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8 Things to Expect from the Best Home Builders That May Surprise You (Especially if You’ve Worked with the Worst)

  1. Lots of specific questions – right down to how your corners will look
  2. Lots of options (allowances) that slide the price of your new home up or down
  3. A discussion about design requirements imposed by your neighborhood
  4. A thorough consideration of landscape engineering
  5. A historical database that demonstrates your cost per square foot is fair
  6. An up-front cost that does not change unless you want it to
  7. Permits and some fees taken off your shoulder
  8. Routine job site cleaning

Looking for the best home builders in your area? You’ve probably found lots of lists based on the opinions of others – but what does the process of working with these builders look like?

What separates the best from the worst?

If you’ve ever had a bad experience with a builder, or you know someone who has, you understand how important this question is. It can be scary to put so much trust, time and money into working with someone new.

But it’s a whole lot less scary when you know what the experience with the best home builders should look like. Watch for these eight telltale signs of a great builder.

1. Lots of specific questions – right down to how your corners will look.

Generally, home buyers like you are prepared to answer a lot of questions at the first meeting. You have an idea how many square feet of occupied space you want. And you generally have specific ideas about how many bedrooms and bathrooms, how you want them to look, things like that.

But we can just about guarantee a good custom home builder will surprise you with a question or two. Some that home buyers typically have to give some thought to include:

  • Water Heater: What kind of water heater do you want (gas, electric, tankless)?
  • Heating, Cooling, Ventilation: What efficiency rating (SEER) do you want for your HVAC system?
  • Windows: Do you want single- or double-hung windows? With or without operable casement (allowing you to open by cranking)? With solid vinyl or metal-clad wood?
  • Rear Exterior Doors: Vinyl or metal-clad wood? (We’ll get to the front door!)
  • Siding: Standard vinyl or HardiPlank lap siding?
  • Insulation: Standard fiberglass batts (blankets) or spray foam insulation?
  • Walls: Standard square corners or radiused (rounded) corners?
  • Driveway, Front Porch, Steps: Standard brushed concrete? Brick expansion joints? Brick perimeter? Pavers?
  • Attic: Pull-down stairs interior stairs, or stairs in the garage with a handrail?
  • Wainscoting: Do you want chair-high paneling on interior walls?
  • Outdoor Summer Kitchen: Did we just put a whole new idea in your head?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of how meticulous a reputable custom home builder is going to be on your first meeting!

2. Lots of options (allowances) that slide the price of your new home up or down.

Your answers to the above questions help determine base cost. After that, you should expect to discuss the items you likely had in mind – cabinets, countertops, the front entry door, etc. – in a lot of detail.

These “allowances” are like mini-budgets for these items you’re probably thinking the most about. Your builder will ask you to think not just about what you want, but about the degree of quality.

For example, you may already have thought about whether you want all hardwood floors or carpet in the bedrooms. But what kind of carpet? How will it look, and how will it feel to the touch?

Other examples include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Front Entry Door: What wood type for the door? What wood type for the jamb? Or for wood brick molding (millwork)? Staining?
  • Cabinetry: Plywood, fiberboard, hardwood? What quality?
  • Countertops: Marble, granite, soapstone, etc.?
  • Other Surfaces: Tiled showers, kitchen backsplash, other walls? What kind of tile?
  • Appliances: Gas or electric? What energy rating? Induction cooking range?
  • Audio/Video Prewiring: What do we need to do to set up your entertainment center(s)?

Each of these items is highly variable in cost. Taking the time to set cost allowances for each of these is an important part of how the best home builders give you a reliable estimate of overall cost.

3. A discussion about design requirements imposed by your neighborhood.

Reputable builders will come prepared either to ask you what building requirements you’re aware of or to inform you about what they are.

In the first case, your custom home builder may not have built in the neighborhood before. But they understand that certain requirements, such as minimum square footage, are common. So they’ll ask. If you don’t know what those requirements are, they know where to look for answers.

There’s a good chance that you were referred to your builder by another homeowner in your neighborhood, or by a Realtor who has recommended the builder in that area before. Then your builder is likely already aware of how to keep your Home Owners Association (HOA) happy.

It’s only the inexperienced or uncaring builders that don’t work to prevent you from incurring fines and other penalties from your HOA.

4. A thorough consideration of landscape engineering.

While your mind is occupied where it should be – on what your dream home will look like – the best home builders will be thinking about how to keep it safe.

In areas like here in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, a common concern is making sure the land we build on is above base flood elevation. If your land lies below that elevation, we either have to haul in soil so we’re building on higher ground or build up the finished floor.

Some parts of places like Hilton Head Island are designated special flood hazard zones. In those areas, basements are not permitted because they can’t be sufficiently secured from the force of water in a flash flood. Flood openings may be required below an elevated floor to allow water to safely penetrate the foundation.

Other parts of the country will have special needs to protect homeowners from fire, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. A good home builder will not only keep you safe and up to code. They will also help ensure you will qualify for sufficient home insurance.

5. A historical database that demonstrates your cost per square foot is fair.

The best home builders keep track of the square footage and cost of each project they have done in a particular area. That gives them a sense of how your project will compare to others.

Any significant differences in average cost on a comparable project should be explained primarily by the special allowances you’ve chosen – the variables under your control.

6. An up-front cost that does not change unless you want it to.

A thorough consultative process with a reputable custom home builder should produce a dependable figure. Your builder should be able to confidently say that, unless you decide to add anything, the cost on the contract you sign is what you will pay. Period. No excuses.

Consider it a red flag if a contractor asks for your signature on a contract when you feel the majority of your questions are still unanswered.

And then, if your contractor responds impatiently to additional questions, run for the hills! You should never feel pressured to move forward before you’re comfortable.

7. Permits and some fees taken off your shoulders.

Another thing that might surprise you about working with the best home builders is that you should not be required to pay for everything. Building permits and fees are complicated to the average homebuyer. It makes sense that a reputable builder will take this burden off your hands.

There will be some fees it makes more sense for you as the owner to pay, of course. For example, your builder generally won’t pay a building compliance review fee. That’s a process that should be initiated and funded by the homeowner. But your builder should walk you through how and when to initiate it.

8. Routine job site cleaning.

You’ve seen it. We all have. That residential building site littered with refuse, disorganized building materials, even trash. There’s no need for that. Just because building a house is a dirty process doesn’t mean the site has to be an eyesore.

Before you sign on with a builder, go check out a job site they’re currently working on and check back a few times. Whatever you see is what you can expect. The best home builders will routinely clean it so that while the neighbors can say it looks unfinished, they can’t say it looks unprofessional!


We at ALS Construction take great care to practice what we preach!

You can expect all those fun and interesting questions from us; a thorough discussion of allowances, house design, and land requirements; pricing that is fair, up-front and final; and an efficient, professional build process.

Do you have concerns based on an experience with another builder? Let’s talk about how the process is going to be different this time: fun, worry-free … and with your dream house at the end!

Contact us today.

Let’s talk about my dream house!

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