One of the most important steps of the custom home process if finding the right builder. Not only does this help ensure that your project stays within budget and on schedule, it sets your mind at ease. Building is stressful: the best quality home builders in Florida will communicate clearly and frequently, be transparent about details, listen to your ideas and concerns, answer your questions with patience and attention, and walk with you each step of the way to help relieve, and even eliminate, that worry and anxiety. In other words, good home builders can make this an exciting time in your life. Bad ones? Well… they can make creating your dream home a nightmare.
That’s why it’s so crucial to know the signs of a good home builder. This means knowing what to look for in how they treat you, as well as knowing any red flags that should alarm you.
10 Ways to Tell the Bad from the Good Home Builders
If you spot any of these signs, it’s time to make a change to a new custom home builder:
Lack of Experience
You may absolutely love a home builder who doesn’t have the experience needed to build the home you want. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or bad at their job. It just means they’re not the best fit for you. A home builder should be up front about how their experience suits what you’re looking to build.
One of the most important signs of a good home builder is accountability. They should be able to tell you exactly what makes them experienced, and be able to provide previous examples of similar homes they’ve built.
Builders encounter similar challenges in every home they build. They’ll also encounter unique ones that are particular to your home. Their experience shows you that they can tackle routine challenges on a schedule, and that they can work in customization and problem-solving without interrupting that schedule.
Everyone wants some element of their home to be uniquely theirs. It may be something large or a small detail. Either way, a good home builder will be able to include that in their considerations.
We have more access to reviews and assessments than ever before. It’s easy to hop online and read up on others’ experiences with a home builder. The best quality home builders in Florida should be found on Google Reviews, as well as on social media sites like Facebook. Ensure they have strong reviews here.
Read the reviews, too. This helps you learn what specific problems were faced and how that home builder problem-solved with the homeowner. A builder that repeatedly fails to earn satisfactory reviews likely isn’t hitting schedules or being accountable to questionable work. A builder with 4 star-or-above reviews is likely consistent and dependable.
Little-to-No Concern for Energy Efficiency
The best quality home builders in Florida know their energy efficiency options inside and out. This means they have energy efficient floor plans of various sizes on offer. It means they can explain the benefits of compact ductwork. It means they can tell you where a little bit of extra budget for energy efficient materials in construction can mean thousands of dollars saved on energy bills as you own the home.
Energy efficiency is also a way of future proofing your home. Homes that aren’t energy efficient will have a much harder time selling in Florida in future years. It makes no sense to have a home built knowing that its value won’t hold because of this. That means energy efficient home builders are a must. They shouldn’t just be knowledgeable and experienced in this regard, they should also be able to teach you about energy efficiency and how it works.
This doesn’t mean your home builder should just say “Yes” all the time. They need to be honest with you about potential challenges or issues. The earlier and more up front they are about anything unexpected, the easier (and less expensive) it is to deal with them.
If they think something is a bad idea, they need to say so. That’s not shooting your idea down; there may just be a smarter way to accomplish it. This also means being up front with you about prices and costs.
Custom home builders do ask for a deposit before they start work: they need to start ordering materials and lining up subcontractors. But they should also have sufficient credit to do this without an absurdly high up front payment from you. If they ask for more than about 15%, proceed with caution. If they lack credit, ask why? Do they handle finances poorly? Do they walk out on jobs? Are homeowners unhappy with their work?
Later on, if you’re deep into construction and a cost isn’t what you expected, you’re either going to have to sacrifice money to pay for it or time in the schedule to find an alternative. This is why it’s crucial that a home builder communicates to you immediately about any changes in plan or cost estimates.
A home builder who’s willing to point out potential negatives in your plan and offer a way to problem-solve them isn’t afraid to be honest. That will also be a home builder who will communicate about changes or unexpected issues immediately.
Run, don’t walk, away from your builder if they do not want to sign a contract. This isn’t a piece of paper: it’s protection. A contract provides clarity and spells out the responsibilities of the builder in terms of work expectations, materials, budget, and more.
Again, if they don’t want to work under contract, ask why. Will they fail to complete work when and how they claim? Likely. Will they try to weasel out of shoddy work without repairing or redoing it? Also likely.
Terms of a contract is always negotiable. What isn’t negotiable is the fact that you need one.
Excessive Tardiness / Absenteeism
When you build your own home, you must fit it in around your job, family, and other obligations. You may come home from work and spend a few hours on your project. But when you hire a builder, this is their job. This is supposed to be their specialty, and they’re supposed to be focused on your project.
A builder needs to be on time when they’re juggling the schedules of inspectors and contractors to all fit together. How can they do this if they show a pattern of showing up late to your meetings. People have a tendency to become intimidated when it comes to working with home builders. It’s a complex process, and so they begin to treat the home builder as the boss. You’re the one paying them. You’re the one they work for. If they don’t show up on time or respond to your calls regularly, that’s a red flag.
If you stop in at your job site at 10:00 am or 2:00 pm and don’t see any activity, that’s a red flag, too. While scheduling is often flexible, they should be using relatively standard “business” hours to work.
Being late once or having to move a meeting for a good reason is legitimate. Home builders employ people, and people have emergencies or unexpected events. This is about being wary of any pattern of lateness, and a lack of accountability when it comes to acknowledging it. You need to know they can demonstrate in their meetings with you what they’re telling you they can demonstrate in a much more complex project.
But what if they’re waiting for your concrete floor to dry? Or they’ve framed up the walls and are waiting on the electrician? They need to be adept at scheduling so they can perform other tasks during these times. There shouldn’t be much “down time” on your project. Be especially cautious when reviewing bills: are they charging your for this lost time?
Using Alcohol or Drugs at Work
This is a no-no. Not only is it unsafe, it is entirely unprofessional. There is no excuse for any type of substance use on the job. Period. It can impact their judgment, lead to mistakes, create a dangerous environment, result in shoddy work that you’ll pay for down the line… the list goes on and on.
Your builder should never touch drugs or alcohol at work, and they should not tolerate any illicit use among their employees and subcontractors.
A custom home is built on communication. You hired these professionals to do a job because they have the technical experience you need. At the same time, you are in control: it is essential that you understand what is going on. Good home builders will take the time to explain steps and processes, answer questions, and hear concerns.
When you call, they should answer or call you back in a timely manner. If you email, text, or message, it’s the same. A prompt response is a must. If you can’t get in touch with your builder, it is a bad sign.
It’s also a bad sign if they do not communicate well. Their answers or explanations may be fuzzy, vague, or hidden in doublespeak. Are they trying to hide something? Are they trying to confuse you? Do they not have the answers you need?
Listening is an equally important piece of the communication puzzle. Does your builder take the time to listen to your ideas? Listen to your concerns? Listen to your suggestions? Did they put in off white cabinets when you wanted grey? Did they refuse to acknowledge you or take corrective action when they installed the incorrect bathroom fixtures? They’d better listen to you when you tell them they’re fired!
The best quality home builders in Florida will take your ideas and apply their vast experience to them. They’ll anticipate where an element of your idea may cause a problem, and develop a workaround for it. They’ll be able to offer practical advice about how to achieve the customization you want to see.
This may also mean fusing elements of what you want together, or offering alternative options on a floor plan. This doesn’t mean they’re trying to offend or override you. They have experience. They’ve seen homeowners insist on something and then wish they’d gone with a different layout, material, or other element. They’ll be respectful about this, but they will try to guide you now and then when they see a potential problem.
There’ll be moments where you override them because you really want it a certain way. There’ll be other moments where you realize they’re right and you need to implement a customization in a different way. That give and take is what a successful and productive working relationship is built around. When you find it, value it. That’s one of the best signs of a good home builder.
You need 10 boxes of tile for your entryway. Your builder orders 20. This is a problem. No, it’s more than that: it’s theft. Rotten builders may order excessive amounts of materials and then use them for other projects (keeping the cash from the other victim) or sell them (and, again, pocketing the cash).
Good builders will order a bit extra. A few tiles, for example, may break or become damaged in transit or during installation. It happens. A box extra is reasonable. Ten times the amount you need? Not so much.
Compare the bill for materials with order receipts: if the math is off, then your builder should get the boot.
Lack of Problem-Solving
During even the best-run projects, issues and problems crop up. Good home builders can deal with these proactively and keep them from derailing your project – and costing you a fortune. A worker is sick; a key piece of equipment breaks down, etc. It happens. Your builder needs to be able to figure out a work-around.
If you see any of these warning signs, it is time for a new custom home builder. Do not wait and hope things will improve: by that point, you may put your project – your home – at risk. With help from this article and by doing some careful research, you’ll be able to weed out the bad from the good home builders.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.