Finding the right builder for your new custom home is a BIG deal. As big of a deal as finding Mr. or Mrs. Right (okay, maybe not).

But, just like when you find the perfect life partner, you shouldn’t go rushing into a search for a custom home builder without a few guidelines and expectations. Weighing your options is an important part of choosing a custom home builder, and even if a builder looks good on paper, they’ll need to be right for you specifically – throughout all stages of the building process and across multiple areas of criteria. Missing the mark on just one seemingly small requirement can make even the best candidates a wrong choice. The following guidelines will help you to successfully find, court, and commit to the best builder for your new custom home (you’re on your own for evaluating Mr. or Mrs. Right, though).

Define Your Needs & Expectations

How can you know you’ve found ‘the one’ if you don’t even know what you’re looking for? Of course doing research and interviewing builders is a high priority. But if you don’t know the answers you want to hear, it will be hard to determine if they’re a good fit. It is best to first define your needs and expectations based on your price range, the timeframe, and the type of house you want.

A set of drawings is a good start too, but how much of the structural detail are you leaving to the builder to figure out? What are the most important aspects to you? Is there room for change in your plan? Once you know your requirements, then you can create a list of potential builders and begin competitive bidding. In addition to asking your friends and coworkers for recommendations, you can also contact your local home builders’ association to find a list of builders in your area. Before you begin your search, you might also want to brush up on some basic building terms so that you won’t be confused by builders’ answers.

The best plans come from a collaboration between the customer, architect and builder. Creativity is combined with expertise to keep project costs reasonable, and that’s why we create custom plans to fit your specific needs. If you have a problem, we have a problem, and that’s the way it should be.

Weigh Your Options for Cost

Ask multiple builders for an estimate for the same clear and specific work so you can see if the costs being presented are fair and realistic. It’s not at all unusual for bids to “vary between the highest and lowest by 100 percent or more, so it’s well worth going to at least three or four,” according to our friends at Houzz – and we agree. Unless having the absolute lowest price is your top priority, you don’t have to settle the cheapest builder. Get the higher bidders to justify their prices and explain where the additional costs come from, and remember that cutting corners or doing things the cheapest way could hurt your home’s resale value later.

Get to Know Your Builder

Outside of cost, there are plenty of other things you’ll want to know about a builder before you make your selection. The more contact you have with a builder before choosing, the more of a chance you’ll have to get to know how they work. It is important to trust and feel comfortable with your builder as they will be representing you, the thousands of dollars you put into the project, and your future happiness in your new home. So before you agree to walk down the aisle (or…uh…work site) with a custom home builder, be sure your values are aligned.

View their portfolio to get an idea of their track record with projects of similar scale and detail. Is the quality of their homes matched with your expectations for your own home? Visit a current building project to see them in action, read online reviews, and ask for references from previous clients and other companies with which they work. You can also call inspectors or suppliers to get a first-hand account of what it’s like to work with that particular builder.

This trust goes both ways. Just as you should get to know your builder, your builder should get to know you, as things are bound to come up during the process and establishing a good relationship is paramount.

Ask as Many Questions as You Can

Just like someone may not tell you about their previous marriage on a first date, some home builders may not always be forthright with key information. Of course it’s easy for builders to provide positive examples of client feedback, but what aren’t they telling you? When deciding on a builder for your custom home, it’s important for you to ask as many questions as possible!

Is the builder group organized? Do they communicate well within their team as well as with their clients? How do others perceive their time management skills? How does the builder qualify the competency of who they work with? When issues arise during building, can you trust that they will be handled properly? What about issues that arise after the property is finished and closed? Is the builder in good standing with the State Contractors Board and the Better Business Bureau? Have they won any awards? What type of insurance do they have? What type of warranty do they offer? Do they plan to stick around through thick and thin? These and other similar questions will help to show you their true colors before you choose a custom builder.

Happily Choose a Custom Home Builder

Choosing a builder doesn’t have to be difficult, but it’s a big decision, so you should be 100% confident in it. If you do your homework and have a clear understanding of the building process, and the product you’re getting, you should be able to speak candidly with any potential builder. And even after the courting and initial phases of the relationship, your communication should be open and honest. Especially when it comes to builders with long-term warranties, the commitment has to come from both sides, so be sure you’re happy with your choice.