Check with the BBB in your area to see if a builder has complaints or a track record on file.
In my area, public records are available. You can find many bits of information, including if the builder has filed for bankruptcy, is being sued by anyone, is in foreclosure on any properties, has a valid business and/or construction license. Find out if you have access to that info in your area.
If you find builders that seem to be reputable and are building a product that you like, ask them for references of homes recently built, and then talk to those homeowners.
Since this is your first home, you might also want to consider getting someone else on your "team", wheter it be an attorney, home inspector, and/or a Realtor.
Some builders will not sell you a lot in their subdivision outright, but require you to build with them. If you want to buy your own lot first, then select a builder, you should make sure your lender will permit this (unless you're paying cash outright for the land) . You'll also want to determine if you want to obtain a construction loan, or if you can, and look into the fees and terms relating to them.
Feel free to contact me, I am currently helping two buyers, purchase their new home. You and I would work with the builder through the whole process from planning to the occupancy inspection.
I love my job!
You can only get $/SF numbers to become meaningful after you get more detailed about what you want to build.
If you are worried about getting left holding the bag, insist on joint checks to the suppliers and subcontractors. Many lenders require either joint checks or a check exchange - builder submits checks made out to the suppliers and subs for each line item the draw for and the bank then cuts the progress check. If you have the builder get a bond guess who pays for it? ( the buyer)
If you would like a bid please don't hesitate to call us.
JR Coto, Business Manager
Property Quest LLC/Coto Construction LLC
707 NE 151st Ave
Portland OR 97230
CCB 153329/ORMWESB 6655
Stick to builders that are national and even publicly traded on the stock exchange and you should have better success in getting a completed home in a completed subdivision. You can also purchase a spec home for quicker move-in.
Good luck in your pursuits!
Realtor, GRI, CSSN
John Hall & Associates
If you are buying a lot in a builders subdivision, let me know who it is. Also, it is good to check the public information like the others have mentioned.