5 Critical Questions to Get to Know Your Builder - New Home Construction Tips from a Pro


by Rena Johnson

Cook & James is committed to building relationships in the community and wants to spotlight our partners -- realtors, brokers, agents, and other industry experts – as guests on our blog. Previous guest posts have featured Judge Parker, Tim Hur, Mario Fermin and Johnell Woody. Today, in our ongoing guest blog series, Rena Johnson, a respected Atlanta-area real estate agent and consultant, offers insight to buyers considering the exciting prospect of constructing a new home – questions to ask and background to gather to determine the builder which best meets their needs.

Purchasing any home is exciting, but it’s especially exhilarating when you get to participate in new construction whether it’s an inventory home, building from the ground up or designing your own custom home. Many of us get so absorbed in the detailed process that we sometimes fail to step back and ask, “who is this builder?” Knowing the answer to this question can often be more important than picking the location, lot, upgrades, finishes or the perfect floorplan.

Your home is one of the largest, if not THE largest, purchase you’ll ever make so it’s imperative that you understand who and what you’re investing in. The future value (resale opportunity) of your home -- and maintenance cost -- is completely determined by how well your home is built and that hinges on the builder’s integrity and quality of work.

We’ve learned over time through repetitive purchases that certain brands of appliances, vehicles, food and clothing are the best on the market and work for us. Unlike these consumer goods purchases, most of us don’t buy new homes that often so we don’t have as much practice, knowledge or experience with builders. A home is one of the most significant purchases you will make, so I always advise my clients not to put blind faith in a company. Instead, ask questions and take your time getting comfortable with the builder.

A new home is the sum of its parts. The builder selects and assembles all the parts. To understand the product (your home), you must know who built it and that builder’s “brand” must resonate with you. To ensure that a new home is built with the highest standards and quality, I developed questions buyers should pose to ensure a builder meets their quality requirements. Follow along as I discuss five key points with a local boutique home builder in Atlanta, Van Hardimon of Van Hardimon Homes, to help guide buyers to find a builder who is qualified, has integrity and capability, knows the details, and is constantly learning.

RJ: How did you prepare to be a Home Builder?

VH: 2019 represents my 20th year working in and around the residential construction business. My first opportunity came the summer after high school, working as a laborer for a small construction company. During my undergraduate studies, I worked for two different contractors and The Home Depot. After I obtained my BBA from Georgia State, I started a company that focused on providing project management services for home builders and contractors. In 2009, I entered graduate school at the Georgia Institute of Technology and in 2011, I obtained a masters in residential construction and development. Between 2007 and 2015, my company focused on government contracts and direct-to-homeowner contracting services. In 2016, we shifted towards new construction and development.

RJ: What satisfaction do you gain from constructing homes?

VH: From the conception of a home, I am constantly thinking about what the buyer wants and needs. Our whole building process revolves around the buyer. As a home builder, I face numerous obstacles from the time that we create the plan to passing the final building inspection. I gain satisfaction by completing this arduous process because in the end, I am proud to deliver this home to a buyer.

RJ: How important is energy efficiency and use to home buyer?

VH: Energy usage is important because the cost of energy is always on the rise. My goal is to build homes that are energy efficient, which in turn lowers the energy cost of our buyer. The less energy that a buyer consumes, the less of an impact on their budget and the planet overall. We want to go above and beyond the current energy code; in an effort to let prospective buyers know that we care about how much money they will spend on energy costs and impact the environment in general. Since the beginning of 2019 and going forward, all our new construction homes will be EarthCraft certified.

RJ: What features are standard in your new homes?

VH: Features such as video doorbells, WiFi hub extenders, WiFi garage door openers and a smart home brain that allows WiFi connectivity for any devices/appliances a home buyer wants to add. This allows us to add the infrastructure at the build stage and prevents expensive future retrofitting. We also include a ‘Black Glove Installation’ setup that is performed by one of our vendors, NuWave Automation, at no cost to the buyer; with this service, a specialist talks to the homeowner about the low voltage wiring capabilities of the home and customizes their wiring their needs. We upgrade all of our insulation by using R38 in the attic, installing t-ply and insulation behind all bathtubs and bathtub surrounds and installing R19 in the walls where permitted. We are now a ‘no carpet’ home builder and install hardwood flooring throughout our homes and tile in the bathrooms. Quartz countertops in the kitchen and owner’s suite are a standard feature in our new home builds. In short, we want our buyers to know that we offer a great value for their money; we believe they should not have to pay extra for upgrades; top of the line finishes should be expected as part of the purchase price.

RJ: How do you stay abreast of industry changes and trends?

VH: I am an avid reader of Builder magazine! I am also active with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and serve in the following capacities: board member, City of Atlanta Tree Ordinance Task Force member, Government Affairs Committee member, and as the president of the Inner Atlanta Chapter. I am also a member of the Home Builders Association of Georgia and of the National Association of Home Builders. I attend conferences, such as the International Builder’s Show, and travel to research builders in other countries and incorporate the best international products and techniques to benefit our buyers.

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Rena Johnson, , MBA, GRI, SRS, RENE, REOS, is a seasoned, licensed real estate broker and operates two independent brokerages.   As an investor, she owns and manages several investment properties and holds several designations including real estate negotiation expert, seller representative specialist and affordable housing specialist. Real estate is a second career for Rena and she is a graduate of the Realtor Institute. Prior to real estate becoming a passion for her, she spent 12 years working in various marketing capacities for Fortune 100 companies. Rena was recognized as a future leader in the Atlanta metro area by being selected from over 100 applicants as a member of the 35-student inaugural class of L.E.A.D Atlanta, a comprehensive leadership program for young professionals sponsored by Leadership Atlanta.

Rena has a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in marketing and holds a BA in advertising from the University of Kentucky.  Committed to community involvement, she is an alumnus of the United Way Volunteer Involvement Program (VIP), the HOA Board President for her neighborhood association and volunteers with various nonprofits. Friend and follow Rena on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram.

CJ, Guest SpeakersKara Cook