Who You Gonna Trust?
This is an important question for everyone involved in a new home project
The internet will tell you to be skeptical when searching for a builder. That's good advice: skepticism is wise at the beginning of your search, just as it is when comparing surgeons, car dealers or other service providers. But remember that the ultimate goal is to find someone you can trust and collaborate with.
The vetting process is actually more complex for the builder. That's because all successful building projects are high trust environments. The builder needs assurance that everyone working on the job—from framer to electrician to landscaper—will correctly perform their assigned roles at the appointed times and for the agreed-on price.
This is a tall order. Building a complex custom home requires that hundreds or even thousands of details be completed by many independent subcontractors. Lots can go wrong. The reasons more things don't go wrong are that professional builders have great management systems and that they work with subcontractors who keep their promises and who they trust to do high quality work.
Trust obviously has to be earned, and earning it can take a couple of years. The builder needs to know that the sub will be fair in their pricing, that their work won't require a lot of re-dos, and that they will promptly respond to warranty requests.
Once a trade partner earns that trust, the builder will give them first choice on the best jobs, even if they're a bit more expensive than the competition. In return, the subcontractor will send their most skilled crews to that builder's jobs. And when the unexpected happens—a weather delay or the wrong tub shipped by the plumbing supplier—those subs will pull out all the stops to get the job back on track.
Suppliers also have to earn a builder's trust. The best builders use suppliers with a proven track record of standing behind the products they sell. The occasional order mistake is forgivable; an unwillingness to fully honor warranties is not.
Of course, trust is a two-way street. The builder also has to earn it, and not just from subcontractors and suppliers.
One place where a reputation for trustworthiness really pays off is with permitting authorities. New homes usually need multiple approvals, including from the zoning board, the building inspector, the health department and even the fire department. We all love to gripe about bureaucracy, but the truth is that these offices are usually short-staffed, and their employees are under pressure to reject any project that breaks the rules.
Given the workload, these staffers will usually put less scrutiny on permit applications from professional builders who have proven themselves to be diligent about following zoning and code requirements. Such builders make their jobs easier, so their projects move through the system more quickly.
It can take multiple projects over the years before officials fully trust a builder to be honest and do consistently good work. That's one big advantage of working with a professional builder with a solid reputation and longstanding personal ties to the local community.