By Mark Salerno
When you decide to buy a brand new house or condominium, choosing the right builder is as important as choosing your home. When you purchase a home, you also “buy” the company that will build it. Your satisfaction will depend on their experience, their skills and their commitment to customer service. An important part of the home buying process lies in determining that you are dealing with a builder who has these qualifications and is able to meet your needs and expectations—for the home and for the buying experience.
Define Your Vision
Get everyone in your household involved in discussing what you are looking for in a new home and community. For instance:
Type and size of home; number of bedrooms; other space requirements, e.g. garage.
Layout and design; flexibility for future changes.
Outdoor living areas: space and privacy.
Desired features for looks or convenience.
Special considerations, e.g. accessibility for household members with mobility restrictions.
Distance to work, shopping, medical facilities and public transportation. Schools, recreational facilities, green spaces and places of worship.
Make a list of everything that’s important to you and divide it into things you must have and things you would like to have.Use the list to help you evaluate each home and community you visit. It is also a great starting point for discussions with builders because it makes it easier to tell them what you are looking for, which in turn helps them to identify the homes that best match your needs and wants.
Begin Your Search
Ask friends, family and coworkers for names of reputable builders they have dealt with.
Call the Greater Toronto Home Builder’s Association (www.newhomes.org) or check their web site for the names of builders in your area.
Check the website for Tarion (www.tarion.com), the new home warranty provider in Ontario, for a list of registered builders.
Go to home shows to meet builders and to explore the latest in features and finishes.
Visit builders’ sales offices, model homes and communities.
As you go through your home search, collect as much information as you can—pamphlets, brochures, builder’s packages, warranty information and so on. Take notes that will help you remember the details of a particular home or discussion, or to recall which builder said what. You may also want to bring a camera along.
Check Model Homes
Look carefully at each home you visit. Then return to those you like and look again. Keep in mind that the builder created this home as a model, so what you see represents the best quality that you can expect. Take your time in each room. Stand in every corner, sit down and look up—don’t be shy. Jump on the floor to feel the solidity of the construction. Listen to sounds that carry through the home. Notice how doors and windows fit and operate. Pull out drawers and open cabinet doors to see if they work smoothly. Consider the design and layout. Does the home make efficient use of space? Would it work for your lifestyle, could you see yourself living there or what changes would you want to make? Note which features are upgrades and extras to get a better sense of the basic model. It should be indicated in the model home; if not, ask the builder or salesperson to explain.
Check out the Community
If you are considering buying in a new development, the community itself will be a factor in your decision. The developer will have created a detailed master plan covering everything from the location of each home to street design to recreational facilities. Ask for a detailed description or, even better, for a personal tour of the community.
The key to getting information is to ask questions. Ask about all the things that are important to you, both about the house and about the buying process. It is a good idea to write down your questions in advance; it helps you stay focused and ensure that you get the information you need in order to make a decision. When you are considering a specific lot, ask about things that could affect your enjoyment of your property, such as community mailboxes next to your lot, or a bus shelter directly across the street. While it may not be an inconvenience to you, you should know about it in advance. And while you are looking at the lot, get a sense of light and sun patterns—for instance, will you get the morning sun where you want it?
It can take several visits and a number of conversations before you have covered everything to your satisfaction and feel that you are ready to make a decision. Take your time and make sure that you have a good sense of each company that you may be considering—how their process works, how they would treat you, and what it would be like to buy from them. You will also want to take a close look at builders’ warranty and after sales service. You need to know that your builder will stand behind the home, that the company’s commitment to you goes beyond the closing day, and that you have access to recourse if anything goes wrong.
A satisfying home buying experience depends on open communication, a good working relationship and mutual trust. Consider what it would be like to build your home with each company and compare. Does the company’s approach to the buying and building process work well for you? Will you be able to work well with the people in the company throughout it all? Does the company offer the kinds of information, assistance and reassurance that you want? Are there any restrictions that you would have difficulty with? Do you feel confident that they will deliver the home you want?
Making the Final Decision
Once you have selected the builder, you are ready for the next step—working out the details of your new home and putting it in writing. Before you sign a contract, ask your lawyer to review it. No matter how carefully you have selected the builder, you still have to take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your investment. Then you can enjoy the homebuying experience and look forward to the day you move into your new home.