To learn all you can about a builder, go to those who have had experience with him … and get them talking! They are a store-house of valuable information. Usually they are happy to talk about their experience (good or bad) if you ask the right questions. It makes it easy for them and it’s valuable beyond words for you.
You might spare yourself a real disaster or you might find yourself a top notch builder, who makes the building process a wonderful experience. How much is that worth? If you can put a price on that, please let me know. I have never heard of anyone being able to do this.
Call the reference when you think it’s not inconvenient (don’t call first thing on a Monday morning for instance). After explaining why you are calling, ask them if this is a good time, or if another time would be better for them. If they are relaxed, and not stressed about time when you visit with them you will learn more.
Don’t ask only general questions. (Such as ‘Were you happy with him?’) They will usually give a simple answer with no details. You are looking for details. You want to know their feelings.
However, it is fine to begin with general questions just to break the ice, and give them time to become comfortable:
Was it a good experience for you?
Did you get what you wanted?
Would you hire him again?
When it feels right, begin asking specific questions. This is where the real gold is:
Did you feel that he wants what is best for you, or that he is mainly looking out for his own interest? Why?
Was he more focused on time or quality?
Did he finish on time? If not, Why?
Did he insist on quality from himself and his subs? Or did he think good-enough is okay?
Did he give you time to make decisions or demand answers immediately?
Could you communicate easily? Was he approachable?
Do you feel that he is honest? Why?
Did he listen closely to what you want? And try to accommodate you?
How did he handle changes that came up?
How often was he on the job?
Could you get a sense of how closely he worked with the sub contractors? Did they have good rapport, and work toward the same goal?
Did he actually pick up tools and work? Or was he a paper contractor?
Did you work together well and develop a good relationship?
How did he handle problems? Did he pass off responsibility or take it on himself?
Was he demanding in any way?
The answers you get will reveal volumes about him. You may not have to ask all the questions, as they may be answered during your conversation if you visit long enough. Hopefully, you will learn if they had any ‘bumps’ during the building process, and how they were handled.
It’s worth it. Your time and money and future home are on the line.