When building your own home, hiring the right builder is one of the most important steps you'll take. But, in actuality, what value does your builder provide to you and your project? The answer might not be what you'd expect.
Most builders will display a portfolio of beautiful projects on their website and social media (ourselves included). You'll see elaborate cabinetry, trendy tile, bright colors, and all sorts of details that make great photos. But I would argue those accomplishments are probably misattributed to builders. The designers (or architects) and homeowners are the ones that choose the cabinets, the tile, paint colors ,etc. The architects draw the beautiful buildings as well as the details on how they go together. Sure it's the builder's job to assemble the right team and execute those details, but shouldn't that be the minimum requirements of a builder, not what makes one great? Great builders go above and beyond just executing what other people have designed.
Planning and Forethought
A good builder will guide you through the planning process, going over each detail with the architect, engineer, building performance designer, surveyor, interior designer, and whoever else is involved in the project. They take the time to view all these details as a whole to find as many potential problems as they can, so they can be avoided instead of mitigated. Wouldn't it be better to figure out before framing that a toilet drain line is going to fall in the middle of a floor joist? Or that the tile you picked out for your master shower floor doesn't meet the industry standard for slip resistance (before you have it installed and can't return it)? Taking the time up front to work through these details will make the process and end result much better than fixing it as you go.
Permanent vs Temporary
As a homeowner, you're almost certainly going to be drawn towards the pretty, tangible things in your home. Items like tile, cabinet colors, light/plumbing fixtures, etc. end up being the focus, but what we've seen historically is that those things are only temporarily in your home. Most people will do at least small renovations to update the look of their home within 7-10 years of their build. There are, however, some things that are much more difficult to change after the home is built, and that's another major area a good builder can show his value. It's not too hard to change your backsplash down the road, but how hard would it be to upgrade the insulation in your walls? The air tightness of the home? Floor stiffness? HVAC design? Upgrading things like the weather barrier that keeps air and water out of your house would be a HUGE undertaking after the house is complete, but all of these are major components in the actual quality of your home. Since everyone has some semblance of a budget, a good builder will help you see the importance of spending probably more than you want on the things that can't be changed later, and maybe a little less on the pretty things that you could upgrade down the road.
One of the most tangible values a builder can bring is how they track the different aspects of your project. How does your builder track and confirm all the items you've picked out to go in your house and everything you still need to select? How often do they update you on where you are vs. your budget (bonus points if you can see things real time as they change)? What does your build schedule look like and does it get regularly updated? There are many ways to organize all of these, but the most effective way we've seen is to have one central construction management software that you as the homeowner also have access to. Which software they have isn't as important because they all have their pros and cons, as long as they have one and utilize it.
This section is last on purpose because it's a tough one to judge. Experience can be incredibly helpful for a builder... unless it's bad experience. Doing something for 40 years is great, but who's to say they haven't been doing it wrong for 40 years? And as a homeowner, how would you even know? How we build and the products we use has changed SO much, even in just the past decade, so doing something for a long time can actually be a detriment if you aren't learning along the way.
On the flip side, knowledge isn't entirely useful without practical experience. You can know everything there is to know about a set of house plans, but if you've never actually built a house, that knowledge is tough to put to good use.
The combination of experience AND knowledge is the sweet spot you're looking for. Ask your potential builder how they continue to learn (above and beyond their required minimum continuing education).
When hiring your builder, look past the pretty pictures and tantalizing social media posts to really hone in on what value you need from them and if they meet those needs. That person will not only create a better house in the end, but also deliver a better process for you along the way.