2020 was a remarkable year for real estate in western Michigan. The exodus from Chicago has begun and Western Michigan is the dream of palm trees in the desert. Where is Western Michigan? Well, any good Michigander will show you – if you raise your hand with your fingers tightly together and then hold your thumb close to your other fingers, you will form the state of Michigan. Point to your pinky finger and that’s what we’re talking about – starting from New Buffalo up Lake Michigan via St. Joseph, Coloma, South Haven, Fennville, Saugatuck, through the more urban city of Holland, and up to Grand Haven, then over to Grand Rapids, Allegan, Kalamazoo, and Paw Paw. These locales offer charming small towns, sailing towns, rural towns, the vastness of Lake Michigan, the quietness of smaller and not-so-small inland lakes, and the privacy of forested land.
Take a look! It’s beautiful. Admittedly, the idea of starting a home construction process can be daunting. We’ve all heard a horror story from one friend or colleague about a construction project gone bad. Custom homes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not more – so, how do you control your unknowns and choose the right home builder to bring your dreams to life? Here are a few tips…
Ask your architect
Your first step in the home building process should be to choose your architect. Do this thoughtfully, do this carefully. Your architect is your greatest advocate and the leader of your project. They will have suggestions and, likely, referrals for you to consider.
Ask your colleagues
The word gets around! Good custom builders have great referrals from past clients.
Ask for early pricing during schematic design of your project
This offers you the opportunity to interview multiple builders and get an understanding of their style and approach. After reviewing the schematic design, your builder should be asking thoughtful and specific questions to clarify scope items. The level of pricing that they provide will also provide you insight into how they will run your project in the future. This is not to say that you should be expecting incredibly specific and detailed pricing when there is not incredible specific and detailed drawings yet – it is saying that a builder who gives a verbal ballpark should give you pause in comparison to a builder who puts together some rough parameters and written pricing. You want a partner, not a favor.
Choose your builder at schematic design or design development
Custom home building is not a low-bid effort and the low-bidder is never the low-bidder – they’re simply the unqualified bidder and your construction budget will likely increase beyond the higher numbers…with a lesser product…by the end of your project. So, bid two or three builders if you must and qualify them early on so that they can partner with you and your architect to assist with the development of the construction drawings and provide progress pricing as the design is finalized to ensure that your final design is within your budget.
Engage your architect for bidding assistance
Your architect should be involved in the bidding process to help you vet the builders’ qualifications and compare the scope of their bids.
Get your builder talking when interviewing them. You’re about to enter into a serious contract so take the relationship seriously. Builders are NOT a commodity, they’re an experience. Hire the good ones. What makes a good builder? Collaboration, communication, transparency, and craftsmanship. Your builder should be friendly. They should have strong examples of and references for their project management. Their pricing should be clear, easy to understand, and broken down by trade. Their prior work should be beautiful and on display.