How to Choose a Home Builder?
The question of “How to Choose a Home Builder?” does not adequately get to the heart of determining a home builder. If one says, “How do I choose a car?” – there are many aspects that one must first consider. To consider the question of how to choose a home builder, one must first decide where they want to build, what market-level of home they want to build, and what features they want to build. Once a person establishes those factors, one can start determining a home builder. Thus, this guide focuses on “How to Choose a High-Performance Luxury Custom Home Builder in Montana.” This guide is for someone who wants a high-performance home, that is luxury, and is a custom-built home.
You know the basic category of the home that you want. You know you want to build a home in Montana. However, you do not know what to look for in home builders, certainly not where to look for home builders. Many people experience this step – you are not alone! Determining a home builder is an important step, and going with the wrong home builder can be a costly experience. Let us work to make your home building experience be the best it can be!
Before you consider a home builder, make sure the builder has liability and builders risk insurance. A builder who does not hold liability or builders risk insurance may seem less expensive at first. However, the choice may be more costly in the long-term. Also, make sure you check how much liability insurance the builder holds. You do not want to cut costs on liability and builders risk insurance!
Memberships and Affiliations
Home Builder Associations
To start the home builder searching experience, you should search for a home builder who is a member of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). NAHB members in Montana are members of the Montana Building Industry Association (MBIA) and the local association, such as the Missoula Building Industry Association (MBIA) or the Flathead Building Association (FBA). The NAHB is the premier trade association in the United States for home builders. Through choosing a home builder who is a member of the NAHB, clients have a certain level of guarantee that these organizations are the craftsmen, the problem solvers, and the innovators of the home building industry.
Is the builder a member of business organizations? Membership in organizations such as the local chamber of commerce, for example, the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce or the Columbia Falls Area Chamber of Commerce can help ensure the home builder is not a fly-by-night operation. Another organization to check is the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB is an independent organization that works to advance marketplace trust by giving business ratings, having customer reviews, and showing customer complaints. A builder who is a “BBB Accredited Business” with an “A+” BBB rating is a good choice to ensure dealing with a business that has high customer standards.
Certifications and Designations
The NAHB has certifications that can be held by home builders. Professional certifications that are important for a high-performance luxury custom home builder to hold are Certified Graduate Builder (CGB) and Certified Green Professional (CGP). The CGB designation shows that a builder has received NAHB training. The CGB has excelled in exams showing mastery in homebuilding. Click here to see builders in Montana who have the CGB designation. The CGP designation shows a builder has received NAHB training and excelled on tests to showcase comprehension and mastery in green or energy-efficient home building practices. Click here to see builders in Montana who have the CGP designation. One can also check if the builder attended an accredited college. While a college education can show a builder has “higher education,” one should see how the education connects to the home building industry. Does the builder have a college degree with NAHB certifications? If the builder has a college degree but no experience in the home building industry, then the builder may not be the best choice.
The person who is going to supervise the job should have extensive industry experience. The home building firm may be large, with many employees or small with few employees. Make sure to ask the home builder who oversees the project. The owner of the business may manage all the projects, or the firm may have Project Managers or Superintendents. Oftentimes a high-performance luxury custom home builder has much of the company working on the project.
Ability to Complete Job
Make sure to ensure the builder can complete the job. For example, a respected builder who specializes in timber frame may not have the expertise or desire to build a log home. If you do find a builder who does not specialize in the project type that you desire, then you can ask for recommendations of those who do specialize in the industry. Since you should be choosing from builders who are members of the NAHB, a member is likely to recommend another member that does high-quality work with a different specialization. Make sure if you want an architect to design the home, the builder has experience with architects. Plus, if you want the builder to design the home, make sure the company is a design-build firm. When you are choosing a home builder, it is necessary to ensure that you are comparing all factors of the home builders. A home builder that does not work with architects may be a problem, or a builder that is not a design-build firm can be a serious issue if that is what you are looking for in a contractor.
Determine the timeline of when you want the home completed. It is essential to start the process as soon as you are interested in building. If you find a home builder that will work with a realtor, then you can have a smoother process through having the builder begin the process with you of planning for the home while looking for land. An important aspect of choosing a home builder is making sure your timeline aligns with the timeline of the home builder. One thing to keep in mind is that often a builder has a period of time before a project can start. A builder works with its subcontractors to plan a project. A builder who is busy is often a good sign that the builder has many projects – make sure though that the builder does not just have many projects because the homes are less expensive due to lower quality build.
Connections to Suppliers, Tradespeople, and Subcontractors
When hiring a home builder, you will want to choose a general contractor. A general contractor deals with suppliers, tradespeople, subcontractors, construction management, and project management. The general contractor is the one involved with the project from start to finish. If you do not have a general contractor, then you will have to deal with hiring the plumber, the electrician, the framers, and all the different aspects of building a home. A general contractor oftentimes receives better prices on all aspects of a job than the customer would if they did the project themselves. A general contractor makes sure the quality of the subcontractors, such as framers, electricians, and plumbers, aligns with the quality the homeowner has signed up for with the contractor, per se. When choosing a high-performance luxury custom home builder, make sure to choose a builder that has connections, relationships, and partnerships with those in the industry. If you choose a home builder that does not oversee the hiring of trim carpenters, for example, then you may end up with a high-end luxury home with starter home trim. Starter home trim and starter home trim carpenters have a place. However, unless you want a style of starter home trim in your home, then you should have luxury or premium quality trim.
Can the home builder provide references? If the home builder refuses to provide references, then that may be a bad sign! A builder may have more references then they put on their website. Not all clients want their information published, but they may be willing to speak to potential clients or even let the potential clients come to see the home. Google and Houzz are two places you can look at reviews for home builders. No reviews on a site is not necessarily bad! Just make sure the builder is willing to give you access to reviews and references from past clients.
High-performance luxury custom home builders have different processes and systems in place.
Questions to Ask:
- Do you use a construction project management software program and app?
- Do you help build a design that is within the budget that helps fulfill our dream?
- Make sure to choose a home builder that will help work through your budget with you, to help build a project that is your dream, while keeping you within budget.
- Do you have ways to communicate remotely via video?
- Do you send daily updates?
- Programs such as Buildertrend allow for sending daily logs or daily updates.
- Do you allow for change orders?
- With custom builds, it is often a good idea to choose a builder that will allow for change orders. However, change orders do usually add extra costs to the project.
- Do you allow for visits to a job site?
- It is essential to make sure you can visit a job and receive tours from the builder.
The following video shows what a program such as Buildertrend can do. Ask the builder for a video or directions for how to use the construction project management tool they use.
What Makes the Contractor a Montana Home Builder?
A contractor that is a Montana home builder is based in Montana. Choosing a home builder that is based in Montana for a build is a good idea for many reasons. Construction has different laws from state to state. In high-performance home building, a builder must have experience in a state to ensure the home is built for conditions in a particular state. For example, a home in Montana will need more significant structures to stand up to snow in the winter than a house in Texas.
What Makes the Contractor A High-Performance Home Builder?
Builders may have differing views of how a high-performance home differs from a non-high-performance home. A high-performance home takes many features into account. A home builder can partner with the United States Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home program to certify homes that are high-performance homes. A true high-performance home allows for a superior homeowner experience.
Features of a Certified Zero Energy Ready Home:
- Provides $10,000s of utility bill savings over the life of a mortgage
- Takes comfy and cozy to a whole new level
- Breathes better with a comprehensive package of indoor air quality features
- Includes the peace-of-mind that comes from complete top-to-bottom water protection
- Works and lasts better with ENERGY STAR® products throughout the home
- Ensures quality with independent verification, testing, and diagnostics
- Is future-ready with construction that meets and exceeds future codes
House certifications are a clear way to see that a home builder is building homes to a high set of standards. However, many home builders in Montana do not have certified homes because of a lack of inspectors and validators.
When talking to potential builders, ask them what technologies they use to determine what are the best features to create a high-performance home. Does the home builder use techniques and tools, such as UCLA’s Climate Consultant, to accurately determine the local climate? Does the builder consider a high-performance home strictly focused on energy savings, cost savings, comfort, advanced building techniques, or design? A builder who takes a holistic approach to design and building the home will allow for a more exceptional experience in the short-term and the long-term for the homeowner.
When talking with a home builder, ensure that they will add or remove features, such as energy-efficient aspects, as the homeowner can afford. For example, some features may be more advanced techniques, but may not be in the budget for the homeowner.
What Are the Builder’s Definitions of Custom and Luxury?
When finding a home builder, make sure that you understand what the builder means when they say they are a custom home builder. Some builders suggest they will allow the home to be fully custom, while other home builders mean the color of the walls can be changed. Determine if the builder is a true fully custom home builder or if the builder is a semi-custom home builder. Both fully custom and semi-custom homes have their place. However, if you are comparing home builders, you will want to be sure that you understand what you are getting from the different builders. If you hire a fully custom home builder, then you will be able to customize the home entirely. However, if you choose a semi-custom home builder, then you will not have a fully custom home. Also, when meeting with potential home builders, determine what the builder means by luxury. Does the home builder mean fully luxury with energy, fixtures, finishes, and the entire home, or does the builder mean one aspect is luxury, such as fixtures? A home that is built entirely luxury is much different from a house that is made with only some luxury aspects. Also, in the phase of determining what the builder means by custom and luxury, determine if the builder is willing to build a smart home. Some builders may not advertise smart home technologies. However, they regularly put smart home technologies in the homes per the request of the homeowner.
Make sure the builder you are hiring is within your budget. A builder priced at a certain market range may not be building products within that range. Compare and look at all aspects of the builder to determine what range of homes they are building. The builder may have prices in the luxury range but is building starter home quality homes. Alternatively, the builder may have a little lower price but is building high-quality homes. Make sure that you can afford the home builder’s price. You do not want to take your time and the builder’s time spent planning for a home that there is no way you can afford. Be upfront with what you can afford. A good builder will be honest with you if they think they can build a home in that price range. Although choices in the finishes, for example, may make the price of the home change much. You need to find a builder that explains the processes and prices. Nevertheless, also, be willing to change your plans and finishes to build a home in your price range.
Choosing a high-performance luxury custom home builder is a significant life event. A home is something that one calls home for many years and has many memories. Choose a home builder that “fits” with you, plus meets the criteria set out in this guide. Choosing the wrong home builder can be a costly mistake. However, one can take a little longer selecting a home builder to ensure they choose the right home builder. Make sure to choose a holistic home builder who has a 360-degree view of the built environment. A home builder who is viewed as a thought-leader in the industry is oftentimes a superb starting place. Always look for builders who are a member of the NAHB. There are many builders in Montana, and choosing a builder that is a member of the NAHB helps ensure you select a home builder that has high quality and standards.
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About Nicolas R. Ream:
Nicolas R. Ream, the author, is studying Marketing, Management, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, and Pre-Law at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. Nicolas works at Montana Heritage Home Builders, Inc., a high-performance luxury custom home builder in Columbia Falls, Montana. Nicolas is a member of the National Association of Home Builders, the Montana Building Industry Association, and the Flathead Building Association. Nicolas works to be future-focused with his writings to ensure someone can use the information in the future; for example, Nicolas recommends using Houzz (a digital tool) as a resource for researching home builders.
References and Sources: See hyperlinks, also personal experience and knowledge.
Photos have been used with permission from Montana Heritage Home Builders, Inc.
This guide has been created in the BMKT 440: Marketing Analytics class with Professor Mario Schulzke.
Have questions for Nicolas?
Post them in the comments below. I will be checking them, and responding as soon as I can. Thank you!
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