What Should You REALLY Expect From Your Custom Home Contractor?

Whenever I speak with someone that has lived through building a custom home the first question I ask them is “Did you enjoy the experience?”  Not surprisingly, 9 times out of 10 the answer is a resounding “No.”  Or more than likely a “Hell NO!”  I’m never surprised by this answer.  Building a custom home is unlike anything you’ve probably ever been through and going into the process it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect.  Combine this with the fact that homes built today are pretty much built the same exact way they were 50 or 100 years ago and you’ve got the perfect recipe for frustration.  The only way to ensure that building your dream home is an experience you and your family can enjoy is to ensure that you have the right expectations going into the process and that you’ve selected the right custom home contractor for the work.

How can you ensure that your home building journey is a positive one and delivers the end result you expect?  We’ve picked 5 important items that we share with our customers to help reinforce what they should expect from their contractor as they move forward with building their very own, custom home.

No Project Plan – No Deal!

Your custom home contractor should be able to estimate and predict your finish date fairly accurately after your first couple of meetings.  If they cannot, will not or you just aren’t comfortable with they have to say it’s worth getting a 2nd opinion.   Building a custom home has a huge number of moving parts, variables and contributors.  First and foremost you want your contractor to be really, really good when it comes to building a home.  But just as important is their ability to manage a complex workflow.  Building a house, of any size, in not an insignificant feat.  It requires the ability to manage timelines, resources and deliverables – as well as be an expert craftsman.  You need and should demand somebody that can do both.  And the plan for your project plan cannot live just between your contractor’s ears.  It needs to be something that is used to guide the work AT and ON the project and to keep the moving parts coordinated.

With a living, breathing project plan it’s easy to sit down with your contractor and look through the schedule.  Discuss the critical path items and understand the justification for the timeframes you are being provided.  Without that, the schedule for your project is nothing more than a guess.  Sure it’s probably guided by some past experiences but it still should be visible and your contractor (and you) should be accountable to it.  Put more simply, if your contractor can’t build and manage a project plan you should question whether they are the right person to be building your $400,000.00 home.

Custom Home Contractor Project Plan

Make The Hard Decisions First

It’s human nature to focus our time and energy on the things that we enjoy.  Whether it’s picking out flooring, paint colors, TV sizes/locations, you name it.  But 99% of the time those items do not significantly impact budget or schedule.  The hard decisions, or the decisions that we don’t really care for or want to make, (Do I like the 4/12 roof pitch?  Do we have a tub/shower combo or just a shower in the 3rd bathroom?, Where do we put the washer/dryer?) are likely the items the affect your budget and schedule significantly.  The longer it takes to make those decisions the worse off you and your contractor will be.  Your custom home contractor/designer, should be making it a priority to work with you in order to get all your “tough” decisions out of the way as early in the project as possible.  This will help focus you and your custom home contractor on what is important and to get those items handled quickly and efficiently.  If your contractor is not forcing you to make the hard decision up front then they aren’t doing you any favors.  They are making assumptions for you and building the house the way they believe it should be done – not the way you want this done.

A Bill for Every Change Order

It will happen to you and it happens in every project.  There will be things that come up that you want or need to change.  And like the saying goes “There is no such thing as a free lunch”.  In our world there are no free change orders.  If your custom home contractor tells you that there is no cost to make that change, then you really should question whether or not you have the right contractor.  Seriously.  It sounds self-serving and I get it.  However, there is a cost to that change.  It needs to be documented, accounted for and included in the plan.  Even if a new material doesn’t need to be ordered or if another sub-contractor doesn’t need to be brought in there still is a REAL cost.  Nobody, wants to their contractor to go broke – trust me.  If you think paying a $50 change order bill is expensive, try working your way through the legal system to get your half-built home out of bankruptcy.  Now that’s expensive.  Your time is valuable and so is your contractor’s.  Every change order has a cost – so expect a bill.  And if your contractor is not asking you to sign-off on and passing along an invoice for every change order they aren’t doing that because they are nice.  They are doing it because they don’t have a way to track/measure the change and it more than likely means they are missing other critical elements on your project and not giving you the full story.  Who wants that from their custom home contractor?

The Ability To View Your Home Virtually

It’s 2015 (2016 here in a couple of weeks) and technology, virtual reality and computers dominate our lives.  There is NO, and I repeat NO, reason that you should be forced to imagine what your new home is going to look like by staring at a set of lines on a big piece of paper.  Your designer, contractor and/or architect should be able to show you EXACTLY what your house is going to look like with photo realistic renderings, furnishings and landscaping.  And if they aren’t showing you these types of things you need to talk to somebody who can do that for you, period.

Build Your House Twice

Using industry standard tools, have your contractor/designer build the house for you the first time virtually.  Let them show you how it’s going to look, feel and flow.  Change small things, try different colors.  This is what is at your fingertips today.  Yes, these items come with a cost but that cost pales in comparison to changing it in the field or getting it wrong.  Spending this time up front will significantly shorten your build time and will allow to you make all those hard decisions early on and limit change orders.  Then, you can set your contractor to work to build your house the final time and you’ll have the comfort of knowing that you’ve already solved 99.9% of the problems you could encounter.

Custom Home Contractor Renderings

Visibility And Transparency

Not intending to be beat the technology drum to death here but again we live in the world of Twitter, the 24 hour news cycle and instant information.  Working with your custom home contractor should be no different.  If you don’t have access to daily field reports showing what happened each day and/or a live project plan showing you how your project is progressing you probably need a new contractor.   There is no reason you should be without that information and given the world we live in, it’s easier than ever for your contractor or project manager to provide you with that.  When deciding on your custom home contractor be sure to find out how often they’ll coordinate updates with you and how those updates will be communicated.  And honestly, meeting with them every couple of weeks to talk through the progress just isn’t enough anymore.

I’m sure we lose a few customers when lay out these critical items at our first appointment because that’s just not the story they get from other contractors.  Nobody wants to hear that EVERY change will cost them something – I get it.  Too often we get caught up in that first conversation or fail to look at the cost over the 6 to 12 months that you might be spending with this person.  And they want your business, so most custom home contractors are not going to go out of their way to explain how difficult this can be or that maybe there are better ways to operate their business.  There are better ways to build houses – you just have to look around.  And as somebody that is getting ready to spend $200,000, $300,000, $400,000 or more on the home of their dreams you should demand it.  We are big believers that change happens for a reason and that it’s the responsibility of every company to embrace that change or be left behind.  Who wants their 21st Century home built using 19th Century tools and methods?  Not me.  You shouldn’t either!

If it’s time for you to find a new custom home contractor or you’d like to talk to somebody about your existing project do not hesitate to contact us!
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