5 Things to Ask Before Hiring a Custom Builder

Chances are, you’ll have lots of questions for your custom builder – from the size of the master bathroom to what type of flooring he recommends in the laundry room. Before you even hire a builder for your custom remodeling project, ask some basic questions. These may seem obvious and you may think the builder will automatically answer them, but that’s not always the case. Be sure you understand the answers you get and that you feel comfortable with them. These answers will help you make the best decision possible for your needs.

5 things to ask your custom home remodeler

1. When can it be done?

As the famous book about highly successful people says, “Begin with the end in mind.” A good time estimate is essential for both you and the builder. If he doesn’t have a goal in mind, you should give him one. He’ll tell you if it’s realistic or not. He should be accurate within a week, barring any change orders, shipping delays, or weather-related incidents. In fact, he should build in a cushion for these. If you don’t like his answer, you can either negotiate the date or look for another builder who can meet your time frame.

2.  What’s the cost estimate?

Of course, no right-minded person would start a major custom remodel without an accurate cost estimate. “Accurate” and “estimate” are the key words here. From your perspective, you want the cost to be accurate so you know what to expect. In order to give you an accurate price, you should plan to spend time with a custom remodeler learning about the level of craftsmen he employs, the type of work he does and his recommendations for your project. This is not a bidding type of job. Estimates, while by their namesake are flexible, they need to be as close to the actual cost as possible. That way, both you and the builder will know what to expect. While flexible, don’t allow for any more wiggle room than plus or minus 5 to 15 percent.

3.  What is your warranty?

This is one of the least-asked questions in the selection or hiring process. People either forget to ask, assume there’s a lifetime warranty or are too embarrassed to ask. This is fact: A builder should have a warranty. It’s a guarantee of his work. It instills confidence. If he stands behind his work, he will have a warranty. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one year or 10 years, but it matters that he has thought far enough ahead that he doesn’t anticipate problems.

4.  Are you licensed and insured?

Another little-asked question – because you wouldn’t want to insult the builder? It would be like asking to see your doctor’s diploma from medical school, right? Wrong. There are too many people out there doing shoddy work who are not licensed to be doing the work and who are not insured. If you hire someone like that – either inadvertently or on purpose, you could have quite a few complications. First, the builder must be licensed in the state to do business, and he has to have a license to get the building permits for your project. Whether it’s a bathroom renovation or a whole-house addition, building permits are required. From an insurance perspective, the builder’s liability insurance will cover any potential damage to your home or property and any possible injury to workers on the job at your home. Reputable builders are properly licensed and insured. Ask your builder to provide you with a certificate of insurance.

5.  How many have you built or how long have you been doing this?

Always ask about experience. An experienced builder has already dealt with most of the problems he may encounter on your job. In fact, experienced builders have actually made most errors and have learned from them – he won’t make the same mistakes again. His lifetime of knowledge will be a great benefit in your project requirements. He will compensate for them in his estimate or he will use what he learned at other jobs to make yours more cost-effective. We’re not saying don’t give a new builder a chance. We’re just saying that the more the builder has done, the better his work will be for you. He could have done 1,000 new master bathrooms and yours will be the one where the sunken tub cracks. If you hire someone with experience, you may have a two-day delay while he reorders the tub and scrambles to get the plumber back on a second day, but you will not have a completely new timeline due to something that is no one’s fault. An inexperienced builder might take a few more days, not have the same pull with the plumbing company as the experienced guy, and the replacement tub could cost you a week’s worth of agony and scheduling aggravations. Just saying.’

Finally, you should ask the builder if he has any questions for you. Like any good interviewee, he should pose a few questions and show you that he really is listening to you.

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