Written By Daphne Keller
Thomas J Keller Building Contractor LLC.
In the excitement of deciding to move ahead and build a new home on Long Beach Island, many quickly learn that there are a lot of moving parts to consider. Whom do you choose that will be an experienced, knowledgeable, and trusted partner through the process?
Those who have built new before, whether a primary or vacation home, are typically more equipped with how to go about it, having learned from a previous experience. Most likely, if it was a good experience, they will already know with whom they want to partner because they’ve listened, observed, and researched along the way—perhaps over years—thus approaching the project with excitement, ease, and confidence in their choice.
For others, it may be the first time building a new home. They have questions like “Where do I start? How does the process work? What are the differences between…?” and of course, everyone has an opinion! Additionally, there are frequent stories in the media about unscrupulous business practices that make some people skeptical when approaching a project of this magnitude. How do you ensure that you make the right choice from the beginning?
It’s always surprising how many people sail right past the basics. If you keep a few simple things in mind, like the following 10 points, you’ll be off to a great start. It’s easy to be dazzled by advertising, smooth sales talk, and visuals. But as important as it is to have a solid foundation and underlying structure for the long-term strength of any home (pilings, in the case of LBI!), also important is the solid foundation of the company you choose to partner with to make your new home a reality. Your investment of time, heart, and money should confidently be placed in the hands of a business that will be watching out for your best interests and ultimately protecting your investment in the long run.
#1 Do Your Research
Talk to people: previous and current clients, local people, contractors, engineers, township/borough employees in the area where you’d like to build, etc. Is the builder well respected? Have they earned a fine reputation over time? Are they known for doing what they say and being true to their word?
Are they known for respecting budgets no matter the size, and for collaborating closely with homeowners, other professionals, and contractors in the development and execution of the job? Do they offer an ease of process with a seasoned team in place, guiding and handling details from start to finish? Are they responsive, focused on achieving homeowner wants and needs? Do they possess a proven track record for quality workmanship, communication, meeting timelines, and service? Is client satisfaction paramount to their operating philosophy? Trust your gut instinct when you sit down and meet with potential companies.
#2 Design & Pricing
Already working with an architect or have architectural drawings in hand? Great! Many clients may know up front who they will partner with to build their home given an existing relationship or their architect’s past experience with builders. For those who don’t know, start with doing your research. When you put existing plans out to bid, don’t go out to six bidders. This usually leads to an exercise in frustration for all. You will get a much better result by narrowing down your options to two or three builders you’ve pre-screened. The final bid will then allow for more precise pricing (assuming specifications, which are critical for accuracy, are provided with the plans). Allow a sufficient amount of time for the builder to price the job accurately. It doesn’t make sense nor is it to your benefit to spend a full year designing the home of your dreams and then rush the builder into pricing it within an unreasonably short window. But DO pay attention to the deadline and whether the bid was submitted on time. Also, the collaborative relationship between architect, builder, and client can offer excellent checks and balances for your project.
If you don’t have plans already, have you noticed house styles and designs you admire? Many builders offer stock plans that can be modified, and/or have excellent relationships with local architects/designers to assist in getting you the style of house you’re looking for at the price point you need, with the added benefit of helping to ensure the end result stays on course and on budget. By working with the builder early on, you’ll get design ideas, incorporating your wants and needs, that also help maximize functional living and minimize cost, whatever the size of the budget.
Regardless of project details and final parameters, any reputable builder should respect your budget and work with you to achieve your goals and desires.
#3 The Work – A Company’s Portfolio
Evaluate a company’s scope of work over a period of time. This can typically be done by viewing their website, driving around to see existing projects, or being shown homes in person. Check out recently completed homes and works in progress as well as completed older ones. Keeping in mind the degree of maintenance and upkeep by the homeowner over the years, a lot can be said for how the home has stood the test of time given LBI’s challenging coastal climate. What do you see with variety and styles of homes built, workmanship, and quality of materials used?
#4 Relationships and Word of Mouth
Verifiable references and working relationships matter. There is great value in talking with a range of individuals who can speak to the actual homebuilding experience, quality of the home itself, and a company’s commitment to service and satisfaction. It is still true for many businesses that “the highest compliment you can give is a recommendation to family and friends.” Those kinds of references are worth their weight in gold. Will a list of satisfied and repeat customers be provided, if requested? And if the opportunity arises, take the chance to talk with employees, professionals, and others; what is said or not said can speak volumes about your potential experience working with a company.
#5 Contract and Payment Terms
Your contract should be detailed, clearly define a payment schedule that corresponds to the completion of stages, and include wording for consumer protections from the Department of Consumer Affairs in the State of New Jersey. Also make sure that how “extras” will be handled is clearly defined upfront so there are no surprises at the end. Be wary of large initial deposits. Additionally, the contract should never require that the builder be ahead of the client with payments vs. schedule.
#6 Financial Stability
Is the business run on solid ground? One of the most important criteria for choosing a builder is financial solvency. Is there an excellent credit history and a verified history of consistent and timely payments to vendors, employees, and subcontractors? How long has the company been in business under the same ownership? Check on any changes in name over the years which may raise a red flag. Are they a solid corporate citizen in the community?
#7 New Home Warranty, Licensing, and Insurances
Not all new home warranties are created equal. Not every builder is able to attain membership with the top warranty companies where potential businesses are examined for financial stability, customer satisfaction, and technical competence, and where members agree to comply with specific construction standards in order to have their projects warranted, providing homeowners with an additional strong foundation of security for their home. (Reputable builders will rarely have claims that go to warranty, however, because issues are handled if and when a situation arises.)
All new home builders and contractors must be licensed with The State of New Jersey with registration numbers clearly displayed within the place of business, in all advertisements, and on business documents, contracts, correspondence and all commercial vehicles. All must carry General Liability and Workers Compensation Insurance, and clients can always ask for a current copy of this to ensure it’s active and not expired. The builder may also require the homeowner to purchase a Builders Risk Insurance Policy for the course of the construction period.
What is the commitment to customer service? Is there a dedication to guidance through the entire process, clearly defining the steps involved, answering questions, coordinating and handling issues, providing suggestions, ideas, and encouragement along the way? Is there a proven track record over time? Can you count on the company to be there for the long term to deliver excellent and responsive service well after the Certificate of Occupancy is delivered?
#9 Depth of Knowledge and Coastal Expertise
Choose a partner well versed and experienced in building homes in our coastal environment, one who has the skill and ability to recognize, handle, and solve potentially “unforeseen problems and challenges” that may arise during the course of the build. It will be invaluable to you.
#10 The Decision
Yes, it’s a big decision. With many fine home builders to choose from on LBI, making the right choice will result in peace of mind, confidence, and a homebuilding experience that will be enjoyable and rewarding—a collaboration whose end result is a beautiful, personal, functional, quality home ultimately created by you and in sync with the coastal lifestyle you’ve envisioned and dreamed about for you and your family.