Choosing and working with a builder
From: Dahako (
Date: Tue, 13 Jan 1998 11:13:50 -0600
Hi everyone - 

In a message dated 98-01-12 17:17:16 EST, Mona.Loofs [at] writes:

<< A question (and I wonder if there will be any replies to this one?): how do
 groups go about getting good consultation going with builders? What sorts
 of things do you look for in a builder, how do you know if they will be
 good at working with a bunch of highly involved people, what sort of
 process do you put in place to address problems during the building process
 and what shouldn't we do (eg change all the plans in the last minute)?
 I hope this hasn't been hashed over too much already in the past.

At Eno Commons, our developer (also a member) put out a "short form
specification" (kind of like a draft house plan and preliminary list of
materials) to several builders with a request for their bids.  Once we had
bids in from 4 builders (and the developer worked with the builders
extensively to help them understand the spec and what they were getting into),
the members formed a small (4 people)  Ad Hoc committee to interview them.
The builders were an interesting cross section of experience, from one who
built custom homes at the rate of about 10 per year to a production builder
who builds about 60-80 homes per year (as I recall).  One builder had previous
experience with cohousing.  That one and one other had previous experience
with some of the "green" building techniques we wanted to use.

Before the interviews, we reviewed the bids and determined our questions.
Very high on the list was, "How comfortable are you with the idea of working
for a group?"  and related follow-up questions about what process they'd like
to use.  After the interviews, the Ad Hoc group discussed not only the
quantifiable questions and answers, but also the feel of the responses and
what we thought each builder would be like under pressure.  We also called all
references and asked, among the technical questions like, "Is your house still
standing?", asked "How is this person/company to work with?"

We picked the production builder because his price/quality were great, and
because we thought we could work with him.  The developer worked with the
builder, the architect, and a group liaison from our Architecture Committee to
finish off the designs and specs. The builder had extensive input. 

As we moved to home contracts, one of the members volunteered to be Builder
Liaison so we wouldn't overwhelm the builder with the same questions over and
over.  So each person is contracting individually with the builder (we're a
subdivision) for one of our three home designs, but questions for the builder
are initially routed through the liaison who weeds out the repeaters and
passes on the answers to the entire membership.

When we picked a production builder, we also, only somewhat in jest, picked a
slogan, "Change orders are death!"  To control costs, the builder only allows
change orders until the foundation is complete.  After that, we just get out
of the way.  We're pretty happy with this, because one of our goals is keeping
the homes affordable.  Knowing we couldn't make changes later did cause some
delays in coming to closure on the final house plans.  Delayed closure on the
house plans delayed getting the builder's final price estimate.  Delay on the
price quotes was frustrating for our marketing efforts.  There's a cost to

Hope this helps - 

Jessie Handforth Kome
Eno Commons 
Durham, NC, USA
Our 14th neighbor just bought lot 14 this weekend!  Only 4 cozy small lots and
4 lovely large lots left. At the first home (mine), footings will go in this
week - El Nino willing.  

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