Finding the Right Contractor

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Building, How-To, Planning

The successful search for a good builder is a key component of your log and timber homebuilding journey. Choosing the right builder to make your dream home a reality is nothing short of essential.

One way to find log and timber homebuilders is to reach out to your log home producer. Chances are good that their experience and recommendations will get the builder selection process going in the right direction. “If you are working with a log home manufacturer’s representative, this would be a good place to start,” advises Brad Mercer, sales manager for Timberhaven Log & Timber Homes. “They should be able to provide you with a list of possible builder candidates, or you may already have someone in mind that you have dealt with previously or someone who has an outstanding reputation in your intended building area.” Another way to find builders is to look at the state-by-state builder directory at the back of this magazine issue. You can also contact your local homebuilders association.

Next, consider the size and scope of your home building project and determine a timeline that works best for you. Layer in some flexibility and understand that good builders are busy. After compiling a list of prospective builders, a candid interview process should follow. Again, your log and timber home producer can help you compile questions to ask and help to determine the builder’s responsibilities. Get references and visit with previous customers to discuss their level of satisfaction. Take tours of finished homes and homes under construction to assess the level of fit and finish the builder supplies. Nothing speaks louder than a quality project, completed on time and within budget, accompanied by a smiling homeowner.

The little things count as well. Mercer recommends builders who pay attention to detail. “Maintaining a clean and organized building site, covering materials on a daily basis to avoid unnecessary exposure to the elements, and treating your home as if it was their own are good signs of a quality builder,” he remarks. “You can tell a lot about a builder and his team by the way they manage a job site.”

Take time to evaluate legal documents, including the building contract, any lists of materials, and the process for approval and control of change orders. “Ask for a contract/bid to review and note who is responsible for each part of the construction process, the schedule of payments, and any requirements that need to be added or deleted from the contract,” remarked Dorie Workman, vice president of marketing at Appalachian Log Structures. “Having good communication and understanding of the scope of work with your contractor before the project begins can help alleviate any issues as it progresses. The more detailed the contract, the better. Plan ahead, as most good contractors are busy and their schedule may be filled for many months.

“If a contractor does not have good communication skills, a detailed contract, and the ability to meet for regularly scheduled project reviews and updates, then I would disqualify them,” notes Workman.

Photo by Heidi Long

Mercer agrees that communication can make or break the building experience. An open and timely dialogue is the most important aspect of the construction process for most homeowners. “When you talk to customers, be sure to ask questions about the builder being on time and on budget. Did he communicate consistently throughout the project? Did he inform you of what the upcoming construction schedule consisted of? Did he provide you with pictures of the progress if you are building at a long distance from your current residence? Did he get back with you in a timely manner if you had a question? You want to have a quality builder who is a good fit for your expectations and what is important to you.”

Rodney Robertson, president of International Homes of Cedar, also stresses the importance of communication. “Make sure you are comfortable with the builder,” he advises, “as you will be spending a lot of time together over the course of the project. If you don’t get along, it may be a painful process.”

Comparing builders also requires a thorough understanding of their partners’ processes and relationships. Builders will regularly use subcontractors to perform certain functions. Gather information on how this aspect of the project is managed. “Each contractor has different services to offer,” commented Workman. “Educating yourself on the difference between the general contractor and the subcontractors, their area of specialty, and their scope of work will help you understand any gaps that may need to be filled by another person. Often, an architect, structural engineer, project manager, or other building experts are needed for a specific site or job, and this will add cost to the project. They have to be licensed and insured,” asserts Workman. “Make sure these items are in place. And having copies of them for your files is a good idea. Also, the key point with subcontractors is that they form agreements with the contractor, not with the customer. It is a good idea to gather information on the quality of their work as well.”

Once you have a list of two or three candidates, do some additional background checking. There are immediate disqualifiers, Robertson says, like negative references or unpaid bills. “If they can’t manage their money, they can’t manage your project,” he concludes.

Mercer acknowledges concerns with builders who become overstretched. “One warning flag might be if a builder is building multiple homes at the same time. They may have multiple building crews, and this may be their successful business model, but that is not usually the norm. Having a builder working primarily on your home and your only home may be very important to you, so make sure to ask your potential builder about that. Have any past customers had issues with this builder or their subs?” Mercer continues. “Have there been any issues with non-payment of their crews? Have they placed any unnecessary liens against any past customers? You can also check with the local attorney general’s office to see if there have been any formal complaints filed by past customers. If so, proceed cautiously.”

Navigating through the hazards and the pitfalls of choosing right builder is worth the time and energy required. Simply trusting without digging deeper is risky. Avoid the nightmare scenarios of disagreements, lawsuits, exorbitant cost overruns, or a project that languishes in unfinished limbo.

Gather recommendations. Check references. Gain confidence. Then review the contract and ask questions until you are comfortable with the partnership. Developing the critical homeowner-builder relationship is essential before breaking ground.