Identifying good developers and bad ones

How can I determine good developers from the bad ones? A new home in a subdivision can look good on the outside, but 5 years later could start falling apart - e.g. homes built by developers who do shoddy work, cut corners, hire crappy subs, use cheap components, etc.
I'm not sophisticated enough to know by sight, inside or out, if a builder has done quality work.
Should I just walk through a subdivision and ask home owners if they're happy with their builder, e.g. is the builder responsive if something needs to be fixed?
I've had good luck doing walk-thrus at apartment complexes I've been interested in renting at and asking residents what they thought - e.g. how is management, maintenance crew, etc. I've had people tell me to run away, hearing stories about things that hadn't been fixed months later after putting in a request, etc.
Had people tell me the maintenance crew was great and that they loved living there, etc, and that has served me well.
I'm just wondering, short of interrogating home owners, how else I might determine how good a builder is or is not? I imagine many home buyers just look at price and trust whatever their real estate agent, or the builder, tells them - who may not have the home purchasers best interests at heart.
Are there any builders associations worth a dang, where membership actually means something? (e.g. reflects certain standards a builder is held to)
Thanks for any help.
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You know the right thing to do.... Should I just walk through a subdivision and ask home owners if they're

We are licenced in the state of California one of the strictest states in the nation but to be honest with you it is just a set of numbers...the only way to see if you are going to get the results you expect is to do what you have said. Which is kind of cool when you thing about it, we do concrete and masonary work, how many other things in this world are as tangiable as going to someones house or a business and "seeing/ touching" the finished product. Very black and white. Lets face it these are peoples homes and they know every corner and crevis and they are going to more than likely give you an earfull of usefull information and I can assure you it will either be black or white...good luck.
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Ask customers and do a google search. Many people should have done their homework on this guy: www.MySturdyBuiltGarage.com Google is your friend!!
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

(snip)
There is no guaranteed way to ensure that a builder you choose won't turn out to be unsatisfactory, BUT there is a lot you can do to educate and protect yourself. IMO the number one thing is to do really thorough research, but it doesn't start with looking for evidence of complaints. Do that once you have narrowed down your choices based on who's not cutting corners! In my area, I could eliminate 90% of "developers," (i.e. tract builders) by just driving by and seeing that almost none are installing windows properly. This virtually guarantees expensive repairs for the home buyer in a few years.
Before you spend hours looking at court websites, complaint websites, calling state agencies, BBB's, and home builders associations, learn to spot improper construction. A lot of builders cut corners and use uskilled labor. If a mistake is discovered the builder may choose not to fix it because it'd cost them money. And many mistakes are deliberate, done to cut costs.
Look at the info on home building sites where really good builders trade info, like http://www.jlconline.com or on http://www.buildingscience.com Use http://www.google.com to search for clear pictures on window flashing, window installation, roof construction, foundation construction, structural defects, etc.
Make use of consumer sites that have helpful links and info with which to educate yourself, and sometimes a complaint database though it will be limited because not everyone with a complaint files it at those sites. Three good ones are http://www.hadd.com and http://www.hobb.org and a rating site, http://www.rateyourbuilder.info
Do not rely on the builders associations, state agencies, or the BBB, to tell you much. The government oftentimes could not care less about builder horror stories, and the builders associations push for less and less regulation and often sheild their bad members rather than expel them. The BBB is funded by businesses membership fees so that's whose interest they protect, not consumers. Some BBB's are more open than others but some are worse than useless IMO. Before assuming any of these things even make complaints available, ask them if complaints are all public info, sometimes public info, or never. And don't assume they won't lie to you. If your state has a contractors licensing board it may or may not make complaints public information, but definitely make sure the license is valid and if insurance and/or a bond is required that they have it.
Search the news on google, too. I know of news stories on builder nightmares that are not in the court records or anywhere else. Arbitration clauses in builder contracts keep cases out of court, and out of public records now. BTW, don't agree to an arbitration clause.
IMO if you can find a builder who passes the test of not taking all the usual shortcuts, and will agree to a contract without and arbitration clause, you may have found your builder. But do lots of research and get your own inspections during construction, and have your own attorney go over the contracts. If all this sounds like overkill, just read the horror stories on some of the sites above.
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Thanks everyone.
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