You don’t have to be an expert in real estate to know that things aren’t great. Maybe you’ve heard about the “most expensive spec house in Dallas” on Beverly Road? The one that reportedly sold for a lot less than the builder had hoped? Surely, you’ve noted the slowdown of new construction around town. The good news? Things are getting better. And, in the interim, many of the best local builders are taking on remodeling projects they probably wouldn’t have five years ago. We spoke to some of the city’s top talent about things you should ask—both yourself and your builder—when deciding between new construction and a facelift for your current place.

Important to consider: motivation for a remodel. How long are you planning to stay in the house?  “I don’t recommend putting money into your home just to get it on the market,” says Mark Molthan of Mark Molthan Homes. Depending on your improvements, he says, you might not get back the money you’ve put in for the spruce-up. Adds Michael Turner of Classic Urban Homes, “In many cases, it can be less costly to start from scratch and build new if considering a major renovation. If you build new, everything is warranted and new, including the foundation, electrical, and plumbing systems.” How will the remodel affect how your family lives? “Ask yourself, ‘Is this a long-term or short-term solution?’” Michael Yarrito at Atrium Fine Homes says. “How do you anticipate your lifestyle will change?” Next, have a look around the neighborhood. Do you really want to have the most expensive house on the street? Probably not. “There comes a point in time when you’re adding too much footage or money,” says Mark Danuser of Tatum Brown Custom Homes.

Should you decide to proceed with a remodel, Michael Munir of Sharif & Munir Custom Homes says to call in an engineer. “You should always call a qualified engineer first. It costs about $500 to $1,000 to inspect a foundation, and they can literally tell you what you can do—what your foundation will withstand,” he says. “You should do this even before calling the architect to draw up plans.”

When embarking on any type of construction, it’s good to ask questions. Yarrito advises that you ask about processes. It’s a sentiment many builders share. Munir says you should ask about a builder’s business structure. He says, “Ask, ‘Are you a one-man team? How do you charge? What’s your fee? Are you only a cost-plus? Are you willing to fix a portion of each project? Do you designate allowances for stuff that hasn’t been selected yet?’” Turner says it’s useful to find out if the builder is a member of home building organizations and whether he or she is active in obtaining continuing education on building science.

But the very best thing you can ask for is references. “Talk to the last two people that the builder built for,” Danuser says. “They’ll tell you the true story. We actually take people through some of the homes that we’ve built. Munir concurs. “A builder might not build ‘your’ type of house. They should be able to show you product in your genre. Don’t think he’s going to miraculously be able to do it. You don’t want him to practice on your house,” he says.

Educate yourself. At the end of the day, your house is probably the greatest investment you can make—both financially and emotionally. As Turner puts it: “I compare building a home to getting married. You and your builder will be very close for the term of the build. Compatible personalities and a shared vision are musts for an enjoyable—and successful—outcome.”

And now...on to our list of the Best Home Builders in Dallas.