Who Will Build My House?

The challenge of labor makes selecting the right builder more important than ever.

Homeowners are rightly concerned about rising material costs and unpredictable supply chains, but both will likely stabilize. A more intractable long-term challenge is about who will do the work to build our homes. This is the big topic in today’s building industry.

It’s harder than ever to find skilled tradespeople, and yet some builders are able to retain good workers. That is the home builder you want to hire.

First some background. It takes a team of highly skilled workers to build a luxury custom home, but fewer and fewer young people are pursuing trade careers, leading to a steady decline in those workers.

In 2020, that decline turned into a freefall. Although the pandemic-related work stoppage was temporary, a lot of experienced craftspeople decided to retire, affecting everyone from the foundation crew to the electrician to the trim carpenter. The best trade contractors—the ones we do business with—are still particular about who they hire, but due to smaller crews they can be booked for months in advance.

This has led to longer project timetables and delays across the industry. If you built a house five, ten or fifteen years ago, your new one might take a bit longer.

Some homeowners worry that the difficulty of finding experienced tradespeople will affect the quality of the work. Our answer is that work quality is a management issue. A well-managed professional builder will have the staff and systems to make sure everything is done to the highest standards. That hasn’t changed.

The builder you choose should have a dedicated project superintendent whose job includes checking and double-checking everyone’s work.

On a big project, look for builders with enough staff to provide that project superintendent with backup. Site managers juggle a lot of balls—such as managing schedules, tracking down products, and dealing with the building inspector. They may not always have time to scrutinize everyone’s work and correct any problems. The availability of backup makes sure that gets done no matter what.

This level of oversight can be difficult for a small builder who lacks staff and has to manage everything. One person, no matter how skilled, experienced, and conscientious, just won’t have the bandwidth to properly supervise the myriad details of a major project.

Successful builders have longstanding relationships with the best trades. Their reputation for quality work attracts skilled tradespeople who are dedicated to their craft. Yes, skilled people are still out there, but their reduced numbers give the professional builder a huge advantage when competing for them. That’s the new reality.

Working with an established, professional builder is likely to provide both the quality you demand in a custom home and a timeframe that minimizes delays and eliminates surprises.