Comparing Apples to Apples

If you've made the decision to build a custom home, and you've already completed a blueprint with the help of an architect, designer, or general contractor, your next steps are probably to price out your set of plans and select a builder. While there are various things to consider when selecting a builder, some individuals end up basing their final decision on price. This can mean securing bids from multiple contractors. While various quotes play an important role in deciding on a builder (after all, budget is a key piece to the puzzle), there are also some things that should be investigated. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are reviewing multiple bids from different contractors.

First off, you want to be sure that you have provided the same set of plans and specifications to each builder. This will ensure that each of your quotes are based on the same scope of work. It is important to be clear on what you expect the contractors to quote based on a defined set of specs. If the builders have to make any assumptions on what to price, it will be nearly impossible to compare apples to apples when you are reviewing the quotes.

Speaking of comparing apples to apples, different builders quote prices using different specs. If you receive an estimate that is noticeably less than another, you may want to dig deeper into the quality of the materials being used to build your future house. For example, you may have decided that you want to use vinyl siding on the exterior of your new home. However, one builder's standard features might include a higher grade of vinyl siding versus another builder's that includes a typical builder's grade. Significant differences in price are usually a tell-tale sign that the same or similar features have not been priced.

While you might initially find one builder's quote to be more attractive, you may later find that you are willing to spend the extra money for a home that includes better quality products. If you do find that a builder's standard features are better quality and come with a higher price tag – yet they don't all fit your overall budget - you may ask if they can quote some less expensive materials that do, if you aren't ready to scratch that contractor off your list. Likewise, maybe you received a quote that seemed too good to be true, and then you realized it was because the builder's standard features were just mediocre. You could always request that they include some of the upgraded features that another contractor may have quoted, which would also help you get a more accurate comparison.

Another very important area to keep an eye out for is allowances. Contractors offer allowances so that clients can make selections after the building process has begun, rather than making every decision up front. Individuals should have a clear understanding of what these allowances will be able to get them. For example, a quote might include a $5,000 flooring allowance, yet not offer any other specifics. The homeowner is then left to decipher if there is a sufficient amount allotted based on the products they wish to use (i.e. wood, tile, etc), what the price is per square foot, and how many square feet are needed.

Even though price is imperative in building a home, it doesn't necessarily have to be the determining factor in choosing a builder. Instead, many individuals will choose a contractor up front (see our past blog post - before ever developing a blueprint.  They will then work directly with that builder and a designer to draw up a set of plans. This is a method we strongly encourage to help our clients maximize their “wish lists” within their budgets. However, for those who do wish to obtain multiple bids, we hope the tips above will help make the process a little less overwhelming if you do end up finding yourself trying to compare apples to apples!

-Scott Strayer, President