Diary of a Dream House – Part 2: Selecting a Builder

When it comes to selecting a builder, gosh what could be more important?  Use these tips to select the guy or gal who is going to make your dream a reality. Remember, you are going to spend many hours with this person and you want to have a great working relationship and a comfort level about their quality, workmanship and ability to finish the job successfully.

Dream House 2 Construction

So, here are some tips on selecting the right builder for you.

1. Define the Type of Home you want.

This includes the size, style and price range. Just as most businesses cater to different clientele, so do builders. For instance, a builder who specializes in starter home communities probably doesn’t build luxury homes as well. You can imagine that the sub contractors and materials needed for those two projects would be completely different and most builders find a niche and concentrate all their efforts there.

2. Research Builders in Your Area.

But how do you find them?  Well, try driving through neighborhoods that have homes similar to the one you’d like to build. You might get lucky and find someone outside their home and you can ask them about their builder.

Or, check out the real estate section of the newspaper for ads from different local builders. You can visit their websites to find information on the type of homes they build and if they have a model in your area.

It’s also a good idea to contact your local HBA (Home Builder’s Association). You can find your local HBA at nahb.org/findanhba. They will have a list of builder’s that work in your area.

Dream House 2 TJ

You might even be able to talk to a real estate agent from your area, especially if you’ve worked with one in the past that you trust. This is how I met the builder I selected. My real estate agent’s home caught fire and my builder was the only builder in the area who stepped up and immediately got to work on his home. His timing and service were exemplary and in the end he also built my real estate agent’s parents home! His name is T.J. Nutter of Nutter Custom Construction and he is going to help us learn about the process of building a home.  I hope to pass along all sorts of insider information to you to make your projects go as smoothly as possible!

Last, Don’t forget to ask your friends and relatives for recommendations. Someone will have an acquaintance who has built in the past and you can contact them to hear about their experience.

3. Create a Master List of Possible Builders.

By now you should be able to put together a list of several builders in your area that build the style of home you are looking for in the price range you are comfortable with. Now it’s time to whittle down the list. To do this you need more in depth information about each builder.

4. Start by Interviewing the Builders on your List.

Find out the answers to these key questions.

  • How many years of experience do they have? We all know experience is the best teacher! And there may be a brand new construction company filled with seasoned builders that would be a far better choice than an older firm with all new employees!
  • Are they a member of the local builder’s association? This isn’t the most important check on your list, but if a builder is involved locally it means they are interested in a long term relationship with the area and the local building supply businesses and trade contractors. That’s always a good thing.
  • Is the builder licensed and adequately insured? Licenses aren’t always required in all areas of the country, but if they are, make sure to use a licensed builder. You also want to make sure that all of their trade contractors and you are covered by insurance during the building process.
  • How is the project budgeted and billed? Will you know all costs up front? Some builders work on a fixed fee schedule and others may offer a cost plus where you pay the bills directly and pay the builder a percentage. This is more work for you, but if you have the time and are organized, it can be a cost effective way to go.
  • What types of warranties does the builder have on his work? One advantage of new construction is that your home itself and most of the products, systems and components it contains are brand-new and under warranty. You will want to ask about a structural warranty that should be ten years or longer on the home itself, ideally transferable to a new owner should you sell. 

5. Talk to Past Home Buyers.

  • Ask the builders on your list for addresses of their most recently built homes. The best builders will provide names of home owners who would be willing to talk with you.
  • Make sure to talk to everyone on the list.  A few great questions to ask: Would you buy another home from this builder? Or recommend them to close friends or family? If you had any problems, were they fixed promptly and properly? And don’t forget to ask for the key reasons why a past home buyer would or would not recommend a builder. Take detailed notes so you have something to refer back to as you continue your research. And remember, the more folks you talk to, the better. 

6. Visit Homes Built by the Builder.

  • If the homeowners are easy to talk to, you might ask if they would allow you to check out the quality of the home with a visit or at the very least, drive by and see if the homes are visually appealing.
  • If the builder has model homes in the area, put this step at the top of your list. If you find you don’t like the quality, you can scratch them off the list immediately. 

7. Shop for Quality and Value.

  • When examining a home, look at the quality of the construction features like the cabinetry, trim work, carpeting and paint. Note the brands used by the builder – are they quality brands with names you recognize?
  • In a model home, take the time to ask the builder all your questions. Get as many specifics as possible. If you receive the answers verbally rather than in writing, take notes. Never hesitate to ask a question. What seems like an insignificant question might yield an important answer.
  • Look at new homes whenever you can, even if they aren’t built by the builders you are considering. The more homes you see, the better equipped you will be to make the best choices for you and your family.
  • It sounds odd, but check out the real estate adds to see if there are older homes whose descriptions include your builder’s name.  In other words, the realtor thinks very highly of the builder’s qualifications and years down the road still uses their name to express the quality of the home. 

The steps above should help you get very close to the best builder for your new home.  It’s half the battle when you find that one company that fits your style, understands your needs and helps you to enjoy the adventure of building a new home.



  1. Mary Lee Rossmaessler says

    This is so exciting! I live vicariously through this as I doubt I will ever build a home from scratch.

  2. Marie Sheehan says

    Looking forward to seeing more pictures. I can’t imagine all the decisions that had/have to be made! I hope we will still see a place for all your roosters in your new decorating.

  3. paul spellman says

    You made a FANTASTIC decision choosing T.J. Nutter and his company. We had a wonderful experience building with Nutter Custom Construction. What they promise they deliver. They are responsive, honest, and professional. They made the building process easy for my wife and I. If we ever do build another house we will definitely build with NCC.

  4. sheila kercheville says

    Great information! I too look for some of these things when checking out an Apartment complex!! The current one we are in is about 30 years old and is lacking a lot of major update’s that are now available. For instance, using “green” products in building, more energy efficient products such as windows and water heaters. It is all part of making it your home so as Shari says, invest time into checking out all of the factors of the home itself.
    Great ideas Shari!! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Colleen McDaniel says

    I am looking forward to seeing pictures as the process gets started and how things are coming along. I am sure it will be a beautiful house. Will be waiting for more pictures. Thanks.

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