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January 25, 2022

Who You Gonna Call?

How do you identify a great semi-custom builder—and choose the best one for your needs?

There's an oft-repeated quip that building a semi-custom home is as much about the experience as the result. Yes and no. It's true that you will invest more emotion into the design and construction process than with an off-the-shelf tract home, but the defining experience is the result. It's a home in which everything—from the room layout to the furniture and finishes—reflects your personality and priorities.

How do you make that defining experience a great one? The answer is that you need to choose the right builder, and that choice will depend in part on chemistry. Ultimately, you want someone with whom you click, someone who gets you and who understands your needs and wants. 

Finding this person may require that you meet with a few candidates. First, however, you must narrow the field to only those who are highly qualified

It goes without saying that a successful builder will have a rock-solid business. Semi-custom builders earn their business chops in a variety of ways. Some have spent time in the corporate world, while others learn by doing. The backstory matters less than an ongoing commitment to creating a stable, financially sound company that does high-quality work on time and within the budget. These are the only people you want to be talking with.

But while production builders and custom builders both need to run a tight ship, they are fundamentally different businesses. Production builders view homes the same way Ford and Toyota view cars: as products to be manufactured. They may sell quality homes, but the management team's job is to optimize time and money. With a large production builder, the buying process also resembles that at an auto dealership in that your interactions will be short-term and transactional.

By contrast, with a semi-custom home you will collaborate with the builder and the builder's team for months—on things like structural options and selections. That process will be way more enjoyable if these are people with whom you can develop smooth and trusting relationships. 

It's helpful to remember here that a great semi-custom builder will have a different mindset than a production builder. Although staying within your budget will be a priority, the semi-custom builder will look for a way to do that while also delivering the best possible results.

Another way of making the comparison is that successful production builders are corporations focused on the numbers (and publicly traded production builders are focused with their stock price). While all successful semi-custom builders run great businesses, they are craftspeople at heart. They have built a reputation on quality work, and they won't cut corners to save a buck. The best ones view homes not as products but as homes for families.

Finally, a great semi-custom builder will be a good listener. He or she will listen closely to your wants and needs, then work with you to meet them given budgetary and other limitations. It’s important to know that although semi-custom builders will work with you to make sure your home will fit your needs, they still operate within an extremely efficient and vetted process. With that said, if you are hoping to build a fully custom home and make design choices that stray from those processes, a semi-custom builder might not be right for you. Please make sure to have this conversation with your builder before you move forward.

This last point is essential. The building process can include a lot of difficult decision points, and you want someone who will look out for your interest at each one. Your builder should be someone in whom you feel confident to guide you through this process.

Q: How do you cut costs without cutting quality?

A: The answer is that a little creativity will go a long way. For instance, you could keep those custom kitchen cabinets but purchase fewer of them and add a pantry closet. Or you could design a simpler roof line that costs less to build but doesnt reduce the interior living space. There are many ways to save money while still getting a home you love.

© 2022 Copyright Tim O'Brien Homes. All Rights Reserved.

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