Choosing Our Builder – Part 1 – The Site-Build Contractor


As with choosing your lot, choosing your builder is a decision you don’t want to get wrong. There are so many options for site built home builders and manufactured homes that it can be hard to know where to start. I’d suggest that before you look into who will build your home, you determine what your priorities are, and their order of importance. Our priorities were budget, availability, scheduling and experience with similar builds (not necessarily in that order).

A Little Bit of Back Story

When we were searching for our cottage, we briefly looked into the possibility of building new rather than buying an existing cottage. At the time we focused on Manufactured/Modular and Kit options. Every weekend, on the drive north, we’d drive by the Quality Homes Sales Centre in Kenilworth, ON. Eventually we decided to stop in and see what was really involved with a build like this and what options we’d have (assuming there were few) for styles. We were very impressed by the idea of an engineered manufactured / build-it as it seemed to remove a lot of the risks of a site built option.

Sadly, building wasn’t in the budget as the real estate market for existing homes/cottages was a better fit for us then. I’ll admit though that there were many weekends on the way to or from the cottage, I’d look longingly at that sales centre as we drove by.

A few years later, we drove north one weekend, we noticed that Quality Homes were having an open house – WITH FACTORY Tour! We thought that would be pretty neat to see so we planned to leave the cottage early on Sunday and stop in on our way home. We were not disappointed!

The whole construction process seemed so smart. From the setting of the floor joists on precise jigs to the way they hinged the roof trusses for shipping, we were impressed. We left the sales centre hoping that someday maybe we’d get the chance to build a “forever” home.

In the meantime, I found myself working for a couple construction-based companies so I was becoming familiar with processes, pricing and industry jargon – probably just enough to be dangerous, or at least annoying to contractors later haha.

Now back to the main story…

DISCLAIMER – what you are about to read is our experience with one General Contractor. It in no way is a representation of how all site-build contractors operate.

Our the Site-Built Contractor Experience

Even though I was super excited about the plans the contractor showed us, we hadn’t settled on it since we didn’t have enough information yet. We started asking questions about budget from a hypothetical point of view. That plan was about the style and square footage we were aiming for so we turned discussions around to project structure and budget. Here’s what we found:

How This General Contractor Works

  • Project Management – They do what they can (mostly carpentry and hard landscaping) and sub-contract everything else to local partners.
  • Materials Management – They source materials just ahead of the stage they’re required.
  • Material Selections – The homeowner can select everything from anywhere they like. This contractor does have a few places that offer preferred pricing and that is extended to their customers.
  • Commitment – They estimate cost, start a finish dates but won’t provide final budgets or timeline until you pay you their $40,000 management fee. Then prices and timelines are still subject to change as decisions are made and their subcontractors become available to work on your job.

The Budget

We probably put this contractor in a bit of a sticky spot since we asked for a sample budget without providing a definitive plan. We asked for the budget for the house I was so excited about from the initial meeting. A few days later my inbox pinged and the file was here!

I quickly scanned down to the bottom line and experienced – what a friend of mine calls – a Lunchbox Letdown. My heart sank as I forwarded the file to Brian to view. We then started to look at the numbers more closely and did a few calculations of our own. We are well aware of the possible cost of flooring, kitchens, paint and bathrooms since we’ve done all of those things in the past.

Still their numbers seemed extraordinary. We started to eliminate line items, figuring we’d could do some things on our own. Just minor things like: installing the flooring, bathroom vanities and the entire kitchen! We were so discouraged at this point. Even though we’re capable to do all of these things, we hoped we wouldn’t have to do so much work on our own for the sake of the budget.

Why A Site-Build Contractor Can’t Guarantee Pricing:

1.      They have no way of controlling the cost of their sub-contractors – and they usually use a lot of subcontractors.

2.      They purchase materials days before they’re needed and are therefore at the mercy of their suppliers and current market prices.

3.      They have no idea where their customer will source finishing materials from or what quality level they will choose. Therefore, if they’re in charge of the budget, they can end up in a very precarious situation as they try to reign the customer in to manage the budget targets.

Schedule

In our first meeting with the General Contractor, they were also vague about the schedule. They could maybe start “late 2022, maybe early 2023” and there was no prediction (that I can recall) about time to completion. 

Why A Site-Build Contractor Can’t Guarantee Schedule:

1.      They have no way of controlling the availability of their sub-contractors. Skilled trades are in high demand and a small delay on one project can impact their availability on the following ones.

2.      Since they’re ordering materials as they go, and usually don’t have much leverage with suppliers, there’s a chance that they may have to wait for materials regularly.

Conclusion

Bearing in mind that all this was happening as we were trying to get our cottage ready to sell AND purchase a lot! The excitement was mounting but so were the nerves: we were trying to make a really big decision here and the variables could impact our entire retirement financial plans. It was time to explore other options before we commit to anything. We went back online and started to research manufactured home options more closely.

Stay tuned for our experience with the Manufactured Home Builder and then … Our Decision!

P.S. I haven’t heard back from them since I sent them a response to that email saying we were going to let all that sink in and get back to them after the sale of the cottage. hmmmm 

Questions or comments? Send me a message!

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