10 Questions to Ask a Contractor Before You Build Your Multi-Million Dollar Home

We live in a rushed world. Errands are squeezed in between work and exercise and family and maybe getting a moment to rest. Life tempts us to cut corners where we can — get groceries online, catch up with a friend on a call from your car, switch to 30-minute classes at the gym. 

But when it comes to finding the right builder for your custom home, it’s to your great advantage to take your time as you move through the process.  

The most satisfied homeowners are those who put in the time to thoroughly vet and qualify the builder, not to mention the architect, interior designer, landscape architect, and anyone else involved. Because we know this can be an intimidating task, we frequently refer clients to top professionals in each industry that we’ve worked with

Selecting the best builder for you should still be a focused activity though. Sit down with your partner and this list as a starting point. Write down what you know you want in your property, builder, and homebuilding experience. We recommend also compiling your visual inspiration for the project before you engage with any professionals. Spend some time on Houzz, Pinterest or Instagram — trust us, it’s almost too easy to do. 

Then, when you’re ready to reach out to builders, here’s what you should ask them: 

  1. What kind of truck do you drive? Or what’s your favorite sports team? 
    • Just kidding. But in all seriousness, it’s a good idea to throw something out there that may shed light on who they are as a person or team. Do you like them? Can you see yourself working closely with them for the next year, at least? Whichever builder you select you will be calling, emailing and contacting constantly. A good working relationship is vital. 
  2. How long have you been in business? 
    • You could get away with hiring someone green to answer phones or watch your cat, but a fine custom home should be built by a seasoned team. You should look for at least 12-15 years of experience, particularly if you want to see a good range of past projects. Also, discuss how the builder handles your money and their financial solvency. You want a builder that will be there through the good times and the bad. At Bluestone, we are here for the long term, to service your home in the future. 
  3. How is the company organized? How many employees are there? 
    • A large crew may be a good thing — it can mean more experience to draw from, more in-house resources, fewer labor shortages. It could also mean getting buried under a long client list and paying more to account for their overhead. A smaller team may offer more agility and attentive service. There is no one, right choice here, but you should consider the implications.  
  4. Is the work done in-house or subbed out? If you sub it out, how do you decide which subs to use?
    • A builder that works consistently with the same subcontractors is an advantage to you. Namely, this means they’ve already done the hard work of sourcing verifiably great tradespeople — ones they are happy to work with time and time again. If the builder subcontracts work out, do they prioritize quality, price, or schedule? Do they get multiple quotes? Bluestone has a good mixture of both in-house project management/labor and the best subcontractors available in the area.  
  5. What systems and tools do you use in the homebuilding process? 
    • Builders are people, and thus, each has their own way of doing things. Find out what this looks like and how it aligns with your needs and expectations. Is their project management process transparent? How do they bring homeowners into the process? Ad hoc or with regular meetings? At Bluestone, we have honed our process to suit a wide range of homeowners — check it out here. Ask potential builders if they use a project management system. Purchase orders are an essential tool for cost control — do they utilize them? Ask if they will share a typical project schedule. 
  6. Do you work cost-plus or fixed price?  
    • This is a biggie. Here’s what you need to know about each:  
      • Cost-plus means that the homeowner pays whatever it costs to build the home, plus a markup to cover overhead and profit. This is the best scenario for creating the highest quality home because you can be assured the builder won’t be looking for shortcuts. Homeowners are also able to see the breakdown of costs and be part of evaluating options with the builder. At Bluestone we offer full transparency for the costs incurred in your project. In fact, we file-store your project invoices monthly in the cloud so you can review them anytime. Be sure to ask potential builders exactly how project management costs are accounted for because every builder will do things a little differently.
      • Fixed price essentially means a predetermined price agreed upon by builder and homeowner. This usually forces the builder to make a lot of guesses. It’s also to the builder’s advantage to keep this figure as low as possible in order to make the sale. After all, “fixed” is a little deceiving — it doesn’t mean unamendable. With fixed price projects, builders often put in what are called change orders to make up for underpricing and request additional funds. It can also be challenging for homeowners to sort through the allowances added to fixed-price bids. Some may be reasonable while others aren’t in your best interest.  
  7. Do you give estimates or draft a preconstruction service agreements (PSA)?  
    • Most builders prepare estimates, however, we believe there’s a better way to get started. Take a look at our blog about preconstruction service agreements and how they offer more accuracy and better cost estimation, as well as a solid base from which to trust your builder. 
  8. What do you consider best practices in terms of water management? How about climatizing the home?  
    • It’s important to hire a team that understands why proper water management is so important. For example, we always put a drainage mat between the plywood and exterior siding to channel any water away from the house and prevent water leaks and rot, which can wreak havoc over the years without you even knowing it. Many builders, unfortunately, skip out on steps like this to save on costs. Improper flashing details can cost you thousands of dollars down the road. In terms of climatization, Bluestone owns the proper tools to measure the moisture content of your subfloor or the humidity level, for example. We own several job-site, trailer-mounted HVAC units that we use to control the climate in the home while under construction. Asking questions like these will help you to gauge their commitment level to best construction practices, not to necessarily investigate every last detail — leave that to the builder. 
  9. May I visit a home of yours that’s under construction and/or completed?  
    • If you’re able to visit a home in-progress, take a look at the site conditions. Is it tidy? Are workers performing their work safely? Does the work quality match what you’re looking for? Seeing completed homes in person can also be beneficial and provide more insight than viewing a portfolio online.  
  10. May I have a list of references?  
    • We’d suggest interviewing several references, ideally four or five. At Bluestone, we provide 15–20 phone numbers of previous or current clients for prospective homeowners to contact. Each listing also includes a short description of the project (e.g. a $2M home in Cliffs, or a $300K kitchen remodel). Bluestone is proud of how we conduct our business — with complete honesty and integrity — and it shows, with the excellent references we receive. 

Ready to ask a builder? Download this list in an easy, printable PDF format. The team at Bluestone would be happy to answer these and any other questions you might have if you’re ready to schedule a meeting with us. Or, learn more about our process or how to start pulling together inspiration for your home.