Well Grant I will answer your question by telling you how things are going with my current buyer.
We are doing new construction over in Ramsey at the new COR development. The lots are all pretty similar, and the houses being built were very similar as well.
The first builder that we were going to go with had a standard feature sheet that made pretty much no sense. When I ran the cost by my own builder we figured that my client was going to be over-charged by $20,000 bucks! Well, needless to say we did not go with that builder.
The 2nd builder we actually worked directly with the listing agent. He also pretty much sucked, and even though I repeatedly gave him a budget the Realtor kept coming in 15k over. That one got dropped fast as well.
The 3rd builder had an excellent listing agent that was on the ball. Seriously it felt like night & day compared to the first builder. When we went to a model home in Lino Lakes I could see $$$$ all over the place that were just part of the standard features. We moved quickly and went with that builder.
Yea there are still change orders, and there are some items on that standard feature sheet you need to watch out for.
1) Appliance & lighting allowances (HUGE difference between builders). The lighting allowance is the biggest, because we easily added 8 can lights at $125/can. Each extra outlet is $40 a pop.
2) 100AMP service (you better have 200 it just makes sense)
3) Think about the carpet (It costs like $800 for us to upgrade from a stupid 4-year to 10-year higher quality)
4) Size of garage (20ft. CAN work for many vehicles, but in today's world I think you need at least 22ft. and I would prefer 24ft. this is not something you can change down the road)
5) Did you know that most new homes don't come with an A/C unit? The weirdest thing on the planet I found out through this whole process.
6) Can you believe that a garage door opener may not be standard? Unreal!
7) Do you want knockdown ceilings? Popcorn is getting out-dated
Obviously builders don't want you thinking about this upfront because that is an opportunity to negotiate. They would prefer you to sign off, and then nickle & dime you throughout the build in change orders. After going through this process with my buyers the #1 piece of advice I can give is know what you want. If you can negotiate the upgrades or higher allowances as part of the standard feature sheet it will save you thousands of dollars.
And then realize even then this is a 100% custom home. There will be change orders and that is OK! just try to do as much upfront as you can. I will say the hardest part of my experience was finding the right builder to do the job, and then from there reviewing the standard sheet with my buyers see we limited the "surprises".
You also have to say to yourself "what upgrades are worth it cost wise to do now rather than later?" bumping up the amp, extending the garage (we actually added a 3rd by the way), FSZ, electrical, etc... are all things I would think about upgrading because I know it will add value to the home and will not be cost-effective later.
Lastly, you certainly need to get the financing lined up as well. Grant, if you feel confident this is something you can do alone then I am not going to pretend that a Realtor is a MUST. Hopefully I have given you some things to think about. We are set to close in April most likely, and once the build starts I have very little interaction with the builder. It is mostly my clients going to various vendors to pick out material.
Where a Realtor is the most useful is at the very beginning. Some people think the price a builder gives you is non-negotiable...that would be false. Some people think the standard feature sheet is not negotiable...that would be false. What if the builder tries to charge you a lot premium? Yup that is still negotiable.
Personally I have never heard a builder deny a Realtor commission. Brings me back to another item....when it comes to seller paids the builder will tell you those have to be built into the sales price. Once again, that is false.
At the end of the day the builder needs to make money. Some builders I can just tell are so cheap they have very large margins. I prefer to work with builders that are more upfront and care about bringing a quality product. There may not be a ton of negotiation room, but if I can save you even $7,000 dollars would that be worth it?
The majority of all builders pay our fees, so I think you just need to make a call with this builder Grant and decide if it is worth going solo or working with someone else.
Either way I hope you found this info a little more helpful!