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How to choose the right builder for you? Here's our top tips

February 2022 in Construction

How to choose the right builder for you? Our top tips.

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and build your dream home and choosing the right home builder is one of the first, and most important, decisions you’ll make. Picking the right builder for your new home can be time-consuming. But finding one you like and trust, and who understands your creative vision, has the potential to make or break the entire experience for you. So it’s something you don’t want to rush.

In fact, taking the time to really explore and research your options is vital when it comes to signing a contract with the right home builder, to ensure that you have a positive building experience and that the final project is exactly what you’d envisioned. 

Read on for our guide about what factors you should consider before selecting a builder for the job.

Quotes and budgets.

As you’d expect, there are specialist builders for first-time buyer homes, mid-range project homes, top-end custom designs, and luxury builders for those of us with very high budgets. So, there’s little point approaching a first-home builder to build a custom home because their budget, repeat design and business model will most likely prevent them from being able to be competitive in a one-off build. Similarly, a high-end home builder just won’t want to build a small home where their margin is smaller than a more luxurious product.

So do your research first, narrow the field, and only then start asking for prices from builders who are appropriate for your project. And remember – cheapest isn’t always best.

Reputation and references

When it comes to getting the best builder, making sure they have a positive reputation and great references is important. Many clients want the perceived security of a household name, with the company’s volume of completed homes guiding their choice, but you’re going to be paying your builder thousands to construct your home. So, a few hours spent doing some extra reconnaissance is more than worth your while.

Often, choosing a builder that has excellent word-of-mouth and online referrals is better than choosing the big-deal household name with perceived security that might not actually provide you with the same level of service.

So, a great place to start is to read reviews and speak to past or current clients about builders on your short list, as some of the best information to assist you in selecting one can be gleaned by speaking to people who’ve dealt with them before.

A good builder should have no issue with letting you speak to customers, and they should also be able to supply good, verifiable references. Generally, it’s best to ask to speak with their most current clients, particularly those in the middle of the building stage, as you’ll likely get a more balanced opinion of the builder, specifically when it comes to communication and how efficient they are in the construction process.

It's also worth asking for references from architects or tradies who’ve dealt with them previously to gauge how well they manage projects and work sites. Building designers, architects and tradies often work with the same trusted builders on a regular basis. So their recommendation is usually a great place to start.

If you can, check out a builder’s previous jobs and, if possible, have a physical walk-through of a home they’ve built. Even consulting an engineer to walk through the property may be worth the cost if you’re serious about choosing the right builder. There’s also nothing to stop you knocking on the door of people whose homes have been built by your prospective builder and asking for their opinion. There’s every chance this will be the best and most honest information you’ll receive.

As well as asking about the overall experience, the quality of the build, how long it took and issues that arose, ask about the follow-up service. Were post-build problems dealt with adequately and in a timely way?

Licences and insurance

Whether you’re going through a home builder or you’re designing your own home with help from an architect, it’s important that you choose a builder that is licenced, registered and insured. Definitely be wary of builders that either refuse or don’t make it clear upfront that they’re legally permitted to be involved in building and construction.

Some builders’ licences or registrations may have simply expired, or they may have had their licences revoked but are still involved in the building industry. One thing is for certain – regulators are historically slow at catching dodgy builders. So, it’s good to be one step ahead. As a minimum, make sure your builder has current Public Liability Insurance and Home Building Compensation (HBC), known as Domestic Building Insurance in Victoria, and ask to sight copies of current certification.

As a good starting point, check to see if your builder is registered by asking the Housing Industry of Australia (HIA) or the Master Builders of Australia (MBA) or their list of members. Plus, you’ll be also able to find a list of builders that are licensed and insured from Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Financial stability

In today’s highly competitive market, some builders may cut prices to keep busy. While that might look good on paper, cut prices may not be sustainable in the long term because every business needs to make money to remain stable into the future. Bottom line? You may have got the best price in town, but if the builder is not around to build for you it’s a very hollow victory.

A good way to check a builder’s financial viability is to source a credit reference from any number of online agencies. It’s not a guarantee to performance, but it’s one of the best sources of information about the financial strength of a company. Also pay particular care to check if your chosen builder pays their suppliers and tradies on time and if they have a good rating in the industry.

Home style and preferences

You’ve probably got some idea about the type and style of home you’re hoping to build, which means it’s important to find a builder whose skills best align with your plans.

Many builders specialise in certain styles. For example, if you’re in the hunt for an extensive five-bedroom home, best to steer clear of a small-project home builder who specialises in single-storey display homes as they probably won’t have the staff or trades to move onto a complex construction. Similarly, if you’re very eco-friendly and want a lot of sustainable features, look for a specialist builder who has experience in that area. Choosing the wrong builder for your home type can mean they may not have the staff or trades to be able to complete your project and will be scrambling to organise themselves. 

The design of your home is also something to consider. If you want to build a modernist home in a simplistic style, don’t opt for a builder that specialises in rural farmhouses. Figure out what it is you want exactly for your home, and then choose a home builder that can meet your specific needs. 

If you have a particular type of home in mind, ask the builder how many homes they have built in that style. The company may have a beautiful portfolio of drawn designs but have never built the one you want. Checking is usually easy, as most builders will have their projects displayed on their websites, or they’ll be able to provide you with a catalogue of homes they’ve built previously, or you can visit display villages featuring some of their current designs

Location

Builders usually have a preferred area they specialise in building in. So choosing a home builder with a proven portfolio of projects in the area you plan to build in, can bring a number of benefits.

For a start, your home builder’s pricing will likely be most competitive if you build in a certain area, so see whether your home builder has a sample of homes in the suburb where you want to live. Forcing a builder to build where they aren’t comfortable can bring issues like extra costs and possible delays on site. When putting a quote together, a home builder will usually add contingency money in case the project increases. You don’t want to be paying for a builder’s uncertainty or lack of knowledge regarding an area, so choose a builder that is confident in the area you’re building in. 

When putting a price together, a builder outside his area will typically add a contingency in case he needs it. If you don’t want to pay for a builder’s nervousness, find a company that’s happy and well-represented in the area you want to live in.

What’s the timeframe?

Anyone who’s built a house knows that 99% of the time the project will take longer than anticipated. So getting the most accurate timeframe possible from your shortlist of builders should be a key factor in determining who ultimately gets the job. Make sure to ask how long they anticipate the project will take, and also when they’ll be able to start, as every delay can cost you money. Most people will be paying rent somewhere or paying another mortgage until their new house is finished, so you’ve got to factor in extra months of costs if one builder says it’s going to take longer.

Personality and working relationships

Your relationship with your builder is critical, considering you’ll be dealing with them dozens of times over many months. So, it’s important to think about the relationship you want to develop with them and take note of how they communicate with you during those initial exchanges.

Some clients need to be present on site regularly and want to build up a rapport with the supervisor in charge. Most bigger builders change supervisors regularly and some clients can find that frustrating. So, if you want to be more closely involved in the project, a small builder may provide a more personal service. On the other hand, if you’re content to sit back and let things happen, developing a close relationship won’t be as much of a priority and choosing a builder for personal service is less important. Either way, ddon’t be afraid to ask who your direct contact person is going to be or who is the site manager you’re going to deal with if you have any questions or concerns. But whichever way you go, it’s vital to get the right builder for your project who will deliver what you want, for the price you want, and with the level of service you need.

How do I make sure I don’t get ripped off?

When you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on building or extending a property, you’ll want to do your homework.

Before deciding on a builder to use when building a new home or doing renovations, there are some key questions to ask that will give you a thorough understanding of whether or not the builder is the right fit for your project. 

  • What are some examples of previous projects they’ve worked on?
  • How big is their team and how long have they been in operation?
  • What are their standard processes for planning, communication, feedback etc?
  • Have they been referred by someone, or do they have any trustworthy reviews?
  • What level of detail do they provide?
  • What is included in the scope of works they are proposing? 

And some questions for your builder later down the line:

  • Is this the optimal orientation of my home on the block?
  • Can my home design be flipped or rotated?
  • What size house do I really need?
  • Would an extra room be better than a bigger garage?
  • Should I save on air-conditioning by having ceiling fans instead?

 

Building plans can also provide a good overview of the construction job but they don’t provide a complete breakdown. So it’s worth putting together a ‘tender package’ clearly setting out:

  • The scope of the work. This is typically an outline of the work required by the builder. Make it clear if you’ll be contracting to a third-party tradesman for parts of the construction or if you have the skills, where you’ll be doing the work yourself.
  • The building plan. This should include engineering documents and soil tests. The builder needs to know exactly what’s involved and what you actually want to see in the completed home. It will also help them to figure out the total costs of material and labour as well as the timeframe for completion.
  • The building schedule. The materials, fittings and fixtures you want for the house. Be as detailed as possible to avoid a cost blowout.

With a tender package, the builder knows exactly what the job entails and what you expect to see in the finished project. When they come back to you with a quote, make sure it’s clearly itemised with the materials and labour involved in all stages of construction.

Once you have an itemised quote, you can then compare quotes with other licenced builders by going through the same tender process. In this way, you’re comparing apples with apples.

You’re likely to find massive price differences in the quotes you get, but It may be that one builder is doing something extra that the other isn’t. If you’re in doubt, it’s good to check quotes with a third party like an architect or building broker.

Getting 3 – 5 different quotes is a good general rule. But remember that you don’t want a builder to cut corners and sacrifice workmanship just so you can get a cheaper price.

A good building broker can also help guide you in decision-making, explain unfamiliar terms and conditions, advise what to sign and when and make sure the choice of builder fits your brief.

Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?

It’s a fair question, especially if you’re not a handyman or tradesman. Builders tend to use a lot of industry jargon and abbreviations that you may not understand. So, it’s important to clarify what they’re talking about or look it up yourself. The last thing you want to do is agree to something expensive that you didn’t ask for!

As you move along through the building process, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your home builder what certain terminology means – in the end, they’re the experts, and they should be happy to help you understand what’s going on with your project! 

In particular, be wary of quotes that have a lot of so-called ‘provisional sums’ or ‘prime costs’ listed. These quotes give you a ballpark figure of the materials, fittings and fixtures but they can be really deceptive.

Miscommunication is a major problem when dealing a builder which is the reason why a detailed tender package and a building contract is essential. In particular, the following items or works may not be included in the completed construction so it’s important to clarify this early on before you sign the building contract:

  • Driveways.

 

  • Garage doors.
  • Fencing and landscaping.
  • Hot water and gas supply.
  • Light fittings.
  • The number and location of power points.
  • Window locks.
  • Flyscreens.
  • Roof insulation.

 

Don’t sign the building contract until you’re ready

The same goes for looking at contracts from potential home builders. It’s important to get legal advice whenever signing a building contract to ensure that the contract is in your best interests. In particular, speak to a solicitor with building contract expertise. If there is something you don’t understand, be sure to ask your home builder or legal advisor before you sign – and remember to raise any other concerns you might have before signing, because any small changes to the contract can actually cause you major headaches when it comes to getting approved for a construction loan or mortgage and drawing down your progress payments for the build.

Consider the following:

  • What warranties can they offer you?
  • Do they offer termite prevention? It may cost you in the short-term, but it’ll likely save you thousands over the long-term
  • The contract should include the fully itemised list of quotes that you agreed upon initially.
  • Make it clear that you should be made aware of any changes to the building schedule that may need to be made during construction. It may be that certain materials will need to be substituted in order to stay within your budget. If you haven’t made this clear, the builder may use fixtures and fittings that will cost you more than you can afford.
  • It should include the construction start date, key construction stages (where you’ll need to make progress payments on your construction loan) and the completion date.

On the HIA and MBA websites, you’ll also find standard, proforma construction contracts which are accepted throughout the industry.

Being thorough when choosing your home builder can avoid you landing in a world of pain, and will give you the peace of mind that you’ve made the right choice for your new family.