Tips on Finding a Builder and Getting Started!
Updated: Dec 14, 2018
For a girl from Vermont, the process of building a new home in Western LI is extremely frustrating and difficult. Like in most highly populated areas, there is no such thing as undeveloped land for sale. So unless you're looking to head out east, or off the Island entirely, your best option is to find a decent size piece of property with a small or extremely dilapidated house currently on it, and knock that sucker down.
Finding our lot in Rockville Centre was a full time job that took us months. We actually didn't even think that building what we wanted in RVC was going to be possible in our budget and so I focused my efforts initially on other close by towns that had a similar feel, but also generally larger pieces of property.
No matter where you're looking, this is how I suggest you get started:
1. First and foremost - get out and physically explore the area(s) you're looking at. Make sure you know down to the street what areas you like, what you don't like, and especially those you won't even consider. (Once you start talking to builders, they will need to know this information upfront.) For us we stared with specific neighborhoods we liked within specific towns, and a set lot size that was the absolute minimum for the house we knew we wanted to build, and we went from there. These will all be things you can figure out as you go, so don't worry if you don't know right away.
2. When you're out and exploring your areas- take photos, or write down the contact information of any builders/contractors signs you come across. Most contractors will have their business sign outside of any current projects they're working on. Even if that specific house isn't for sale, or you're just not interested in it, you still need to find a General Contractor and they can tell you about any additional or upcoming projects that they are anticipating.
SIDE NOTE - if you don't see a sign, don't hesitate to walk up and ask if you see any workers on the property. I've done this numerous times, and the workers at the house won't hesitate to share contact info if you tell them you're interested in hiring the builder. Just make sure they don't confuse what you're looking for and give you the name of the person actually hammering nails instead (unless of course they happen to be one in the same), most of the time the GC hires a carpenter to do the work, but the GC is who you actually want to hire and work with. (Unless of course we want to GC the whole project yourself, but that is a whole other thing entirely, and probably not doable for most people who are not experienced.)
3. Meet with your prospective builders. Arrange as many in person and on location meetings as you possibly can. Meet the people you would be working with, get to know their character and personality, and see first and foremost if you can stand to work closely with them on something as intimate as your new home! Most importantly make sure you feel like you can trust them. We met numerous builders that were production factories and were so impersonal that they didn't even remember us after the 2nd or 3rd time we met them in person... NOT a good sign.
4. Consider builders with similar style to yours. My husband and I initially disagreed on this part. To his argument, you CAN hire any builder with different taste from you to do exactly what you want, BUT to my point, it is EXTREMELY helpful and reassuring to hire someone who has the same taste as you! Right off the bat our builder showed us a couple of their finished or almost finished projects, and after seeing how much I absolutely loved their building and design style, I knew I wanted to work with them. If you can say without hesitation that the builder could go in, with little to no direction from you, and at the end of the whole project you know you would still be happy with whatever they did on their own- that is how you know you've 100% found the right builder to work with!
5. This sounds obvious but it is extremely important that you see the finished product of any builders that you're considering working with. If you can't see something finished, at least ask to see something that is currently being worked on; at least then you can get an idea of how they run their projects and if they seem to cut any corners. Finished product is the most important though, and also make sure that you find out if what you're seeing is a custom build, or something they're building on their own to sell. This will give you an idea of their level of finish and what you can expect as far as the quality of trims, windows, doors, appliances, etc. that come standard with their work. Also make sure to ask up front what you should expect to pay extra for. You will want to steer clear of someone that only includes contractor grade finishes across the board because that is a big red flag that you will end up with all sorts of extra charges for anything that you want to change or "upgrade".
5. Get recommendations on those that you're considering. Ask for references from them directly, and ask around the neighborhoods that they primarily build in. Reach out to some of the prominent realtors in your area too and ask their opinion on specific builders. I guarantee you, they will be honest about the ones they have had good experiences with and those that you should steer clear of. This was our number one source of finding out the truth behind a lot of their work ethic and character.
SIDE NOTE: In Long Island at least, most realtors have relationships with builders that they partner with and they will be honest about the fact that they will not bring you listings until after they've brought it to prospective contractors first. So, at least in our situation, anything in one of our desirable areas, that was a lot of a certain size, we could kiss any chance goodbye of getting a good deal on before the builders got to it.
6. Depending on how much of the above you can handle, I strongly suggest you get in front of as many builders as you possibly can. And if you meet with someone you like and could see yourself working with, but they don't have any current lots or properties that are of interest to you, just keep in front of them. And I mean to the point that you feel like you're being borderline annoying. Most of these GC's are so busy it doesn't matter how you feel you left things with them, they most likely won't remember to bring something to you if they have multiple other people constantly contacting them for the same thing. So act like a sales person and be persistent; trust me they won't mind and will appreciate your persistence and if nothing else will realize how serious you are about your prospective build.
At the end of the day, people who really want something, make it happen - they don't sit around waiting for it to happen to them. So be proactive and get out there- Your dream home is waiting for you!