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How to Choose a Builder
You’ve pictured it in your mind, you’ve seen the design drawings, now all you need to make your new home or renovation a reality is to find the right team to build it. By taking the time to work through a few key steps, you can be confident of choosing a builder that is just right for you.
Nothing beats a personal recommendation from someone you trust for a builder they have previously used. But even if you have such a recommendation, it is still a good idea to get more than one quote. To come up with a list of potential candidates, undertake some basic research:
- If working with a designer or architect, ask if they have any recommendations.
- Has someone in your local area had recent work done that looked great?
- Ask other tradespeople you have used if they have worked well with a particular builder.
- Use online search engines to see who operates in your area. Check their portfolio and online reviews, but be aware of the obvious biases they contain (good or bad!).
- Check your local paper for any builders who are regularly advertising.
Draft a short list
Take those you’ve found and do a detailed comparison to identify two or three builders to ask for a quote. The first test it to make sure each meets the following essential criteria:
- Do they specialise and have demonstrated experience in your type of project, e.g. new build, conversion, renovation or restoration?
- Check with your State’s licensing body to confirm they hold a current licence to build in your State. For example, in NSW go to the NSW Fair Trading website1.
- Are they are they a registered member of the Housing Industry of Australia or the Master Builders of Australia? Professional affiliations promote high standards of workmanship and ensure members are up to date with current regulations and technologies.
- Which insurances do they hold? While each State has different requirements most expect builders to have Public Liability Insurance and Home Building Compensation2 (HBC) cover, or similar. HBC cover is generally required for projects over $20,000 and protects homeowners where a builder or tradesperson is unable to complete the works or fix defects.
- If needed, do they offer design and engineering services as well?
For those that meet the above criteria, contact them to ask the following:
- How busy are they and have they got time to undertake your project?
- How many staff do they have?
- Have they completed any similar projects near you that you could visit?
- Are there recent clients you could talk to? Ideally clients in different stages of projects, such as one in the middle of a build (a good judge of organisation skills) and one with a completed job (on time, on budget).
- Try and get a feel for their communication style. If they don’t respond quickly to your phone message or email enquiry, they might not be responsive as a supplier.
Keep in mind that not questions will give a clear positive/negative answer. For example a large national company might seem reassuring, but a smaller local company might be better dedicated to your project.
Detailed scope of work
To get a quote from your shortlist of builders, you need to prepare a detailed scope of work. For new home builds, it is recommended that your architect or designer prepares a complete package, while smaller renovations should still include a precise scope and plans if possible. A clear scope makes comparing quotes easier and should include an itemised listed of inclusions and exclusions:
- A set of drawings, including structural requirements completed by an engineer, right down to details like the number of power points and lights.
- Responsibilities for associated trades such as plumbers, electricians, tilers and painters. Are they and their costs to be included in the quote?
- Will they organise utilities such as water and gas?
- What type of insulation is needed for walls and roofs?
- Will they do any landscaping or fencing?
- If demolition is involved, the cost of disposal should be included.
- Note any environmental inclusions you require such as a rainwater tank or provision for solar panels.
- Responsibilities for supplying specific products like light fittings, hot water systems, hardware (taps, door handles), garage doors, windows, window locks, security screens.
- Confirmation all products will meet the necessary Australian building code standards.
Now is also the time to note any specific brands you want to use. For example you might know you want Carinya bi-fold doors for access to the outdoor areas, Alspec fixed louvres to shade side windows, or Invisi-Gard stainless steel security screens for the ground level windows and doors.
Review the quotes
Check they have addressed everything you asked for and be wary of those with too little detail or vague lump sum amounts. You don’t want to be arguing during construction about who is doing what. If they’ve missed something, go back and ask for clarification. Make sure they haven’t included extras you don’t need or plan to do yourself.
Review the contract
Your chosen builder will prepare a contract which should be reviewed by someone competent if you don’t have any personal expertise. Building contracts normally include the itemised list of what has been agreed, drawings, the construction schedule with key dates, payment terms, warranties and processes for dispute resolution.
It is a negotiation process so if something isn’t there, or you don’t agree with the wording, don’t be scared to ask for changes. Be very clear about what is your responsibility and what is theirs and that it matches your scope of work.
Sign 'em up!
Before embarking on what will probably be the most significant expense in your life, it’s essential to ensure there are no misunderstandings between your vision and your builder’s. If you’ve researched the company, been detailed and clear on the scope of work, and checked the contract thoroughly, you should feel confident they will deliver your dream home or renovation on time and on budget.