Summary: You can find good home building contractors or subcontractors on a home building job site. Pay contractors only for work completed.
Q: I have heard some horror stories about subcontractors. How do I know I won't turn out to be one of those stories?
A: Read my chapter on subcontractors carefully. There are horror stories in every walk of life. Your job is to find the best for your house, not the cheapest. The best are professionals. Hiring professionals wards off horror stories. I learned this the hard way, you don't have to.
Q: All of the subcontractors I've talked to say they're too busy with their regular builders to do my job. I'm only building one house. The guys they work for keep them busy all year. This is not easy! How do you do it?
A: I offer them more money than their regular builders and I tell them that they will be paid immediately, as soon as the job is done. Most builders don't pay their subcontractors fairly or on time and they're always trying to beat them up on cost. It's a fact. Use it to your advantage. Money does talk. You are saving tens of thousands in this process of building your own home. Don't be greedy or cheap and your job becomes easier.
Q: My foundation contractor wants 25% down before he will start my job. This makes me nervous. What do you think?
A: I think you have good reason to be nervous. Find someone else. Paying for labor in advance has never worked and it is counter-productive to what you really want to accomplish, which is for your subcontractors to do your job quickly and on schedule.
Paying anyone in advance destroys the incentive to do your job before someone who won't pay in advance. If they already have a healthy sum from you, the pressure is off to do your job. Besides, what if they get hit by a truck and die before they finish your job (assuming they ever start). Bye-bye deposit. Never pay for contractor labor in advance.
Q: Where do you find good subcontractors?
A: On a job site. A good subcontractor is always working. Drive by houses under construction that look like expensive custom homes and get names of subcontractors off signs posted on the job site or on their trucks. This is why they advertise, and this is the only way most of them advertise.
If the house these subcontractors are working on is of high quality (it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out) you can probably use the fact that they're working on it as a good reference. Check that a little further by calling the General Contractor and asking. Yes, you can ask builders questions like that. It happens all the time between builders, especially those who are small builders doing a few large, expensive custom homes a year. Just tell him (or her) that you too are a builder, because now you are!