HOW TO BUILD A CUSTOM HOME, Part 2: How to Pick a Builder

In this series, the professionals at the B.O.L.D. Company will take you through the process of building a custom home in the Greater Cincinnati – Northern Kentucky area. From plan and lot selection, to mortgage approval, to the actual construction, we’ll take you behind-the-scenes each week for an inside look at a different part of the process.

This week, we take a look at the selection process for choosing a builder. Remember that while you are “interviewing” the builder, the builder is also “interviewing” you. Building a custom home is a complex project, and it is important that BOTH of your expectations are met and that your personalities will mesh.


What do you intend to spend on your new home? This is a question only you can answer. Professionals in the sales and lending markets can help you determine how much you can afford to spend, and you should seek their advice. But just because you can afford a dollar figure does not mean that you will want to spend that much; it simply means you can spend any dollar amount between that figure and zero.

Once you know what your budget is, make sure that you consider builders that specialize in your price range. If you want a custom home in the $300s, don’t interview production builders that build primarily cookie-cutter entry-level homes. Likewise, if you have a budget in the $100s, don’t visit $500,000 model homes or interview builders that have not built in that range—they won’t be experienced at getting the most for your money.


Next, you need to decide which is more important to you, the location or the type of home? If you intend to live in a particular school district or neighborhood, then you must determine what builders are available in that area.

If you already have a home site in mind, be sure that the builders you list are willing to build there. Not all builders will build on your lot – most production builders will only build on their lots in their subdivisions, while most custom builders will build off-site.

If where you live is negotiable, but you certainly want a particular type of house (custom, log, contemporary, traditional), then you will want to research builders who specialize in what you want.

Either method you choose, put together a list of possible builders by contacting the local home builders’ association or chamber of commerce, talk to friends, relatives, and neighbors, and also consult one or several real estate agents. If you intend to build from an architect’s plan, be sure and ask that architect if they recommend a particular builder; they may have one or a few builders in mind who are familiar with their plans.


When you have compiled a list of anywhere from 3 or 4 to 8 or 10 potential builders (depending on your area), you should do some background research on each builder and narrow down your list prior to visiting any of the sales professionals or model homes.

-Are all of the builders on your list sufficiently insured for both general liability and workers’ compensation? Any “No” answers should be automatic dismissals from the list!

-Are any of the builders on your list members of professional organizations? National, state, or local home builders’ associations? Chambers of commerce?

-Check licensing requirements for your area: are all of the builders on your list appropriately licensed? (Many states do not license home builders, so also check with the local home builders association for a list of Registered Builders—to qualify for this designation, builders must meet strict requirements regarding contracts, warranties, standards, and dispute resolution procedures.)

-Check with the local Better Business Bureau. What is each builder’s rating? Have there been any major complaints about any of the builders?

-Are the builders on your list registered with a new home warranty program?

-Do any of the builders participate in the Energy Star Program? Do they have any Green Building, Aging-in-Place, Accessibility, or other training or designations?

-Have any of the builders on your list placed numerous liens against clients’ homes? Have any had numerous liens filed against their own properties?

-How long has each builder been in business? How many homes have they built? How many homes have they built in the area, price range, and style that you want?


You should now have narrowed down your list to a manageable number of potential builders to meet face-to-face. Start by touring model homes: take note of the quality of the homes, the features available, the neighborhoods, and the floor plans. If none of these initial visits leaves you with a bad impression of the builder, the neighborhood, or the home, then make appointments to meet with the sales professional for each builder.

When you meet with each builder, consider carefully: Do you feel comfortable working with this person – personality, accessibility, trust? Is this someone with whom you can have a comfortable relationship for the one- to two-year process, including preliminary preparation and post-closing warranty service? Ask the builder about plans they have to offer or about your particular plan, if you have one selected. Be upfront about your expectations, needs, and wants. Do you feel they are being similarly forthright? If you have not selected a plan or a lot, is this person qualified and willing to help you make these decisions? Ask detailed questions about the whole process: contracts to be signed, how selections are made, procedure and pricing for change orders, billing and payment policies, site visits, closing process, warranty service.


At this point, you may feel comfortable selecting one to three builders from whom to request a bid. If you already have a plan and a site, the bidding process may go rather quickly, and you can accept bids from a greater number of builders. If this is the case, be sure that the builder(s) actually see(s) the site and/or blueprints prior to bidding the job. Also, be sure that each builder is bidding on the same specifications, so that you are comparing apples with apples, and not apples with oranges.

If you do not already have a building lot in mind, builders can bid the job with a lot allowance; this means, they propose to build a particular house on a lot worth a particular amount of money (whatever you expect to spend for the site), and based on certain other conditions of what is determined “buildable”. Keep in mind that should you ultimately decide on a lot that is more expensive than your bid’s lot allowance, then the total bid will go up accordingly. Likewise, if you select a location that requires extra work to meet the builder’s standards for being “buildable” – additional grading, trees removed, retaining walls – the total bid price will go up.

If you do not already have a plan and/or lot in mind, you may wish to choose only one or, at most, two builders who are best suited to help you locate, purchase, and modify or prepare both the building site and the blue prints.

Most importantly, while price is important, and staying within budget imperative, cost should not be your only, or even primary, consideration. Quality and trust are priceless in a new home purchase, and cost-cutting early can lead to costly complications later.


When the time comes to make the final decision – complete with signature – consider consulting an attorney with expertise in real estate and / or construction to review the contract you are being asked to adhere to for this great investment of time and money. Also, be sure you are aware how much you will be required to pay upfront and at what intervals after that. You should not be expected to pay more than 10% prior to the closing.

The B.O.L.D. Company is uniquely situated to help you through each and every step of the custom home building process. We are available to build on your lot in Northern Kentucky, or let our licensed real estate agents help you find the perfect home site! Our in-house drafting and design team, together with our on-staff licensed Professional Engineer, can help you find or design the plan of your dreams! And of course, B.O.L.D. combines quality products and craftsmanship with unsurpassed customer service, so that the finished home is everything you expect and more. Find out why 400+ other new home customers have trusted The B.O.L.D. Company since 1986!


Builders Of Lifelong Dreams