Embarking on your custom home journey is exciting, but the sheer number of choices on the market when it comes to custom home builders can appear a bit daunting. When each homebuilder looks more enticing than the last, you aren’t alone if you’ve been asking yourself the question of “Which of these is really the best home builder for me?”
As custom home experts ourselves, we don’t blame you if you don’t know where or how to start looking — that’s why we’ve written this short guide, to help you with the process of choosing the right home builder for you, your tastes, and your budget.
Start By Forming a List
Any quick Google search can give you an exhaustingly long list of homebuilders in your area, but what’s going to be of real value to you, however, is a short list of the top 5-10 custom home builders in your area.
Start by sifting through that long list of homebuilders on Google, or by listing off homebuilders you’ve heard about through friends or family, or checking your local newspaper or classifieds, or however you like — just keep the key details, things like budget, style, specialty and so on, in the back of your mind as you search. As you do, filter out homebuilders that are far outside your budget, for example, or ones who don’t construct the type of home you’d like to build.
Whittle It Down to a Few
A list of 5-10 custom home builders you like is a great start, but now is the time to get that list down to just three or four. From there, you’ll be in a much better position to start getting into the nitty-gritty with the minute details of your favorite homebuilders.
But what’s the best way to go about whittling it down?
A good place to start is budget. You’ve already disqualified the builders who are way above or below your budget, but now is the perfect time to go back to your short list and see which builders most closely match your budget constraints. It’s best to err on the side of caution on this step, if you feel like you’re picking a builder who might take you over your budget, it may be best to look elsewhere — drying up your budget before completion is the last thing you want to experience when building a home.
Now, of those builders on your list that are comfortably within your budget, find one that best matches your style. This is where building a custom home starts to get fun — now’s the time where you can browse all those pictures and catalogs to see what you like best in a home!
Online photo galleries and portfolios are a great resource at this stage. Almost all custom home builders will be eager to show off all the beautiful work they’ve done in their field, so you can be confident the ones on your list will have their own photo galleries online as well. When looking at these galleries, try to imagine yourself and/or your design in them — does this builder match your style and your vision? Do the homes in these pictures look solidly built? Does the decor match the rest of the house? Keep questions like these in mind as you enjoy the galleries, and you’ll gradually come closer to your three or four favorite builders.
If you spot a house or two you’re particularly fond of, you can also try to bring it up in Google Street View. Google the address of the house you want to look at, then drop the “little orange guy” pin in the bottom right of the window right by the blue dot, where the house is on the map. From there, you can get a much more realistic view of what that gorgeous house looks like, without all the fancy post-production and perfect lighting that realtors love to use. If it holds up on Street View like it does on the builder’s portfolio, that’s a good sign.
If you like, you can also go the extra mile to gain information on your short list of builders. Ask around between your friends and family, check your local homebuilding magazines for more shots and info, view those builders’ Houzz and HomeAdvisor pages, among other things. The key thing is that you feel confident in your final three or four choices, once you are, it’s time to move on to the next step of your selection process.
See It For Yourself
If the last part was where it got fun, this is the part where it gets engaging. With a final short list of your preferred builders in hand, now is the perfect time to visit a house from each of those home builders.
From their online portfolios, pick out one or two of your favorite homes of theirs, then start mapping out a mini road trip. Seeing your preferred builders’ houses in person is the best way to vet their build quality, the only issue is the time it takes to do so. So be smart about which houses you choose to visit if you are short on time.
Once you visit a house you’ve picked out, now is the time when you can see it for what it really is — minus all the photo-manipulation tricks realtors use. Compare what you saw online to what you see in real life, ask yourself whether not the house holds up in person like it did online or through Google Street View.
If, when looking at the house, you notice things that are, for lack of a better word, “off” about it, take note of those things. Does the house match the neighborhood it was built in, or does it stand out like a perhaps-sore thumb? Do all of the facets of the house still mesh together and look like a coherent, intentional design, or do they look like a mish-mash of a bunch of different design elements when viewed from up close? Does the facade still look solid, or is it already starting to show some wear and tear?
When evaluating your houses, make sure you keep build quality and longevity in mind. Your house is your greatest investment, and if you spot that one builder’s houses consistently look like they’re less-than-stellar in terms of build quality — faded paint, worn accents, visible damage, etc. — that may be a major mark against that particular builder. Likewise, if a builder’s houses are consistently high-quality and still look like new, you may consider that a major point in their favor.
It’s prudent to keep a house’s age in mind when viewing them in person. A newer house will, of course, look better than your average older house, however a house that looks like new after several years or over a decade is worth a lot more to you than one that’s showing wear after all that time. Inversely, a newer house that is already worn-looking is a warning sign. You want your greatest investment to start off looking and performing well, and to continue to do so for many, many years to come.
It may also be helpful to talk with the homeowner, if they’re open for a brief chat about their home. Ask them how satisfied they are with their custom home, if they ran into any trouble with their builder, or if they’ve had any flaws with their home since moving in.
Making the Final Decision
If you’ve been diligently taking notes throughout this process, both mental and physical, then you’re in a great position to finally choose the right home builder for you and your needs, budget and tastes. Keep in mind everything you’ve done up to this point, from the builders’ reputation to their housing styles to the real-world examples of their work.