Ready to build your dream home? Find out what to look for in a homebuilder.
According to MetroStudy, a market intelligence firm for the real estate and housing industries, Orlando has seen a 25 percent increase in the building of new homes at the end of 2016 compared to the end of 2015. This is good news for Central Florida residents who are ready to make a new house their home sweet home.
Before you go plunking down the most money you will probably ever spend in your life, there are a few things you should know.
Andrew Ray, program chair of Valencia College’s Built Environment Programs at the school’s west campus and a registered architect, says one of the most important things a new homeowner can do is asking the homebuilder for references.
“Quality homebuilders should have no problem giving you several references of satisfied customers,” Ray says.
Ray admits that he did not thoroughly vet a subcontractor when he built his own home and ended up paying twice as much for the work. Also, a material supplier came knocking on his door for payment, even though he had already paid the subcontractor for the supplies. Luckily for Ray, he had a release of lien so the supplier could not hold his home as collateral for lack of payment.
“Make sure to ask that your contractor give you signed release of lien contracts from all their subcontractors and suppliers,” Ray says. “Do not sign any paperwork or pay your contractor until you receive these contracts.”
It may go without saying that your homebuilder should be licensed and insured, but Ray says potential homeowners should do their due diligence as well and look up their contractor’s license with the state and/or city. “I’m sorry to say there are unscrupulous types out there who have been known to fake documents,” Ray says.
Cara Kane, senior director for KB Home says community and location are important factors in choosing a homebuilder. “KB Home looks for property in places that are in quality school zones and in close proximity to where people work and play,” she says.
Also, unlike many speculative builders, homebuyers that purchase a KB Home can pick exactly what floor plan and features they want. KB Home calls this its Built to Order process. This process requires that each phase of construction pass quality checkpoints, which ensures that your new home will meet your needs.
Programs such as FYI’s “Tiny House Nation” and HGTV’s “Tiny House, Big Living” showcase custom homes that are around 100-300 square feet. Ray points out that this trend comes with additional questions potential homebuyers need to ask. Is your tiny home high-wind stable? If there is a loft, is it structurally sound? Does it have proper emergency egress windows where needed?
“The building codes are still in flux when it comes to tiny homes,” Ray says. “I think tiny home buyers need to think about safety before they have a contractor begin designing their tiny home.”
Orlando Lakefront at College Park is a tiny home community that was once known as an RV park. All new tiny homes in the community must be on wheels; however, there are two foundation tiny homes that were grandfathered in. Ray points out that tiny homeowners should also look into the issue of location and zoning.
“Many people who are wanting to live tiny may not want to live in an RV park,” he says. “I think there’s a potential market for tiny home communities, which is only starting to be tapped into here in Central Florida.”
Kane says although KB Home built the first net-zero energy home in Windermere six years ago, Florida homebuyers have not warmed up to the solar trend.
“All our homes are Energy Star-certified, and while we haven’t seen demand for solar increase here yet, energy efficiency is in high demand in Florida,” Kane says.
For homeowners interested in energy efficiency, KB Home offers something called an Energy Performance Guide or EPG, which provides an estimate of monthly energy costs in a KB Home compared to a typical home in Florida. Kane says it allows homeowners to see their savings right away.
Years of Trust
While agreeing that experience is an essential part of home building, Ray says that education is also a good indicator of a contractor who is invested in building quality homes.
“I don’t necessarily think a residential homebuilder needs a four-year degree, but I do see a lot of advantage to choosing a homebuilder that has been properly educated, especially in high-wind code requirements, which are essential for any Florida homebuilder to know,” Ray says.
Valencia College’s associate science degree in construction includes classes in building codes and contracts, materials, estimating, project management, scheduling and REVIT drafting. Unfortunately, construction is not a field of study many young people are flocking to join. Ray points out that students who graduate from Valencia’s two-year program start out making $50,000 a year, which is a higher salary than that of some faculty members with master’s degrees.
According to Ray, the Central Florida community needs more young people getting trained and educated in construction so there are enough quality homebuilders available. He says, “My hope is that young people and their parents will start seeing construction as a lucrative, long-term career that doesn’t necessarily require a four-year degree.”