If you are looking for new home, chances are you’ve had lots of well meaning folks tell you to “do your homework.” Research your builder. Check out that Realtor before you sign an agreement. Investigate your home inspector before you decide who to use.
Everybody says this, but how do you do it?
First off, realize “checking out” of any professional should be commensurate with the task at hand. Spend a little more time looking into a builder who is going to construct your $250,000 house than you would checking out a plumber who is going to replace a leaky hose bib.
- Start with the website of the local Better Business Bureau (BBB). Some tradesman may not be members of the BBB, but the BBB will still record if they have received a recent complaint. [Not being a member of the BBB is not a negative either. To manage costs, some professionals only join one or two professional organizations.]
- Check out the Secretary of State’s page for your state. The Secretary of State maintains a searchable database of all businesses licensed in the state. Check the company name and note the other officers in the company.
- Next, navigate to your local court website. Once there, search all combinations of company name and company officer names.
- Do a general Google search of the company name and officer names along with the words “complaint” and “rip-off.”
- Run company names through Angie’s list, and also search on Reddit and City-Data for your area. Check Yelp for business profiles. Look for a profile and associated ratings on Facebook.
Some search sites are touchy. Misspelled words or inaccurate business names do return results. For example, a builder might use “Super Duper Homes” for trade, but the legal business name could be “ABC Builders doing business as [dba] Super Duper Homes.” This kind of difference between the trade name and legal name can often be figured out via the BBB, where you can also search on phone number. Sometimes this difference also comes to light via a search on the Secretary of State’s information.
Check-out Your Realtor
- Find your state’s Real Estate License Commission and search your Realtor’s name. Alabama Real Estate Commission License Search
- See if your area has a local chapter of the National Association of Realtors.
Research Your Builder
- Look to see if your area has a local Builder’s Guild. Search their databases for your service professional.
- Knock on the doors of the already completed houses if you are interested in a specific subdivision. Introduce yourself and mention you are thinking of buying, and ask about their experience with the builder. Usually, satisfied customers are happy to tell you so. Dissatisfied customers are even more anxious to share their story.
Plumbers, Electricians and Trades
- Ask for tradespeople recommendations at local building stores, like plumbing, paint, flooring and roofing supply stores. Ask store staff if they have heard of who you are thinking of using.
- Get your Realtor’s input on builders and tradesmen. Ask your tradesman for input on Realtor’s and builders. Ask any of these people for past client references. If they are a reputable outfit they won’t have any qualms with providing references.
Keep Things in Perspective
Don’t be dismayed by a few bad reviews. Everyone has an off day, and some measure of unforeseen issues is normal in every transaction. What you are looking for are more good reviews than bad. On the bad reviews, you want to see that some kind of action is attempted to fix or otherwise mitigate the issue.
The Invisible Man
What you want to avoid are ghosts, i.e., people who don’t show up anywhere. Most importantly, avoid professionals without an entry at the state professional license boards. Also, avoid professionals who have more negative reviews than good ones, or those that have a pattern of inaction and indifference.
Forewarned is forearmed! Happy House Hunting.