Finding the Right Builder Starts with Asking Questions

Vail Design at Altitude column
By: Kim Toms

We’ve all heard the horror stories about builders who take the money and run … luckily, we have many reputable, skilled general contractors here in Eagle County. A small valley combined with good work ethic equals projects that are done professionally with spectacular results.

How do you find a good builder? It starts with asking questions. Do a little research: Who have your friends used, who does your interior designer recommend, what builders have been in the area the longest? They are thriving because they are good at what they do and deliver what they promise. Expect to interview three or so builders and start by seeing work they have done on a similar timeline and budget.

Creating a strong relationship with your builder is essential to bringing your dream home to fruition. Here are some site pictures from a new construction job Kim is working on in Estes Park.


Here are a few questions to consider when you start down the road of building your dream home.

When can you start? How long will my project take and what is the price? Establishing a budget and timeline is one of the first steps for a successful project. Keep the figure that works for you in mind as you ask. However, be realistic: Building in the mountains costs more than it does in Tacoma, Washington; Topeka, Kansas or even on the coasts. This is sometimes a hard concept to grasp — builders aren’t driving up the price simply because they can; they are doing it because it costs more to pay a good wage, get quality product and finish the job on time.

How much contingency will be carried in the price? Unforeseen issues, or additional work, can mean unforeseen expenses. This is where your contingency budget comes into play — money set aside to cover unexpected costs during the construction process. A contingency allows for the project to move along, even if there is a hiccup.

Will there be a full-time superintendent on the jobsite? If so, then plan on meeting prior to the project start to make sure you see eye-to-eye. This will be the person you go to with questions along the way. A successful relationship, any relationship, hinges on good communication.

Will there be a project manager involved? This person will be another point of contact for you and will oversee the project from start to finish; they handle the paperwork and are responsible for hiring (and potentially firing) of the subcontractors.

How often do I need to make jobsite visits? Some people like to visit frequently; others would rather be at the dentist than on a jobsite. Check in with your builder, and let them know when you plan on being on site so the builder can let the crew know.

What happens if and/or when the scope of work changes? As the project moves along, costs may increase from the original bid simply because of time. Be clear that you expect the builder to let you know about cost increases so there is not a surprise bump at the end of the project. Similarly, certain aspects of the project will change along the way. Be sure the builder keeps you apprised of schedule updates throughout the project.

What information do you need from my consultants or me to create an estimate? Builders know creating a home is a team project and that, ultimately, this is your vision coming to life. However, the plan needs to be in place — a pie-in-the-sky plan won’t work without a clear direction and information.

Other questions to ask:

  • What is your fee? This is a percentage on top of the price and is how the builder makes their money.
  • How many bids will you obtain for each category of work?
  • What type of weekly updates will I receive regarding progress, schedule, budget?

Building a dream home shouldn’t be a nightmare. If you go in prepared, then before you know it, you will be moving into your new house.

Kim Toms is a principal at Slifer Designs. Her primary focus is on fixed finishes and she loves listening to clients and creating their vision.

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