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  • Writer's pictureScott Clark

10 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Builder

So you've decided to build a new home or cottage in your favourite place. Congratulations on joining the hundreds of thousands of Canadians each year who are choosing to do so. According to, many young Canadians are opting to build and buy cottages instead of a house in the city. Why? It's simple, why buy a condo or house in the city when you can own a piece of property on the water or tucked away in the trees? With more people able to work remotely, even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic began, having to live close to work is becoming a thing of the past. Still, if you decide to embark on the exciting journey of building your own dream cottage or home, there are some important things you should know before getting started;

1. Experience is Everything

In the case of design and construction, experience is absolutely everything. Some builders websites' claim decades of experience in construction, but are not specific about the type of construction. You want a builder who is well-versed in bringing custom designs to life.

It takes many years to understand how to navigate the potential pitfalls of custom building and to become skilled in precise project management. Knowing what comes first, second, third, and so on, can make the difference between making or breaking the timelines and budget.

2. It's Important to Shop Around

As with any major purchase, you want to be sure that you have the best possible product and service for your hard-earned money. Narrowing your search to two or three builders and comparing them on all important aspects (like years of experience, designs, and fit) is a worthy exercise. You want to be sure that the prices are competitive for the quality of the design and finished product. With enough research, you will begin to know a good quality build just by looking at it.

This step is probably one of the most important to do well before signing on the dotted line. It is much easier to adjust the design, the process, or finishing touches with a good builder that you trust, than it is to start from scratch with an entirely different company.

3. Look for Client Testimonials and Talk to Previous Customers

Does the builder have client testimonials on their website? What about good reviews online? Not all good builders will have this type of information listed, however, it is a good sign if they do.

One of the best methods to understand if a builder is right for you is to talk to previous clients. What was their overall experience with the builder? Did they like the process, the people, and the final product? Would they recommend working with this builder? If the previous client is open to having you in their home, you can explore the custom build in person and ask questions throughout.

4. Ask About Warranties and Insurance

All builders in Ontario must have insurance that protects both you and the builder in the event that something goes wrong. Builder's risk insurance protects you as the client from things like theft and covers the physical loss or damage to any property over the course of the construction project. Liability insurance protects against intangible things like human error. You have the right to ask about this and even request copies of certificates.

You also want to know what type of warranties are offered by the builder. For example, if the builder is legally required to use Tarion (Ontario New Home Warranty Program), there is a mandatory 7 year statutory warranty on all new builds. Some builders have additional warranties that can ensure that you are protected well past the completion date.

5. Expect Delays

Delays are inevitable. A good builder will overestimate the time it should take to complete a build because they take into account a number of factors. Things that can delay a project are weather - winters being the worst season to build - availability of materials, and changes or upgrades to the original design or scope of work. Builds can sometimes take months longer than anticipated due to a variety of these factors, and the more of these challenges you face, the longer the delay.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, delays in available materials can impact building time significantly. The good news is that construction continues and more people than ever are ditching city living for something in cottage country.

6. Own the Land First

Finding the perfect plot of land for your new dream home takes time. Are you looking for a south-westerly view? Perhaps you want something on a more secluded part of the lake. Whatever your preferences are for the location, a good builder should be able to work with the natural landscape to give you exactly what you are looking for in your cottage. The building process is also much faster if the land is owned because you can get started right away once your design is complete and permits are in hand.

7. Know the Dollars and Cents

Every company is a little bit different in how they operate the financial aspect of a build. It is important to know what the standard practices are so that there are no surprises along the way. For example, what is the company's standard practice for invoicing? Are there upfront fees? Is their contract based on a stipulated price or is it time & material? Is this comparable to other companies? What could cause the project to go over budget?

A good builder will be as clear and concise as possible about what to expect around costs and invoicing throughout the process. Keeping the lines of communication open is essential to ensure everyone is on the same page.

8. Communication is Key

Finding the right builder for you is like conducting a job interview for someone who will work with you for 1-2 years. You will need to spend time talking and discussing steps along the way to ensure you get what you want, so you need to make sure it is the right fit. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about your prospective builder;

1. Do you like your prospective builder? Sometimes you can't put your finger on why you do or do not like someone but it is important to get a good feeling when you meet them.

2. Do they get back to you right away? What is their means and style of communication? Are you waiting days to hear from them or are they responsive to all of your questions?

3. What are their standard operating times? Do you have trouble finding time during the work week to discuss your project and you need to talk outside of regular working hours? Is your builder responsive to this and willing to accommodate you?

4. Do they do what they say they are going to do? If they tell you they will send you a quote by the end of the week, do they deliver? Building trust from the beginning is a crucial step in the builder/client relationship.

5. Do they work well with others? Like talking to previous clients, you can also interview the tradespeople they work with. Are they well respected in the industry? This is an important factor in making sure the project runs smoothly.

9. Expect Bumps Along the Way

Despite a thorough consultation, numerous conversations, and best intentions, misunderstandings can happen. Perhaps you thought your builder meant something else entirely when they described an aspect of the build, or perhaps you don't like the way something is shaping up. Misunderstandings can happen along the way so it is important that your builder address them immediately and that together you continue to keep the lines of communication open to prevent any further delay.

10. Go with Someone Local

There are a lot of big city companies that build in cottage country and they can do a great job, but it helps to have someone local who knows the geographical area and typography of the region.

Depending on where you plan to build, the terrain can be difficult and a local builder will have experience with this. For example, does your project require a septic system? What types of plumbing issues might occur in your area? A local builder will also understand the weather conditions that are typical in that geographic region and know how to keep water systems from freezing in extreme temperatures. As well, a local builder will typically have relationship with people at municipal offices, they will know local and readily available tradespeople, and where to source materials regionally. Most importantly, any after-sales services covered by warranty are dealt with quickly and effectively since they are nearby.

Whether you are ready to build or are just starting to think about planning a build sometime in the future, knowing these 10 things should help you get started.


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