Do you dream in HGTV?
Ready to build the luxury home of your dreams? Around 4500 homes in Canada begin construction each month. The next one could be yours!
Imagine a state-of-the-art log cabin or a more traditional custom Craftsman home? Something a little more West Coast modern? There’s no shortage of ways to express your ideas. Finding the right builder to realize your dreams is a little more difficult.
High-quality home construction is no accident. How to build a custom home is much more than an architect and some ideas. You need a whole team, starting with the right builder.
Read on to learn how to find someone great for your new home.
How to Build a Custom Home Without Losing Your Mind
The hardest part of any custom home project isn’t deciding on the right features, it’s finding a competent and reliable builder to execute your plans. Installing an eco-friendly greywater system, solar heating or the spa bath you always wanted at the quality level you demand is a struggle.
Everyone’s heard stories about horrendous projects that cost three times the original estimate or that fell apart after one season. Surprises like a missing moisture barrier or botched installation that voids a manufacturer’s warranty are stressful and expensive.
Choosing the right builder makes the difference between a successful home build and a disaster. Keep these steps in mind as you interview prospective contractors.
Start With a Vision
Know what you want before you start talking to builders. Often builders want to sell the homes they build instead of building you the home you want. This can work in your favour if you start with a plan and some ideas.
You’ll get more accurate cost estimates if you are very specific in your materials and what you want done. For example, the cost of an HVAC system for a home can vary wildly. Do you choose forced air, underfloor coils, radiant heat? Mini-split units or whole house? Will you use a heat pump or petrol to heat the home?
You will make decisions like this for every major system in the house. It’s good to have some idea of what you want for budgeting purposes.
Find Quality Builders
Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for referrals. Builders in your neighbourhood who have done similar projects are your best sources. Check out homes you like and homes in the area where you want to build.
Interview at least three builders. Ask lots of questions and ask for a proposal from each one. When you compare bids, look at what is included, the materials and the timeline. Even if you have a favourite builder, get comparative bids.
You’ll learn something from each proposal and you will have points for follow-up negotiation. In busy Alberta, expect to begin the process a year or so before beginning construction. The best home builders often are the busiest.
Criteria for Quality
Choose the right builder for the right project. You want someone who knows how to build a custom home, not necessarily someone who builds great apartment buildings or someone who did a good job fixing your mom’s basement.
You want to find a contractor who routinely builds the kind of home you want. No one really wants to be the first experiment.
- Always check business licenses, complaints and associations. The Canadian Home Builders Association is a good start. Ask if the builder is a member of a home warranty program.
- Check references. Talk to both past and current clients. Ask to speak to subcontractors, too. Online reviews can be useful, but be aware that they may be unreliable.
- Visit a current worksite. A worksite visit can tell you a great deal about build quality and how a builder approaches work. Look for organization, safety and the quality of the workers.
- Check out the subcontractors. Homebuilders do not require special licensing, however, the regulated trades (electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.) require licensing and insurance.
- Ask for a detailed contract. The contract should include timelines and deadlines, along with penalties for missing deadlines. It should spell out what is to be constructed, the materials (including make and model #), the payments and their delivery. Document everything.
- Document any changes in the project. Accept only written change orders for payment. It doesn’t matter if you change the Lisbon tile for Carrera marble, do not pay unless you can approve it. A change order should include the new work, materials and cost.
- Expect a reasonable deposit and milestone payments. If you take out a loan to build your dream home, your lender may have building guidelines to follow. In general, do not expect to pay more than 10% down, although your builder may request more for expensive materials. After that, disburse payments at contract milestones. The contract should include a payment schedule and agreed-upon terms.
Set Expectations For Your Builder
Don’t sign a contract for your maximum building budget. No matter how careful you and the builder are in preparation, there will be surprises. Maintain at least a 10% contingency fund for those unexpected costs.
Negotiate your ground rules. Discuss what hours the contractor can work and the hours you may visit your site. Good service and communication should not end once you sign the contract. Schedule regular job site talks to clear any issues.
Fixing something during installation is much easier than ripping out the finished work and starting over. Know who the subcontractors are. When you make milestone payments, get materials receipts and lien releases from the subcontractors.
Verify insurance coverage. Make sure that your dream home isn’t at risk if equipment or materials go missing. Verify warranty coverage and finish quality before you make the final payment.
Contact a Custom Luxury Home Expert
Want to know first-hand how to build a custom home? Let us walk you through the process.