How to Choose a Builder

Filed Under: July 2019 Issue, Toolbox Articles

By Tony Shepley
Why do you need a builder? If you don’t speak the language every day, understanding it can be a huge learning curve. Have you ever listened to aircraft pilot radio communications? To us, the untrained, they are cryptic gibberish. We are not unintelligent, we are simply inexperienced. You or I could, with time and practice become skilled air traffic controllers, but if we’re learning radio speak, on the job, with little or no training, under pressure, the risks of error are extremely high.
So what is a builder? I believe a good builder is a labor and materials manager who has leverage with suppliers and subcontractors. A good builder is an experienced consultant and advisor who serves as an information and referral source. A good builder is a Building Code expert (this is key with the new 9th edition Mass Code), a critical path planner, a psychologist, a referee, and the orchestra conductor who has to keep track of all the parts.
Where can you find a builder? Use the resources that are available to you. You can look online, but verify the contact through your local Chamber of Commerce or the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod. There is nothing better than a referral! If someone you trust can make a recommendation, that’s typically a good start. And don’t forget to call Shepley! We can give you a list of several good, solid builders to choose from.
How do you choose a builder? The first step is to interview a few builders and make some determinations in regard to: values, capability, compatibility, communication, and definition.
Values – find a builder who has values similar to yours. You’re not likely to change each other during the course of building a house, so choose someone you can get a long with – it’s a relationship. Visit current or recent jobs they’ve done and look for quality of work, cleanliness, safety adherence, and amount of waste created. You need a builder who can listen to you and understand you and your needs.
Capability – “You can’t force a square peg into a round hole”, the old saying goes. Find someone qualified to do your job. Don’t hire a framer, who may have no General Contracting experience to General Contract your job. Check out current clients that have similar projects and ask them if they would hire the contractor again and if the job was completed on-time and within budget. Do your diligence!
Compatibility – don’t start a project without it! You are embarking on an adventure that can feel risky. With risk can come panic. Look for a builder that you can trust, who balances you, not upsets you. Check references and look for customers who have had similar work done by your prospective builder. Ask the key, closed ended question, “Would you hire this builder again for your next project?” Building is a wonderful and creative process – set yourself up to enjoy it!
Communication – your interview process and budget discussions will open you and your builder up to each other. Define what you want for information, how much and how you like to get it –perhaps weekly meetings with progress reports and percentage of completion. Set a timeline and a budget to compare your progress to your goal. The best follow up is a quick note or e-mail to summarize a conversation and to clarify exactly what was said and who is responsible for what duties. I recommend writing e-mails because you can’t re-read a phone conversation! And don’t be afraid to clip out photographs and draw pictures. We are visual beings and this can be helpful to ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for.
Definition – Put it in writing! Define everything up front with a contract. Ask your builder to document and price any “extras” so you know what you’re spending and have control of the budget. Define the pricing structure. Will it be a contract price for the entire job, cost plus, or not to exceed with incentive to do better (could be based on time, money, or both)?
This is a wonderful time to build or remodel. Lumber prices are relatively low, as are interest rates. Never is a project more rewarding and enjoyable than when you have selected the correct professionals to do it right. When we at Shepley build anything, we always use a builder. We supply the pros, we hire the pros.
Tony Shepley is the President at Shepley Wood Products Inc. and can be reached at 508.862.6200

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