Congratulations! You are about to embark on a fun adventure, you are considering building your own custom dream home. You have likely been thinking through ideas, drafting floor plans, and pinning kitchens for a while now in anticipation of beginning your custom home journey. We are excited to play a role in helping shape the path you walk as you search for a custom home builder.

A question you may be asking is “how do I pick a good custom home builder?”. There are a lot of good options in Winnipeg, but how do I select the best one? Building a custom home is a big commitment that comes with a long vendor relationship. You’ll be spending the next year and a half of your life working together to build your dream home. Choose well and you will have a trusted partner building your high-quality dream home in an enriching relationship. Choose poorly and you may have the all-too-familiar construction horror story.

The Early Stages

At the beginning of the search, it is a good idea to consult with family, friends, and neighbours who have built. While they may not provide a no-brainer choice, they will at least give you good advice on who to avoid. Once you have a bit of a list started it is a good idea to hit google to check out the companies suggested, as well as find some new candidates. While searching, try to search for specific details about the type of home builder you want. If you are looking to just get into a new home, maybe you are looking for a reputable track builder. If you are looking for a custom new home in a mature neighbourhood it is important to search for custom infill builders so that you find someone with the experience you need to navigate those waters.

Once you have a longer list together it would be a good idea to contact them through their website. That is a good test of how quick they respond, and how willing they are to assist you with your unique project. Of course, they will want to set up a face-to-face meeting, but it may be prudent to ask some questions over email before sitting down with them to ensure you don’t go through 10 face to face meetings all over the city. This is unless you are quite comfortable you could be a good match (maybe they were a referral from a friend or neighbour, or maybe they fit your exact niche).

And Then There Were Fewer

When determining which builders you would like to sit down with face to face it can be important to have a template for the questions you wish to ask each builder. There are plenty of templates like this one available, but the key is that you sort out which ones clearly aren’t up to your standards as quickly as possible. Ensuring they have good insurance, reasonable security deposits required, and take on your size of project are good starter questions.

From here when sitting down with your top candidates we recommend being intentional about the next steps to ensure you are set up for a good building experience with your chosen builder. Take time to be curious, explore threads that are revealed in your conversations and ask tough questions. There are 4 considerations we think are effective at informing how you could reasonably expect the building phase to go. They are 1) Are you a “match”, 2) References, 3) Costing and 4) Complexity. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Are you a “match”?

The first step is somewhat subjective, but basically do you see eye to eye? Are you trying to build an energy efficient earth ship with a builder who wants to build track homes, or are you trying to get into a starter basic home with a custom builder who builds high-end sustainable homes? Be realistic with what you want from your builder, and what they offer. A bad fit won’t work well for either party. A philosophical alignment on what is important when designing and building is important. There are helpful question templates to figure out how much of a match you are. One like this may be valuable to you.

You will also want to consider how “custom” do you need your home to be? Are you looking for the ability to have the whole home designed around your yard and how you plan to use the home, or are you okay with just picking flooring and paint in a predetermined floor plan? There is a wide variety of customization available, and the more customized you get, the more you will need a builder able to deliver on all your unique details.

In the end, you want to confirm that they hear you when you say what is important to you, and that you get along. Make sure that you are not just talking to the sales team, but ask to meet the production team, the financial team, and the design team to make sure the team is one you would enjoy talking to for a year and a half long bus ride. There’s a long and fun relationship that can be had when you are a good match with your builder.

Ask for References!

It is important to ask questions about past relationships. Assuming that the company has been around for a while, they should have experience building similar scopes to what you are asking for. Similar scope doesn’t necessarily just mean budget and square footage, although those are important considerations. Engage the builder in a conversation about the unique features of your home.  Do they have the experience to build what you are looking for? For example, do you want to build home with double walls, a full ICF build, a home with an elevator, a home with an indoor pool/hot tub room, or other unique features? You may want an ultra modern home, and your builder has only ever built farmhouses. A wide variety of design and styles in their portfolio indicates a builder who can really listen to their client and make them feel at home in a design that is unique to them.

When you get a list of references it is important to ask each one what went well, and what went poorly. Much like a job interview, you are trying to open your eyes to what will be the struggles and the joys of working together. No job ever goes 100% perfectly, did the builder listen and work together to find solutions, or did they threaten to escalate to legal remedies when things weren’t as planned? The goal is to establish a reasonable expectation of how the building relationship will go. Not to see if they ever had problems, but how they overcame and addressed them.

Would Somebody Please Think About the Budget?

It may seem strange to leave costing till closer to the end, but while it is a crucial part of the build experience, it typically isn’t a great way to tell builders apart at the beginning. Some builders will offer you “starting at” pricing or will price different standard finishes and others will price what you asked for, or higher end construction details, and thus builders may well be far apart in their preliminary budgets. If one is pricing ICF foundation with floors and walls on piles, and another a conventional concrete wall on piles with a floating slab, there will be a large quality and price difference right off the hop. So, while pricing is important to your custom home build, it is a more difficult item to compare builders based on upfront.

When comparing pricing between builders make sure you get a detailed list of what is and what is not included to avoid unfair comparisons. Make sure you are comparing a fully costed budget, not cost per square foot, as that can be calculated in many ways.

One part of the pricing conversation is what kind of contract are you signing. Typically there are two types of contracts used for new custom homes, and that would be cost-plus where the builder passes on all of their pricing to the customer, and fixed price, where the builder sets a firm price for the whole project. There are variations to each, for example cost-plus could be a fixed fee for management, or a percentage-based mark-up, and it could be on the builder’s costs, or the MSRP, so it is important to understand what your builder is proposing.   

Do They Make Things Easier or Harder?

This is my favourite litmus test and is used across almost all my purchases. When builders are talking to you and explaining their services, do they try to make things seem complicated and specialized, or are they able to clearly and effectively communicate in a way that makes things seem simpler rather than more complicated?

Often when a builder or other vendor has something to hide they will try to make their offering, or what they are proposing, seem needlessly complicated or difficult to understand or do. They will try to force you to rely on them and their understanding to get you through. A great builder will attempt to be your guide, not the hero. They will try to make things simple to understand and highlight the process they will follow in easy-to-understand language. They are confident that their product will speak for itself, and are confident in the team, systems, and processes they have in place to deliver it.

So there you have it, a number of important things to consider when selecting your home builder. We wish you all the best as you go through the process, and if we are a good fit, we look forward to getting to know you, hearing your dreams for your home, and turning the home in your dreams to the home of your dreams. Call us today to schedule a meeting and learn more about building your sustainable home!