Decisions, decisions Featured

11:12am EDT August 26, 2003
Making the decision to build your dream home is huge, but just wait -- you have hundreds more decisions ahead of you.

Choosing the right builder at the start of the project can make the entire process -- including all those decisions -- easier.

Jason Heitmeyer, business development executive with Heitmeyer Homes in Pickerington, advises prospective clients to do a lot of research on the builders they are considering.

"Ask for a referral list, and talk to both current and past clients," Heitmeyer says. "Make sure you talk to a client that has lived in his home for at least one year."

That way, he says, you'll get a complete perspective of how the builder services the client throughout the entire process and afterward.

William Fannin Jr., vice president of Gahanna's William Fannin Builders Inc., agrees.

"Talk to clients that have lived in their homes three, four, even 10 years," he says. "And ask, how did the process go? Was the builder on budget? Did you feel you received good value for the money? Did he do what he said he would do?"

Don't judge the quality of a builder's work by the company's model homes, cautions Eric J. Schottenstein, founder, president and CEO of Joshua Homes.

"The model doesn't give you a feel for how the builder will work on your house. Anything can be assembled for a model," Schottenstein says.

Real Living CEO and managing partner Harley Rouda says the builder's reputation is everything, and one way to get an unbiased opinion of a builder's work is to ask a Realtor you trust.

"Realtors see the work of many builders and can tell you the differences they see in their homes," says Rouda.

A Realtor can also tell you whether a builder's taste and style are similar to those you are looking for.

Once you've narrowed your list based on builder reputation, visit current building sites. They can tell you a lot about how the builder works.

"One thing it can tell you is whether the builder is a slob or tidy," Heitmeyer says.

It's also a good time to chat with the subcontractors.

"Good subs like to talk about the builder and are proud to work for him," Heitmeyer says. "If you consistently see the same crews on various jobs, it's a good sign."

Another element to consider is the builder's financial stability. One way to evaluate this is through relationships with creditors, says Heitmeyer.

"Ask the builder for a list of his major suppliers," he says. "His payment history is a tell-tale sign of his stability."

Also look at the volume of homes the builder is dealing with.

"You want the builder to have the experience to meet your needs," says Rouda. "But you don't want him so busy he can't get your project done in a timely manner."

Schottenstein agrees.

"Typically, the higher the volume, the less flexibility you'll have in material choices and upgrades," he says.

Next, talk project costs with prospective builders, but stay away from the "Let's Make a Deal" mentality and approach each bid with an eye for the value you are receiving for the money.

"The best way to get an accurate cost for building your home is to know your specs," says Fannin. "Know what kind of door trims you want, window casings, kitchen finishes and countertops. All of that can have a big impact on the price."

"You can't make an apples to apples comparison when it comes to cost," says Heitmeyer. "Even if you're using the same set of plans with each builder, you will get variations and differences. If you like the value of what a builder offers you, it's always the best way to go."

Finally, choose a builder who gives you the highest comfort level.

"A lot of time it boils down to individual chemistry," says Rouda.

"Find a builder you're comfortable, with even if his cost is higher," Fannin says. "You can always cut back." How to reach: Heitmeyer Homes, (614) 837-4206; Joshua Homes, (614) 428-5555; William Fannin Builders Inc., (740) 654-3408; Real Living Realty, (614) 459-7400