First off you will have received estimates from 3-5 contractors, that you have selected. Now you will need to interview each of them. I recommend interviewing all of them as if you were awarding the project to each of them. Do not cut one out of this interview process just because the bid they gave was $10,000 more expensive, they could have a reason for that extra expense that the others did not see.
When setting up appointments make sure you are punctual on your return calls, but not too punctual. Give yourself a few days to really look at the bids, write notes and questions on a separate piece of paper on items or costs that you do not understand. Then in your interview ask the builder about it. Set the appointment according to your schedule and in a place that you feel comfortable. Just remember that you will be paying the bills and that you will have the final say in what goes into the home. On the other hand, don't disregard advice given by your builder, most of them have been doing it for a long time and have dealt with or at least seen most situations. The interview is also a time for the contractor to size you up. If they see you as someone they can not deal with they will come up with reasons why they should not get the project.
Some surprises that may come up during this meeting is the builder asking for your financial history. I personally recommend to all builders I speak with to check the clients credit. This is not a small thing, the builder must know that you can pay for the services provided. I won't sign a contract until I have received notice from the homeowners' financial institute that construction costs will be covered.
Factors affecting the award of the project are numerous, but can be handled in an orderly fashion. I suggest to homeowners to come up with a rating system. Rate the contractor in several areas on a scale from 1-5 (5 being the best). Just like a game, high score wins. The areas of greatest concern should be quality, references, trust, communication, and cost. The easiest area to evaluate is cost, it's in black and white right in front of you, the bid. The others are more difficult.
In your initial meeting you will want to ask some basic questions, and get some information. The first thing you should ask for is a list of references, most builders who have been building for some time will have a list of previous houses they have built with contact information for the owners. Some will even have a stack of testimonials from previous clients. This is a great resource for evaluating the builder. Get it and call the owners.
Some of the questions you should ask the referral are:
This is a short list, but you get the idea.
As an aside I would like to mention something. After doing the interviews, checking references, evaluating costs, and getting an overall picture of each builder, you may still make the wrong decision. Don't beat yourself up over it, live with it and do what you can to get your home built. Also, don't overlook the builder that has just started up their company. They may not have the best equipment, or the newest truck, but they can be eager and provide you with a great home. Again, it's up to you to make the final decision. Ask the new builder for references of previous employers to get an idea of quality and work ethic, but take it with a grain of salt at the same time. Many builders are very tight with information and may be offended that a previous employee would go out and make an attempt at taking away some of their business.
Now the time has come for you to make a decision. It is difficult and takes a lot of work, but if you've done your homework it will be worth it. You will have the home you've always dreamed of and it will be something you can be proud of.