Written on
September 28, 2016

Custom Home Builders: 6 Questions to Ask

Building a custom home is a big task - for new and old buyers alike.

Between vetting your contractors, finishing your design plans, securing a guarantee of your home loan, and trying to sell your previous property, there's no way to keep up with everything without a plan.

However, working with custom home builders in Toronto can be a smooth experience if you know what to ask and how to ask for it. And, when you find the right company, home building can actually be very exciting!

But, before you find that company, you're going to need to do some research. Luckily, we've got a great guide right here. You'll be able to quickly sift through all of the custom home building companies in Toronto and find the right one for you by asking these six simple questions.

What are your Credentials?

This is a loaded question, but if your custom home builder is experienced, they'll know exactly what you're looking for. You're going to want to see a City of Toronto Trades License, a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) number, and a liability and workers' compensation insurance certificate that is up to date. Pay particular attention to their City of Toronto Trades license as it needs to be for Toronto for them to legally build your home.

Next, find out how long their business has been building homes, as well as how many homes they've built in total. 

Lastly (and most importantly), ask what makes their building company better than the competition. 

Pay close attention to the way they answer this question. The tone of their response will be a good indicator of how they interact with clients and the general way they do business.

Do You Have References and Examples of your Work?

Before you go any further, you must ask them for previous examples of their work. Even if the building company you choose hasn't been in operation for long, they should still have a model home for you to tour.You shouldn't stop there. Customer testimonials are extremely useful tools for getting an unbiased opinion of the abilities of your prospective home builder.  Instead of allowing the building company to steer you towards the samples they're most proud of, get a list of all their recent building projects and contact the owners yourself. Past customers are always eager to sing the praises of companies that perform well, and even more eager to criticize those that disappoint them. 

Don't rely on the builder for all of the references you collect. You can find professional opinions on custom home builders in Toronto from your local hardware store, The Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) and any large local building supply store including chains.

Can I Deal With Subcontractors Directly?

Building a home in Toronto is demanding, in both skill and manpower. The people constructing your home need to be on point. It would be wonderful if your building company had staff that was always 100% internally vetted, but odds are that you're going to have subcontractors for specialized tasks like electrical and plumbing on-site eventually.This doesn't have to be a bad thing, as subcontractors can be just as skilled as permanent hires. However, your building company should have a short-list of vetted subcontractors that they routinely hire and trust. It's crucial that you take down and research every name on that short list. If you're unsatisfied for whatever reason with any one of them, it's your prerogative as the customer to request a new subcontractor or substitute your own. 

How Do You Handle Pricing?

Your contractor should have a beat-by-beat plan of how they handle all expenses including mid-project alterations, material and labor costs, and invoices. Toronto custom home builders usually start by providing an estimate based on the housing plans you give them. These bids will vary from company to company and you should avoid going for the highest or lowest bid. You can use a home  pricing calculator to get a grasp of the price before you talk to a company.Once you settle on a company, it's imperative that they agree to send all invoices and plan changes immediately with pertinent explanations.  Different custom home builders price projects differently. Some charge a flat fee, some charge a percentage, others make money from product markups. The total cost of your home will never totally match the estimate you began with. Markups will happen, and everything needs to be out in the open to ensure fairness.

Another key pricing point is the construction loan. Sometimes construction companies will handle the construction loan themselves, and your bank will pay them when you apply for the home loan when the project is finished. This is not always the case, and it's not a bad sign if you need to get a construction loan yourself. Just make sure this is all out in the open before you get underway.

Are You Willing To Work As A Team With the Rest of my Designers and Myself?  

Your interior designer and house plan designer need to work as a cohesive unit with your custom home building company if they're going to realize your vision. Luckily, any experienced home building company already knows this. In fact, they'll probably ask you about the other members of your team before you mention them. Most importantly, you need to see yourself as part of this team as well. Building a custom home is not a hands-off job for clients either. Ask your company if it's okay that you'll be making frequent check-ins  ensure the project is going smoothly. They should obviously say yes.

They should obviously say yes.

What's Your Policy on Complaints and Refunds?

Things can always take a turn for the worst, and you should have an easy escape plan if they do. You need to ensure that your money won't disappear you opt for another builder at some point during the process.

Interruptions can delay the completion of your home and your building company should have a contingency plan for that as well. You may get a discount or some other perk. Most importantly, make sure you get it in writing as soon as they promise it to you. Regardless of what happens, your home should never take longer than 16 months to build.

But it's more likely that your complaints will be less severe in nature. Your finished home will probably have a few small imperfections like jutting nails and grout that doesn't quite connect with the tile. The home building company must have a contingency plan for this. Normally they'll offer a timespan where they'll fix any construction problems you find.If at any point you're unsatisfied with any of the contracts you've signed on your home building journey, remember that you have a 10-day period to back out due to the Ontario Consumer Protection Act

Article written by:
David Le Prevost