Choosing the Right Contractor to Build Your Home

A note from The Heinrich Team:

We would like to introduce Jay Gentry, one of our very good friends who has a passion for sustainable home building. Jay has offered to share his expertise on our website so that our viewers can have the most current information from a local expert. Jay has indicated that he is happy to answer any comments or questions you leave in the comments section below the article.

Choosing the Right Contractor to Build Your Home | Tip #1 – Choose Your Contractor As Early As Possible

We have all heard the “yikes” stories of finding out that your construction or remodeling project will cost twice as much and take twice as long as you thought… or the breakdown in communication and trust among the homeowner, designer, and/or builder – in the middle of the project.

Both can be avoided by selecting your contractor in the beginning.

  • The old paradigm of “design first then get bids from contractors” is giving way to the much more effective “team approach” from the beginning of the whole process.
    • Ultimately, achieving the vision requires the collaboration of three key stakeholders
      • You, the homeowner, provide clear direction based on your needs, wants, priorities, and preferences… along with the realities of time and budget
      • The architect or designer develops an “informed design” based on function, aesthetics, and desired performance
      • The builder brings expertise on construction process (alternatives, budget, and schedule) and commitment to achieve the vision
    • This collaboration is best when the team is formed from the beginning
      • Architects/designers are well qualified to interpret your vision and needs into a design that is both functional and aesthetically on target… but generally do not monitor expected construction costs to ensure that the evolving design stays on track with the realities of your budget and time requirements
      • An experienced builder can provide ongoing cost analysis, suggest possible alternatives, and help keep the evolving design within the investment parameters… and if necessary, can provide real information to guide any adjustments to those parameters, or to your priorities
      • A builder’s experience working with local planning and building departments can also save time, money, and headaches from planning submittal through final inspections and sign off
      • But most important, there is no “handoff” when the actual construction begins. Instead, the team will have been collaborating for months and the builder will be well informed and working from an understanding of the project rather than just a set of plans
      • This understanding of priorities and the intelligence behind various design decisions can dramatically improve communication, reduce misunderstandings, and ultimately, result in a better finished product

Note: If your architect/designer does not plan to involve a contractor from early in the process, I recommend that you ask him/her to contemplate the previous five bullets and possibly reconsider for your project

Choosing the right contractor to build your home

3 Tips for Choosing the Right Contractor to Build Your Home

Choosing the Right Contractor to Build Your Home | Tip #2 – Ask the Right Questions

If you are going to choose the right contractor early, you will need a set of questions to guide your selection process. Most of the following questions are intended to open areas for consideration and discussion. Expect the answers to trigger additional follow up questions and examples.

  • Questions of yourself – before you interview contractors, have a clear idea of your own expectations and concerns
    • How do you plan to live in the home?
      • Full time/part time
      • Expected activities weekdays/weekends/special events
      • Planned visitors frequency/ages/activities
      • How will your answers to the above change of evolve over the next 10/20/30 years
      • Will you keep the home in the family or sell at some point
    • What are you anticipating during the construction process?
      • How frequently will you (or other stakeholders) be in town during the construction process
      • What are you hoping for, looking forward to, excited about
      • What are you concerned about or hoping to avoid
    • When your home is completed, what is perfection? Complete the following sentences.
      • Functionally, it will be perfect if…
      • Aesthetically, it will be perfect if…
      • Emotionally, I will be delighted if…

In the following section we will cover questions you might consider asking your prospective contractor. The questions under Basics are pretty straightforward and answered easily. Questions in the remaining categories require more thoughtful answers and the discussions that follow will give you insights into a contractor’s organization, priorities, and commitment. More importantly, the experience will give you an indication of what it will be like to work closely with them while they build your home. (Depth of discussions will differ based on your priorities and level of interest in the different topics.)

  • Questions for your prospective contractor
    • Basics. do they have the following… and with whom?
      • A “Classification B Contractor’s License” that is “Active” with the State Licensing Board
      • Worker’s Compensation Insurance
      • Adequate Liability Insurance
      • Records to ensure that all subcontractors are licensed and have current worker’s compensation and liability insurance
      • A complying job safety program, regular safety training and job-site inspections
      • Certification as a Green Building Professional (this is not required but I view it as an important priority for compliance with increasingly stringent building codes… and for sustainability)
    • What do they believe differentiates them from other qualified contractors in the area, and how does that differentiation apply to your specific project?
    • How does their particular business model work with respect to the following:
      • Supervisory positions from job-site to senior management (experience, responsibilities, billing)
      • Selection and management of sub-contractors (when do they typically use subs, what is the selection process, how are they managed)
      • Job-site tracking process (employee hours by task, materials, products, and systems)
      • Job-site clean up
    • How do they go about creating and tracking the following “accounting related” processes and tools? (Note: You will want to go into full detail with the contractor you eventually choose, but during the selection process you may want to limit the discussions based on your own level of interest.)
      • Budgets – What do they provide in terms of preliminary budget, iterations of the planning and building budgets, and budget comparisons as the numbers become more specific (from estimates and allowances to bids, quotes, and actuals)
      • Schedules – When and in what formats do they provide construction schedules, and what is the frequency of updates
      • Selections – What is their process for identifying and managing the myriad selections you will need to make (windows, doors, mechanical systems, tile, fixtures, finishes, etc.), so that the project stays on schedule
      • What types of contracts do they offer/prefer, and what is the process for change orders, if needed (At this point you are interested in learning about available options and preferences for evaluation purposes)
    • What standard practices and tools do they employ to manage the ongoing communication among stakeholders throughout the building process?
      • Establishing expectations and protocols for the communication process at the beginning of the project
      • Regularly scheduled meetings (on-site, other face-to-face, GoToMeeting, telephone) of the stakeholder team, and do they provide agendas and report on decisions and/or outcomes from the meetings
      • Ongoing electronic communication… what do they use to achieve 24/7 communications among stakeholders for questions, issues, decisions, pictures, etc.
    • What is their view of “performance” as an element of quality construction?

If you ask the above question verbatim don’t be surprised if you get a blank look. Despite the advancement of building science and overwhelming evidence of the positive impacts you can enjoy, for a small additional investment… performance, beyond what is required by code, is still not a priority consideration for many builders.

From my perspective it is a foundational issue, but requires too much explanation for this specific post, so I am only suggesting the one question for now, just so you can get a read on the contractor’s awareness and understanding of what is coming as building codes evolve.

I am planning on a subsequent post on “Performance as an Element of Quality”, but in the meantime I have provided a short explanation below, and would be happy to answer any questions that you have. My contact information is available through the Heinrich Team or at the end of this post.

If the idea of home performance makes sense to you… here is a brief explanation:

  • What is their view of “performance” as an element of quality construction?
    • Thanks to building science we already know how to build a home that is 70% to 90% more energy efficient than a home that is simply code compliant
    • If you are already planning to build a high quality home, the additional investment for achieving an extremely high level of performance is generally between 5% and 9%
    • Extreme energy efficiency comes largely from constructing an airtight building envelope and then providing continuous fresh (and filtered) air within the envelope
    • Eliminating leaks and managing the air exchange can reduce the airborne pollutants by as much as 95% and results in dramatically improved indoor air quality and, therefore, the health and comfort of the occupants (the link below is to a 2016 study of these health benefits)
    • An additional benefit, airtightness and continuous filtered fresh air pretty much eliminates the need to dust – consider that the dust on your furniture comes from the air you breathing
  • A final point about questions… Pay attention to the questions that prospective contractors ask you

Along with your asking the right questions and listening to the answers, you can learn a lot from the questions that a prospective contractor asks you during your conversation/discussion.

This interview process is their chance to learn about you, your priorities, and how you see the project. The way they demonstrate their interest in you can be an indicator of what it would be like to work with them and how well you will collaborate in a future relationship.

The answers to your questions are important, but so is your overall feeling about the interaction.

Choosing the Right Contractor to Build Your Home | Tip #3 – Confirm Your Tentative Conclusions with Proof

It is easier for a contractor to make a positive impression while answering your questions than it is to provide actual examples that illustrate the truth of their answers. You will want to see the finished work and some work in progress from any contractor that you are seriously considering for your team.

  • Tentative conclusions matter –
    • If you have reservations about working with someone after the interview or interviews, it may not be worth your time to visit their completed jobs or jobs in progress
    •  There are a number of contractors in our area who are capable of building fine homes and you should be able to identify one or more with whom you are comfortable
  • Site visits have multiple objectives –
    • When visiting completed projects you want to confirm your expectations regarding the attention to detail, craftsmanship, and overall quality of the work
    • At jobs in progress you will also want to meet job site supervisors, observe the work being done, confirm the record keeping, and note the job site organization and cleanliness
    • The contractor hosting you should be pointing out details, well resolved elements, and connecting what you are seeing to previous conversations about your priorities, concerns, or your project
    • You can be making observations and asking questions that put you in a better position to make decisions about your own project
    • You are also looking for ideas and/or elements that you had not considered but may fit into your plans
    • If you have not yet been to the contractor’s office you may also want to include a stop there in order to meet the inside folks and confirm your impressions about the culture of the firm
  • This is an important decision for you, do your homework
    • Spend time on the contractor’s website… get an impression of their work, culture, priorities and professionalism
    • Ask for and make contact with references
    • Ask for contact information and speak to sub-contractors

I hope this was helpful… feel free to leave a comment or question below, and I would be happy to respond.

Choosing the right Contractor to Build your Home


  1. Thank you for this thorough, useful information — and for including the link to E4TheFuture’s paper addressing the “health benefits of energy efficiency” with its literature review of studies. For more information about the health benefits, also see Can Energy Efficiency and Health Industries Bring Momentum Mainstream?

  2. Choosing a contractor early on is definitely a useful tip for people like me; I tend to look last minute. That’s not something that one should do when finding a contractor for their new home. I know that I’d want someone with the most experience if i decided to build a home.

  3. I really like that the article includes questions to ask yourself as well as the home building contractor when you start looking for them. After all, you need to know what you want out of your custom home and what you expect from the contractor before you hire them. Questions like how you plan to live in the home can really have an effect on its overall design and which contractor you choose to build it.

  4. Your question about how they differ from other contractors in the area and how that applies to your project is a really good one to ask. My husband and I have decided that it is time to build ourselves a home, and we want to be sure that we get a really good builder. We’ll ask some of your questions as we look for a custom home builder.

    • Jay Gentry says:

      I am delighted that the blog was helpful. I mentioned “performance” in that blog and noted that I would be doing another on that topic. It was published a few days ago, also on the Heinrich Team blog. The title is “Building a High Performance Home” and I hope you take time to read that one as well. If you have questions or would just like to talk please feel free to give me a call at 831-320-8538 or email me at Making our homes (especially newly constructed homes) more efficient, healthy, and comfortable is the biggest lever we have to reduce our impact on the environment and I am committed to doing all that I can to put people in the position to make informed choices throughout the process.

  5. I agree that when you are choosing a construction contractor you would want to consider their licensing and since. It would make sense to check with the state licensing board to make sure they are qualified. My sister needs a construction service, so she’ll have to find one that is properly licensed.

  6. Jay Gentry says:

    License and insurance… definitely need both. Let me know if I and be of help finding or qualifying the right contractor for your sister.

  7. I like how you say that you would want to consider a home builder’s experience working with other contractors. It would be smart to consider this because it would show their experience and professionalism. My sister wants to build a home, so she’ll have to find someone who has experience with other contractors to help.

    • Gloria,
      I am referring to sub-contractors in the area. Things like masonry, electrical, plumbing, etc. They are not only the specialists in the construction of a home, they will have a clear opinion on the general contractors (home builders) that they respect and whose work they like to be associated with.

  8. I agree that you want to choose a contractor early as possible before you choose them. It would make sense that you would want to pick one early to help you out. I’m looking for a contractor to help build my home, so I’ll have to find someone early as possible.

  9. How are you supposed to know that what they’re doing is quality work and not cutting corners? My parents bought a house in 04 and it seems like it was only a few years later that the paint on the porch started to chip along with other small things where it seems like the quality was a little under-par

    • Justin,
      It can be difficult to evaluate truly “quality work” without some experience. Two suggestions. First, when you look at the work of contractors who you are considering ask them to show you jobs that were completed 10 years or more in the past. Many times the “cutting corners” will show in their work… or if they will arrange for you to talk with the owners, you can get an idea of whether or not they are still happy with the work. Second, I posted a blog for The Heinrich Team that was published in June “Sustainable Home Building / Building a High Performance Home” that addresses quality issues related to performance. That post was the first of a series and introduces a graphic that shows four different continuums related to elements of quality. It then discusses the quality continuum from “code compliant” which is the minimum quality acceptable, to “high performance”. Two other continuums on the graphic relate to “workmanship” versus “craftsmanship” and “completed” versus “resolved”. Your example of paint chipping and “other small things” would illustrate a quality level related to workmanship and completion rather than craftsmanship and resolution. There are things that can be easily observed related to function (bathroom door and shower door interfere with each other when both are open), aesthetics (bath faucet does not fall on intersection of two tiles… or trim tiles at the edges of a backsplash are not the same width). These easily observable indicators lead one to be concerned about things that cannot be seen easily (insufficient preparation of the porch before final painting). I am still working on that blog (which will include more detail and examples) but it should be available sometime in September on The Heinrich Team blog. In the meantime, you can reach me through them if you have questions or would like to discuss this with me.

  10. I like how you recommend not only contacting the contractor and asking many questions but that you also ask to see some of their work after the interview. Your note about going with who you feel comfortable with is also very helpful. I’ll have to ask to see some model bathrooms from some contractors when my husband and I decide to remodel our bathroom.

  11. I am a father of the big family and after the birth of the third child our house in a village has become too small for us. So, now we want to expand it. Thanks for the tips regarding safety! I’ll definitely check a contractor’s licence in the state licensing board.

  12. My wife and I have sold our old house to build our dream on a piece of land that I inherited from my parents. I agree that asking the right questions could very much help with conveying what you want to be done and what the contractors could do. Hopefully that I find a good one soon! Cheers!

  13. You made a good point about asking the right questions to a contractor such as if they are licensed and how much experience they have in the industry. You certainly would like to work with someone that is reputable and has extensive experience int he field. If I were to hire one to build my custom home, I would definitely take this into account. Thanks.

  14. I think the best way to find a good contractor is through recommendations and looking through their portfolio. That way you have a clear understanding of their work and recommendations can tell you if they are professional and trustworthy or not. I’ll have to pass this along to my friend who is currently looking to have a contractor come build some things for him on his property.

    • The Heinrich Team says:

      Hi Jaque, where are you going to be building? We may have some recommendations for a contractor.

  15. Making the decision to build your own home starts from the process of searching for a contractor. If you’re in the market and search for a custom home contractor, then there’s a good chance that you’re feeling a little overwhelmed right now. To find the right person to oversee the building of your home, then the significant points mentioned in this blog, helps you to choose your desired contractor. After hiring the right contractor, building your home seems to be exciting and also helpful for you to fulfill your development work and handling the challenging elements.

  16. I like that you mentioned that it may take you longer than you think to find a contractor so it’s good to start looking as soon as possible. There’s a lot of research that should go into finding a good contractor for your remodeling project because you have to put so much trust in them. It’s important to take that time to compare different ones and see which one could be right for you.

  17. The best part of your article for me is when you talked about how you can save time and money if you’ll work with a builder that has an adequate experience in house construction. My husband bought a lot, and we’re looking to build our house there. It’s important for us to find a contractor that will help us build the house in a very efficient manner. For me, the experience of the house contractor will play a big role in making sure that they can do the job right. I will make sure to remember all your tips on choosing a house contractor.

    • The Heinrich Team says:

      Hi Maria, where are you going to be building? We may have some contractor recommendations for you.

  18. I like that you talked about how hiring experienced home builders can help you to save time and money because they can help you from planning submittal through final inspections and sign off effectively. My husband and I believe that we have enough savings to have our dream house built. It’s important for us to make sure that this will be a great experience for us, so we want to find an experienced home builder that can help us at every stage of the construction until the sign-off. It will also give us the confidence that our house is going to be built the way we want it once we hire an experienced home builder. I will make sure to consider all your tips for finding a home construction contractor. Thanks!

  19. These are some fantastic questions; after all, if you’re going to hire a building contractor then you want to make sure you understand everything first. One of the smaller questions that I really like though is about the job-site clean up. Nobody likes to have a mess left behind when they move into their new home and you want to make sure that they’ve cleaned up all of the loose nails and screws so that nobody gets hurt.

  20. I appreciate that you explained how we should have a clear idea of our own expectations before we even interview potential contractors. My husband inherited a piece a land from his aunt and since the location is too remote for practical living, we decided to put up a vacation home. I want this project to be as smooth sailing as possible, so I’d be sure to take my time in considering my options. I definitely learned a lot from this article! I hope that I’d be able to find a contractor that matches my perspective. It’ll be a whole lot easier to work with them that way.

  21. My husband and I are looking for a contractor to help us with our home. I love your advice here to make sure that we choose a contractor early so that they can be a part of our design process. This would be so helpful!

    • The Heinrich Team says:

      Moira, do you live on the Monterey Peninsula? We can make some great contractor recommendations to help with your build.

  22. I think it’s important to have an experienced building contractor to make sure that everything is done with efficiency. If I were to have our dream house built, I wouldn’t hesitate to call a right contractor to assist me with the whole process. And I will certainly be asking these questions to my prospective contractor. Great tips!

  23. I’m looking at hiring a construction contractor to help me with a project I’m doing in my yard. You make a pretty good point that I should start my search sooner rather than later since it might take me a while to find a good one. I’ll start ASAP to ensure I hire someone qualified for the job.

  24. My dad wants to build a room extension for our home because we’ll have a baby brother. It was explained here that we are to choose contractor right away to discuss the things that we want to be done. Moreover, it’s highly recommended to only hire professional home construction contractors.

  25. It’s great that you’ve mentioned how when choosing a contractor for one’s new home, they need to ask certain questions such as what can be anticipated to happen during the construction of the house or what the home will look like. My brother mentioned that he is planning to buy a property so that he and his wife can have their home custom-made. I’ll share this with him first so that he can be guided on how he can choose the right contractor for this job.

  26. You really do need to make sure that you are asking the right questions when choosing a building contractor and it is great that the article agrees. This is especially important if you are planning to hire a contractor to build your new home. After all, at that point you would want to make sure that you know things like how often they will be working on your home, if they’re properly licensed, etc.

  27. I do like that you suggested checking how the house contractor that you’re interested can provide you with construction schedules and how you can expect them to update you. My husband and I are interested in constructing a barndominium. We want to find a contractor that can communicate with us effectively on a daily basis because we want to monitor our own project. Thanks!

  28. If you’re planning to hire someone to build your home from scratch then you need to make sure that you are being careful when choosing them. It is particularly important to pay attention to the advice that the article gives about their business model and stuff like that. After all, you will want to make sure that you understand how things like payments will work while they’re building your home.

  29. I like the tip that you gave to choose a contractor who has a good amount of experience. My wife and I have been talking about finding a contractor to help us because we want to build a home, and it would be important for us to know that we could find one who we could trust in. If we decide to find a contractor, I will be sure to look for one who is experienced.

  30. I appreciate how you mentioned that the homeowner should provide clear direction first with the contractor. My brother is looking for a contractor for his business and wants to find the right one. Thank you for the advice about choosing a good contractor and I will let him know about it.

  31. I like how you mentioned asking yourself questions like are your planning to live in the home full time or part-time before looking into hiring a contractor. My wife and I are thinking about hiring residential home builders to construct our dream house because we need more space as a result of contemplating growing our family. It seems like a good investment to hire reputable professionals that have the experience and materials to create and design a home.

  32. I appreciated the tip that you gave to choose a contractor who is an expert with their schedule. My wife and I want to find a contractor to help us around our home, so we could increase the value of our home before we put it up for sale, and it will be important for us to know that we could find one that will be good for us. When we do start looking, I will be sure to evaluate how they are with their schedule.

  33. I like how you mentioned that achieving a construction vision requires collaborative efforts from you, the architect, and the builder. My wife and I are considering looking for a contractor because we’re thinking about building a house in the country since we might relocate to a quieter environment. I think it’s a good idea to consider hiring a reputable professional that can help us build the home we want by collaborating with everyone involved in the process.

  34. Thank you for telling me that as the homeowner, I should be able to provide clear directions and instructions on how I want to build my house based on my needs, wants, and preferences. We’re currently looking for a general contractor who can dedicate their time and effort into building the dream house that my husband and I have always wanted. The total cost is not going to be a problem as we are willing to spend how much is needed, but we need to be assured that it will be done properly and on time. It might be a good idea if we’ll hire a construction superintendent who can supervise the project whenever we’re away.

  35. As you mentioned, before you can interview the contractor, you need to have a clear idea of what you want so you can properly relay it to them. In doing this, you can make sure they understand from the beginning what is expected of them. We are looking to have a custom home built, and will make sure to keep these thoughts in mind.

  36. Jay, I like that you said I should hire a home construction contractor along with an architect or designer so we can all collaborate in making my dream vision for my home come true. My husband and I are planning to have a new home constructed because our old one will no longer fit us once I give birth. I’ll definitely follow your tip and make sure that my architect or designer involves a home construction contractor from early in the project. Thanks for this!

  37. I like how you mentioned choosing a home contractor can help with the cost analysis for the home as well as provide adjustments. My wife and I want to start building our home later this year and we want to make sure we have everything in order before hiring a builder. Since we have heard horror stories about home contractors, we want to be meticulous in choosing the right home builder.

  38. Oh My God!!! This is a great blog, I am happy that I have come across this one. It’s an amazing blog to read about 3 tips choosing the right contractor to build your home . Thanks for this wonderful content. I loved reading your article, will definitely give it a try to store as per your advice. Great blog to share!!

  39. It’s a great source of knowledge; I think it will be helpful for lot of people who are looking for 3 tips choosing the right contractor to build your home . Thank you very much for sharing this article, this is really helpful for me, thanks again!

  40. Thanks a lot to you for sharing 3 tips choosing the right contractor to build your home here, these kind of ideas are were much needed. I really appreciate that you have provided the data too, really appreciative and useful blog for us. Looking for more!!

  41. I like that you said that it is important for me, the architect, and the contractor to collaborate in designing a house that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. My fiancee and I are planning on building our own house after the wedding and his uncle is an architect so I think all we need is a good builder. I gues sit’s time to look for a reliable contractor to help us make this project come to fruition.

  42. My husband and I are hoping to build a home this year and we need to find a reliable contractor to help design and see out the project. I appreciate your suggestion to ask potential contractors for references that you can contact. We will definitely ask for a list of a contractor’s previous clients that we can talk to before we hire anyone for our project.

  43. For me, I will
    Make A List Of Prospects.
    The first thing you will need to do is to determine the project you intend to embark on.
    Ask For Referrals And References.
    Consider The Contractors Experience.
    Verify The Information And Settle For A Contractor.
    Ask For A Written Contract.

  44. I found it interesting when you said that ongoing cost analysis and possible alternatives could be provided by an experienced builder. My sister and her husband are interested in finding a house and land package that would meet their budget. They want to start a family this year, and it is crucial for them to find a reliable builder that can help them build their dream home. I will share your tips with them.

  45. Custom home builders make sure that they hire the right tradespeople. They also work with trustworthy suppliers who provide high-quality materials.

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