Choosing a Contractor, Part 1
Building a home in northern Michigan is one of the biggest financial commitments you will make. Selecting the right contractor makes all the difference. Unfortunately, I’ve had clients who have spent every penny of their construction budget but their project is only partially finished. Talk about stuck! Sometimes the contractor is a crook, but sometimes the project was just a bad match between owner and contractor. I have some great builders as clients and friends, and I asked a few of them to discuss common mistakes that owners make and how to avoid them.
First up is Justin Acker. Justin runs Colligan Builders, and recently moved to Traverse City from Hood River, Oregon. Justin specializes in higher-end, custom homes designed by architects. I met him on a beautiful sunny winter day on a project near Leland, Leelanau County, on a tall bluff overlooking Lake Michigan—gorgeous! Here are some of his thoughts on selecting a builder.
- Justin emphasized leaving yourself flexibility, both in price and design. There is no such thing as a perfect budget or plan. If your plans have you spending every penny you have, you wont’ have any wiggle room for either unforeseen difficulties or unexpected possibilities or upgrades.
- “Square footage is king.” Justin sees many owners who “have to” have extra space, sometimes leaving those spaces unfinished or sparsely finished. The problem, as he sees it, is that costs for square footage are not linear, but exponential. Adding that extra room or space means larger everything—roof, siding, mechanicals, etc. In his experience owners get more satisfaction out of having the building funds to appropriately finish and use smaller square footage instead of building more than you can afford.
- Tip: ask your builder what excites him or her about your project. In my tour of his latest project Justin was excited to show me the energy efficiency features of the home, a newer type of installation for in-floor heat, and a unique type of exterior metal finishing. As we ate lunch he told me he couldn’t wait to install the unique staircase. It struck me that an owner should ask a prospective builder what excites the builder about their project. After all, no matter the type of job, everyone works harder and is more engaged if there is something exciting to them in the project. If a prospective builder can’t find something exciting in your project, maybe they aren’t the right choice.
- Here’s another question for a prospective builder of a custom home: ask them what they read and what subscriptions they have. For a truly custom home, the possibilities of products, finishes, and details are endless. Justin said that it is important for him to be knowledgeable of new products on the market. He subscribes to three or four publications that keep him up to date, and he makes himself review these daily. He never wants to be surprised if a customer or architect mentions a new product. If it is important to you to explore all the options to you in building your home, you should ask your builder what he does to keep up to date.
My thanks to Justin for taking the time to talk to me. He is a low-volume builder who doesn’t advertise much digitally. If you are building a custom home in the Traverse City area and would like to speak with Justin, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with him.