Choosing the Right Log Home Builderby Hochstetler Log Homes on 2018-04-14 15:16:16
With a little homework and some common sense assessments you should be able to steer clear of the above bad experiences.
Here are a few tips in choosing your builder before you hand over your hard-earned cash.
Check and Balance
This is key; and I can’t overemphasize this enough. Never entrust your entire life’s savings with a single company when planning your dream home. Have the design done and order the log home direct from the manufacturer and then have a separate contract with the builder to build it. This will give you a check and balance situation. The idea is that the manufacture and the independent builder will keep each other in line. If you contract with only one to do everything, you lose this safeguard. While this is not fail proof, at least your batting average goes way up. This becomes even more important if you’re building where there are no structural building inspectors. The added bonus is that you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket.
Often a trusting client like Sheri (in the story from last issue) will contract with a builder on a promise of a no- hassle, we take care of everything project. This is very tempting as it sounds so easy; however, it opens you up to being taken advantage of. There are no checks and balances like there are if you contract with two separate companies. This is the best insurance towards getting the dream home you have envisioned, with the quality you were expecting.
Getting a minimum of 3 references is a must. While no builder will give out information on an unhappy customer as a reference, they are still worth your time to get.
Ask to see at least one home the builder has built. Keep in mind that just because that customer was happy with the builder and his craftsmanship, it may not be up to your standards. Try to find out from the reference a few more homes the builder has built. Those might be more valuable to check out than the reference the builder provided. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the builder for supplier and bank references.
Remember to ask references if the job was done in a timely manner. A major temptation for some builders is to lure someone into signing a contract with them, knowing full well that they are too busy to do the job in the desired time frame. After you are committed and the time comes to start, they may bump you to fill a later empty time slot.
This is probably the most important point of all. A builder may have built 100’s of log homes, has a long list of references, the best warranty, a nice brochure, and the most thorough quote. But if they do not have integrity or honesty, then forget them. The question is, “How can you tell?”
Do they badmouth their competition? Do they talk down on past customers? Do they have a bad attitude toward the log home manufacturer or make negative comments about past blueprints? These are all hints that the builder may lack integrity.
Listen carefully to their stories. Quite often you can see through their talk. Ask references how the builder handled problems that arose. Did they come back and fix the problem, or did they pass the blame to the manufacturer of logs, doors, windows, shingles, etc.? It’s not uncommon for builders to blame manufacturers for inferior products, when, in fact, the product was not installed properly or to the manufacturer’s specifications.
It is good to ask references if they had any differences with the builder, and if so, whether or not the builder came their way at least partially.
Experience is important, yet I would prefer to work with someone that has never done a log home but is a conscientious builder that wants to follow our construction manual. This is preferred over someone that has built many log homes but insists to build it his way. Many of our customers have built log homes themselves. If they can, then certainly a good builder can, too. However, if you find a good, experienced, and conscientious log homebuilder; better yet.
Some log home manufactures, such as Hochstetler, occasionally have log home builder’s workshops. If someone whom you trust is a builder and he would like to build your home, send them to one of these workshops.
Visiting one of the builder’s current job sites can tell you volumes about the builder. Look for neatness and tidiness. Do they have foreign objects lying around, such as pop cans or plastic bags? Do they keep bundles of lumber stacked neatly together and covered? While builders can’t pick up every minute, the better ones will do so at least once a day.
Contracts & Documents
Avoid builders and contractors who say they can build your home from a sketch or an illustration sheet, and that they don’t need a blueprint. Most log home manufacturers generate blueprints off your sketch for a very reasonable price. And, being the manufacturer, they know their material to calculate for structural integrity. After all, the blueprint is the most important document between you, the builder, and
the manufacturer. It is your way to communicate to them what you want and expect, and what you envision your home to look like.
Never have a builder build off of another company’s illustration sheets without paying for plans, as this could land you in a legal battle over copyright laws.
Contracts should clearly spell out what will and will not be done for a set price, but don’t need to be anything fancy.
Most log home builders warrant their work for one year or more. While this is important, it is not as important as having the simple ability and financial resources to stand behind their work and come back to make corrections.
Ask them to build to the manufacturer’s construction manual and specs to make sure there is no problem with the manufacturer’s warranty. Manufacturers have invested in much more time and money in research, testing, and engineering than any builder would or could ever hope to do. Because builders seem to come and go, it’s important to have a valid warranty from the manufacture.
If licensing or insurance are required in your state be sure to check the validity of these documents including worker’s compensation certificate. Also, most homeowners want their builders to carry liability insurance. If you decide to go with a builder who does not carry insurance, make sure you are willing to take the risk or buy insurance yourself for your project.
Look for estimates and proposals that are neatly spelled out and leave no doubt as to what is and is not included. Remember, an estimate is a “ballpark figure” and generally based on square footage costs, whereas proposals are an exact figure based on your final blueprints and needs. Normally, they have allowances for certain items such as cabinetry, floor coverings, etc.
The appearance and dress of owners and sales people will give you a hint on the professionalism of the builder. Promptly returning phone calls will give you an idea of their response when there is a problem or conflict. Safety programs and concern for employee safety are also good signs of professionalism.
Their vehicles don’t need to be expensive, but it’s better if vehicles, forklifts, tools, etc. are clean and in good repair.
Additional considerations. How long has the builder been in business under that business name? Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints against them. Keep in mind that most people don’t bother to report, so most companies have a good rating. Also, anymore you can check their reputation online with reviews from Facebook, Google, Angie’s List and others.
When securing your loan, banks can be a safeguard by having had past experience with the builder. Dunn and Bradstreet can be helpful in determining their financial strength. A building license sometimes can be helpful if you are building in an area that requires one. Good building departments can be a safety measure as well by keeping builders from substituting with secondary material and taking shortcuts. Unfortunately, not all areas have a building department, or if they do, don’t always bother to check the grade or species used.
Log home manufacturers normally keep a list of potential log home builders. This is probably your best source in finding a good builder. Not only are they used to the manufacturer’s system but you can assume it’s a fairly safe source, as in order to make the list they would have to have a good track record.
All-in-all, there are many good builders out there. Only a handful of bad apples make it difficult for the rest. If you take some precautions and follow some of the guidelines spelled out above, you should have the confidence that your job will go well. Happy building!