10 Questions to Ask When Building A Custom Home

You’re building a custom home and you’re ready to get started. Building a new house is the largest investment most people will make in their lifetime, which is why it is important to get it right the first time. When hiring a contractor, consider that this is your dream home and a considerable undertaking. You want to work with someone who communicates well, listens and understands your vision, has a stellar reputation and a trail of happy clients to prove it. 

We’ve been building beautiful custom homes on the South Shore of Nova Scotia for more than 15 years, and we’ve put together some questions you can ask to help figure out if a contractor is right for you and your project.

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#1 Do you have the necessary certifications? 

To ensure that your builder is experienced in their craft and qualified to build the kind of home you want, there are some key certifications you should ask about:

  • Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association Certification, meaning that the crew will be working safely on projects and the home owners do not need to be concerned with job shutdowns from the department of labour.

  • Insurance coverage to take care of your home and the people working on it in case anything happens throughout the build

  • Worker’s Compensation clearance letter, which means that the home owner is not liable for any accidents that happen on their property.

  • At least one Red Seal Journeyman Carpenter on site as well as a number of apprentices who have been educated through a recognized carpentry course.

  • Third-party warranty such as the Lux Home Warranty. If you are building a new home and using a financial institution, it is becoming more and more common that you will be required to provide proof of a third-party warranty. 

#2 Do you have good relationships with local sub-trades? 

If your builder has experience building custom homes, they will have a good working relationship with licensed, local sub-trades including plumbers, electricians, excavation experts, and concrete contractors. This ensures that all the sub-trades will be on site when required and, if there is a need to come back to the project to repair a deficiency, this won't be a problem because they are all part of a team.

#3 How long have you been in business and are custom homes your specialty?

If you are building a new house, you’ll want to know that the contractor you are hiring has a number of completed homes under their belt. Ask them to tell you about the homes they are most proud of and why (and ask for pictures too!). 

Beware of construction crews that lack custom home building experience as they will have difficulty planning components of the build, providing accurate pricing, and making allowances for the unknown. Having experience shingling a roof, putting a deck on a home, or doing a renovation project are very different in scope to a new home construction.

#4 How do you approach the quotation process? 

Too often we hear stories of projects that run far beyond the quoted price, leading to disputes between the homeowner and builder. That's why is critical that you ask for detailed quote upfront that the contractor will guarantee. 

Here's a tip: To determine whether a builder is gathering enough detail to give you an accurate quote, ask them if they collect pricing from each sub-trade by providing a clear set of plans. Also, you should identify if they will take into account the specific materials you want before quoting the project (such as the type of bathroom fixtures, tiling and hardwood flooring). A good builder will find out what's most important to you and make sure these elements are accounted for in the budget.

#5 Do you have a track record of building custom homes on time? Prove it!

Building a new house or completing a renovation will only run smoothly with specific planning and scheduling. Having a construction schedule in place from day one will keep the project moving forward and get you into your new home on time. An experienced builder will allow for weather, material delivery times and other details and should be able to deliver your home within a few weeks of the estimated completion date. 

#6 What is the payment schedule? 

This is another important detail to nail down right from the beginning. It is often advantageous for homeowners to work with a company who has the means to carry material costs and who will invoice them on a monthly basis, or who will work with a homeowner who is taking bank draws. Use caution when hiring a contractor who asks for a large percentage up front.

#7 What level of communication can I expect during the building process? 

Regular communication throughout the building process is critical. Make sure you ask the contractor how often they typically communicate during a build and what their availability will be to answer questions as they arise.  This should feel like a partnership and your builder should want your input all the way through – after all you’re building your dream home! 

#8 Do you supply change orders? 

Even with the best planning, sometimes a homeowner will decide to go with a custom shower rather than a tub surround, or a painted cabinet rather than stained. This can mean an increase in the original quoted price, or it can result in a decrease in price. A reputable builder will take the time to provide Change Orders, allowing the homeowner to see how their change is going to affect the final price before proceeding. This is a great tool for both parties when you want to stick to a budget and avoid surprises at the end of the project. A win-win!

#9 Can you make design and material recommendations for my project? 

Your contractor should care about the details of your project and be able to advise you on what’s best for you given your budget. Builders who have in-house designers [link to Design and Build page] can help you choose the best materials for your design and also make recommendations throughout the build. Ask the builder who will make sure the details you really care about--such as the kitchen faucet, the fireplace mantel or the unique tile in the entranceway--are managed properly. An experienced custom home builder should be able to recommend the right products and materials for your needs.

#10 Can you supply references? 

Most homeowners already know the importance of asking for references so don’t be shy. But you should also try and gather information from other sources such as local real estate agents, building supplies or building inspector. If you know of other homes built by a builder you are considering, stop by and chat with the homeowners to see what their experience was. Building a custom home is a big decision and should be an enjoyable, stress-free experience. Be sure to do thorough research  before committing to a builder.