Research shows that good processes are key to a great building experience.

The best builders know which experiences homeowners find most frustrating, and they work tirelessly to avoid them.

Industry studies show that homeowners’ biggest complaints are about their builder’s processes, especially around scheduling, budget, work habits and customer service. Smart builders use data from these studies to help them understand what their customers consider important. And smart homebuyers can glean lessons from them on how to evaluate a builder.

One interesting point is that few custom homebuyers complain about quality. By the time they have chosen a builder, they take quality for granted—because that’s what they focused on during the selection process. They vetted their builder by looking at past projects or project photos, reviewing testimonials, and perhaps talking with past customers about their new homes.

Looking at finished work is crucial, but if the homeowners want to know how they will likely feel during and after the project, they need to ask questions about the builder’s process. The best pros deliver a finished home by the date expected and for the amount agreed on. They show up on time for meetings and communicate about changes. They keep a clean, organized jobsite—a sign of safe and efficient work practices. And they stand behind their work long after the job is done.

Such builders stand out from the crowd, as was documented in a 2013 study by Woodland, O’Brien & Scott, a consulting firm that tracks homebuyer attitudes nationwide. The company surveyed 12,000 new-home buyers on their builders and their builders’ processes. The most cited complaints were:

  • Homes that weren’t finished on schedule.
  • Finished homes that weren’t as clean or complete as the customers expected.
  • Poor follow-up by the builder’s staff on incomplete items.
  • Poor communications regarding the schedule during the project.

A big factor behind these problems, say the authors, was that as housing recovered from the downturn many builders couldn’t find enough qualified staff to keep up with the increased workload.

Skilled labor is in short supply. A lot of highly skilled workers left the industry during the housing slump, and those who stayed tended to look for work with established, professionally managed building companies. These companies’ ability to attract the best talent has helped them largely avoid the customer issues uncovered by the survey.

The survey also found that builders with the happiest customers were the most proactive communicators. It found that homebuyers are often forgiving about delays if the builder’s staff keeps them up-to-date about the schedule and the anticipated completion date. They rightly see good communication as a sign that the builder cares about them.

A custom home is a complex project with a lot of potential ups and downs. Customers should evaluate builders by making sure they have processes in place that will make the ride an enjoyable one.