decision, but if it were your project, what would you do?
—When you’re framing, what’s your acceptable room for error? (This one really gets some bullshitters going!) See if they mention building codes. If they’re spouting off anything higher than a quarter inch—it’s total bullshit.
And some other considerations that I found helpful:
—Could I really imagine working with this person?
—How does the contractor talk to me? Like a boss? An employee? A salesperson? A partner?
—How willing are they to explain their process?
Now, some things to watch out for. Of course, you have to ask other clients if they’re happy with the work and the quality. You’ll always find someone who’s not satisfied—hell, go to art school and you’ll see up-turned snots saying what’s wrong with the Mona-freaking-Lisa! But what’s the general consensus?
Also—beyond consumers, ask real estate agents. This was surprisingly helpful. First, I had to make sure there wasn’t a direct contract between the real estate agent and the home builder, otherwise, can we say bias? But it’s a fast way to get to know what others are saying about your potential builder.
What are they charging up front? And how are payments to be handled? If they’re asking for half down—you might as well tase them and then kick them off your property. Well, maybe not that extreme, but unfortunately, while there are a lot of honest home builders out there—there are a lot of not-so-honest ones too. Sad. But that’s why you arm yourself (I’m not meaning literally here, though tasers are cool!) In reality, a reputable contractor won’t really need anything down because everything can be put on an account. But, asking for a couple thousand up front, I find is reasonable—but only if you’ve got your ducks lined up on paper that’s been signed and notarized (and this includes the date!)
Alright, I mentioned this one up above, but I’d like to save you some headache by talking about it a bit more. How does the potential builder talk to you? Are they demanding? Are they passive? Are they excited? Is everything too goddamned good to be true? Are they interested in you personally (not like a romantic interest! mind you, but of your overall well-being and in you as a person rather than just a number)? I find it best when the contractor is more like a partner.
And a tip that is something to watch out for. Bid out to at least three different companies, and avoid just family/friends. Too many so-called friends have screwed their “friends” over when it comes to home building. Just do it right. I’m not necessarily advocating a bidding war here, but you need to know how much other companies are charging. Some have a crazy markup, but most are reasonable. But just seeing where others are coming in at can save you.
Some good questions to ask:
—What happens when you have bad weather?
—I’d like a firm fixed price—more of a statement, but reduces your risk significantly—and you can watch the blowhards squirm.
— What are your working hours?
If you’re uncomfortable with any of their answers, see about someone else. Remember, just because someone is cheaper doesn’t mean they’re going to be the best. Same with the most expensive. Do you know how Arnold Schwarzenegger made his millions? As a bricklayer. At first, he struggled and struggled, and then said screw it, jacked up his prices, and said he was a “specialty European bricklayer.” He didn’t change a thing, other than how he presented himself and his price—but his product remained the same. Getting several quotes in will you show you who’s cheap, who’s gouging, and who’s reasonable.
Overall, I decided to go with Benson Bondstone because of their PermaPanel system. You can check out Benson Bondstone’s Facebook page here if you want. But basically, it gave me the quiet that I was looking for, the affordability I was looking for, and the beautiful customization I was looking for.