Find a Home Builder

Home Builder

Find a local home builder for new construction and renovation work. Whether you want to build your dream home design with a flexible floorplan from the foundations up on a new lot, want a display home, are looking into simple brick veneer or stud frame construction or are after the modern look with concrete, steel framing and glass, or simply want to extend the den or living room or enlarge the kitchen to create open plan living spaces, you can find the right builders and tradesmen for the job in the Specifier Residential home building contractor directory.

INTRODUCTION

ARCHITECTS AND BUILDERS

BUILDING OPTIONS

FINDING A BUILDER

QUOTES AND CONTRACTS

CONSTRUCTION


INTRODUCTION

What is a builder?

A builder may or may not be doing the building work directly. Their main role is to manage the construction project, the contracted tradespeople, the building site, and the materials.

When do I need a builder, and not just a tradesperson?

Any project that involves building new enclosed spaces, or the coordination of more than one tradesperson, will need a builder.

ARCHITECTS AND BUILDERS

What are the benefits of building with an architect?

Many of the problems that keep home owners awake at night Ð especially choosing and securing a builder, building cost overruns and timetable blowouts Ð will be greatly eased with the oversight of an architect. From detailed specifications to construction management, thorough special consideration of the site and informed selection of building contractors, architects can help to streamline and better sequence the construction process, starting with the selection of a builder. Dealing in particular with a non-conventional piece of land (steep, bendy, wooded, unstable, or remote) will be easier if your builder works together with an architect to perform site studies and planning, and to consider appropriate materials and methods.

In this way, the cost of an architect (about 5-12% of the total project cost, and toward the upper figure if an architect is retained during construction) is partially offset.

How does an architect select a builder?

An architect will work with a regular pool of builders, and may recommend some of these according to their suitability for your project. Alternatively, an architect will set up competitive bidding. They will help you evaluate the bids, select the building contractor, and prepare a contract. Of course it is not up to the architect to hire a builder on their own: any selection will be subject to your approval.

Can I select my preferred builder, against an architect's recommendation?

You can select your own preferred builder if you are not comfortable with those suggested by your architect. You will however have to consider that the architect will have to be comfortable working with your chosen builder, and that the architect may have a good idea about who is the best builder for you, based on industry contacts and experience.

How do architects oversee my builder's work?

Firstly, by providing detailed drawings and construction documents, including material specifications. These create a clear framework for building work and give you some level of certainty that the finished product will turn out as you imagined. A builder cannot make alterations to the specifications set down by an architect without your consent.

When building work begins, an architect is professionally bound to serve as your agent. They are your eyes and ears on the building site. They will visit at regular intervals to ensure work is proceeding in general accordance with the contract. They will check if materials and workmanship meet appropriate standards.

Finally, architects will issue a Notice of Practical Completion, deeming work to be complete.

What if I can't afford an architect to manage the building process?

There are other professionals that could manage your relationship with your builder for you, such as a chartered surveyor or building consultant, which may be more affordable. Building consultants can perform work such as building defects inspections, practical completion reports, contracts advice, and mediation.

BUILDING OPTIONS

Should I do the building work myself? What are the risks of being an owner-builder?

Do you know what you're doing? And are you ready for the responsibility? Being an owner-builder is a lifestyle choice. For some it's a happy one. But there are dangers. As an owner-builder with an owner-builder permit, you are responsible for public liability and workers' compensation insurance, council and authority approvals, providing a safe working environment, ordering materials, managing tradespeople and ensuring they are licensed, and warranting that the work and materials will be fit for purpose and the dwelling fit for occupation. You are taking on the financial risks of the project, risks which you will carry with you for some years. For instance, if you choose to sell the home in the medium term, you will need to take out home warranty insurance as a condition of sale.

If you are doing some of the work yourself, you must be licensed to do that work. You cannot take on specialist tasks like electrical, plumbing, gasfitting, air-conditioning and refrigeration work without a license.

There will be savings, but these will have to be weighed against the time and responsibility needed to do the job properly. For some jobs, the economies of scale that can be deployed by a hired builder Ð owning their own scaffolding, for instance Ð will make hired builders a more attractive prospect.

What are the benefits of project home builders?

Project home builders will almost always be cheaper than custom designed home builders. They will have access to bulk-ordered and pre-fabricated materials, and their familiarity with the design will speed up construction. And clearly removing the need for drawing up new design specifications saves both money and time.

Project home builders may also offer house and land deals and financing deals, which may be convenient, but should be carefully examined with the help of third party professionals.

What are the limitations of project home builders?

Project home builders deliver a neat package, but this package sometimes won't fit your needs, or the peculiar conditions of your block. This might add extra, unanticipated costs throughout the building process. Project homes often won't have furniture, security systems, unfixed white goods and dishwashers, curtains or floor coverings included as standard: garages, driveways and paths, gardens, fences, service connections, special bricks and coloured mortar are also often considered extras.

The biggest extra cost, however, might be earthworks and foundations. Project home builders quote a price based on a flat piece of land with stable soil and little hidden rock. The true nature of your block may only be revealed after a contour survey and a soil test. To protect yourself from over-inflated earthwork costs sneaking up on you after you've hired your builder, ensure your building contract involves a fixed total prices for the earthworks, the footing excavation and footings, and specifies who is responsible for the removal from the site of excavated materials. If necessary, confirm with a third party if the quoted costs comply with industry standards.

Finally, project homes may add to costs by being environmentally inappropriate for the site. Standardised orientation, glazing and overhangs may not take into account the sun exposure of your home, leading to discomfort and high air-conditioning costs. Exposed sites or homes on acreage may need higher wind rating and roof linings, which are not standard inclusions.

How do I choose a project home builder?

Know your budget and your requirements, and compare the total cost of project home packages, including extras. Take the time to shop around.

Project home builders can seem easier to assess for quality than custom home builders. It is always easier to get your head around built, repeatable designs than new designs that are still on the page. If a project builder has a suite of display homes, these should be walked through and examined carefully, preferably with someone who can identify good and bad workmanship. Even if their homes are not on display, their designs will have been tested out by previous clients. Project builders should have customer testimonies, but there will also be more informal testimony on internet blogs, with people sharing both good and bad experiences. You may also want to ask project home builders for names and contact details of previous clients.

How do I chose a green builder?

Green builders are those that have experience installing environmental technologies, that can advise clients on sustainable materials and sustainable design, and that understand passive solar construction and water conservation techniques. It also involves minimising soil, concrete and chemical runoff from the building site and recycling demolished materials.

This is still a developing area Ð one that's shaking up the building industry Ð and as yet there are no failsafe ways to identify a green builder. One way would be to contact builders working on architect-designed green homes: books on green building, architectural reviews in magazines like Specifier, and RAIA sustainable architecture awards will help you identify some of these. The builder involved will always be credited.

The Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association both have voluntary green builder accreditation programs. The HIA's accreditation involves taking a training course; the MBA's accreditation involves training, and builders demonstrating sustainable principles through the completion of post-construction reports and check-lists. An awards program is associated with the HIA's initiative.

Builders understand the marketing power of green principles. Until the green building market becomes established, you have reason to be cautious, though not totally dismissive, of such marketing. By all means investigate Ògreen accreditedÓ builders, but examine them on a case-by-case basis. Ask for examples of their green principles in practice.

How do I chose a heritage builder?

You need to gather some expertise. Councils hold invaluable heritage records, as well as providing guidelines and consultancy services Ð sometimes free of charge. Heritage councils in various states have free guides and databases related to heritage building, as does the National Trust. Finally, you can engage a heritage consultant or heritage architect to talk you through the heritage features of your home, and recommend a course of action. Above all, you should be looking for a heritage builder after you've armed yourself with knowledge about what needs to be done, and what can't be done. You should be able to stop the disastrous building mistakes of careless builders before they happen.

Good heritage builders are hard to find, as heritage is not commonly part of trades training. But the organisations and professions listed above will be able to point you towards good builders and good local examples of heritage renovations. It is worth waiting for a good heritage builder to become available, as a bad job can not only reduce the sale value of a heritage home by up to 25%, but may hasten the deterioration of heritage homes as well.

FINDING A BUILDER

Where can I find a list of local builders?

Specifier.com.au has a comprehensive database of Australian builders. You can search your local area and come out with a list of names and contact details.

How long will it take to find a good builder?

For some years the construction industry has been at near-capacity, and there is currently a tight supply of skilled construction workers, particularly builders, bricklayers, tilers, roofers, carpenters, plumbers, managers, planners, and site preparation workers. Shortages ease and worsen as the economy fluctuates, but this is a long-term trend that won't immediately be solved.

You should therefore expect delays, and be wary of builders who appear to have a lot of time on their hands. Take a deep breath when you finally get a cheaper than expected quote, or an offer to start immediately: this may not be the right builder for you. If your sensible probing and reference-seeking makes such a builder lose interest, so be it.

Factor in a wait of several months before work starts. Very little can hasten the process besides hiring an architect, surveyor or building consultant to manage the construction process. They'll be better negotiators and know who to talk to when you're in a spot.

How do I choose a good builder?

The big question.

Word of mouth, if you're lucky enough to hear any, is still the best way to find a good builder. You may need to expand your web a little, and talk not just to friends and acquaintances but to mortgage managers and real estate agents Ð anyone who might have an inside angle. Ask people building or renovating in your street who they selected, who they shortlisted, and what their experience was like. Knocking on the door of an attractively built new house, flattering the owner by telling them how lovely it is, and then asking for their builder's phone number can often work.

The best builders will be attached to architectural projects found in house design books, the living and design sections of newspapers, and magazines like Specifier. The builder involved will always be credited.

The two main building awards in Australia may yield some names. The Master Builders' Association Construction Awards and the Housing Industry Association-CSR Housing Awards are awarded to members at a regional, state and national level.

Ultimately, you may need to make your own evaluations about local builders, create a shortlist, and start calling.

How can I learn more about a builder? What should I ask a builder at a first interview?

Firstly: references. It's smart to ask a builder for details of the last three projects they carried out, including contact details. Visiting these sites and talking to the owners will give a more current, and more realistic picture of the builder's work practices than the builder's handpicked referees. This shouldn't be necessary if the builder already comes recommended by someone you trust.

Ask about accreditation and affiliation to trades bodies. This can easily be followed up by searching online accreditation databases, or the HIA or MBA websites. Trade associations not only insist on compliance to a code of ethics, but they will be your first avenue of appeal if any disputes arise during construction. Also ask if they are fully covered by insurance, and if they offer any warranties.

Since many builders specialise in either renovations or new homes, ask if they have done similar projects with a similar price range to yours. This is especially important if your project comes with special issues, like heritage value, green building requirements, prefabrication, or a difficult site.

Building is a creative occupation, and you should look out for signs your prospective builder has interesting solutions to problems. Are they already advising you on the best use of space, materials or lighting? Do they offer numerous options for fulfilling the brief? Are they spotting things before you mentioned them?

Get some sense of who you will be dealing with: is the company run by the person you are talking to? Who will be your contact when building starts? Will there be a project manager, and who will talk through issues like material selection? If it this is a one man band, you need to feel comfortable personally with this builder-manager.

Finally, get some sense of the builder's schedule in the short term. Will they be available when you need them?

QUOTES AND CONTRACTS

How many builders' quotes should I get?

You should try to get at least three detailed, fully-costed quotes from builders.

What should I ask for when requesting a quote?

Be sure to have carefully thought through what you actually want and the issues that are involved, so that you can clearly communicate the scope of the job to a prospective builder. You should also ask the builder for a fully itemised estimate. That will give you a sense of what parts of your project are more costly, and where cuts, alterations and substitutions can be made.

How do I evaluate builders' quotes?

A prompt quote is already a good sign! Some builders simply won't bother, and you'll never hear from them again.

Price is not everything. Disreputable builders will quote a price 15-20% below what they know the job is actually worth just to get their foot in the door, then cut corners during construction or pad the budget with extras. Expect to pay a decent amount for your project, given the current economic conditions.

Good quotes, and good builders, will be able to talk about the details. Is every part of your project there, and clearly delineated? Including the materials and finishes you had in mind? Does it include the paint job? Light fittings? Internet connections? Skirting?

If you are in the enviable position of having a number of quotes that you can't decide between, take it to a third party. Ask a quantity surveyor or another builder to examine them, with the builder's name removed.

Should the work be agreed by contract?

Always.

What if the builder wants me to take out an owner-builder permit?

Refuse. An owner-builder permit improperly shifts much of the liability of the construction onto you. Such a move by a builder suggests dubious intentions. This happens only in rare cases.

What should be in a building contract?

There are standard, simple contracts designed to comply to the relevant legislation, and to be fair to both parties. You may add or subtract from these contracts, but you should do so with professional advice.

Such contracts require a date and the names and contact details of both parties, including the exact name on the builder's licence card their licence number. They need the details of the project to be broken down and laid out in a clear sequence, so that both parties can refer to the contract when considering progress that has been made. Plans and specifications must be attached, with a clause stating that they are taken to form part of the contract.

The agreed cost, including GST, should refer to methods and timetables of payment, and perhaps even circumstances when you may withhold payment or the builder withhold labour. You may agree that the final payment will be delivered after the building has been inspected and declared fit for occupation. Once the quote is put into a signed contract, any additional costs will have to be agreed to in writing by both parties.

You must clearly resolve the issue of timetables, starting dates and completion dates in the contract. It is preferable to sign off on a final completion date if possible, to give both parties certainty.

Agreed materials and finishes may be put into the contract. And anything else of importance to you Ð such as specific instructions about site access Ð can also be put into a contract.

You must sign such a crucial document only when you understand all of its details, and are fully informed of your contractual rights and obligations. It is preferable to get independent legal advice from a solicitor.

What are some common traps in building contracts?

Make sure you are not unwittingly made responsible for removing excavated soil and rock from the site. Similarly, ensure you are not made responsible for termite control during construction, since it should be the responsibility of the builder.

Payments in the contract should be linked to work actually performed, and not simply to time spent on site.

Understand the insurance and warranty provisions in the contract: they may not protect you in the manner you expect.

What if I want to vary my building contract after it is signed?

Any variations need to be requested in writing, and any additional cost should be signed off on by both parties.

How should a deposit and payment be arranged?

A deposit cannot legally exceed 10% for building work costing less than $20,000, and 5% for work over $20,000. Beyond such a deposit, you should not pay upfront for stages of construction that haven't yet commenced. Staged payments made after work is completed is the most common arrangement, with each stage of development defined in the contract. You should make it clear from day one, and fix it in the contract, that you will not pay until you are satisfied with the work completed.

If you choose to pay cash in hand, you relinquish many of your rights to redress if things go wrong.

Will I be fully covered by insurance if things go wrong?

Not necessarily, and you should look carefully at the limitations of building insurance schemes, especially in NSW and Victoria. Home building warranties taken out by builders Ð and mandatory for builders in NSW and Victoria Ð only cover situations where the builder dies, disappears, or becomes insolvent. It does not cover shoddy work. Neither does your general insurance. Only Queensland has an insurance scheme that includes low-cost dispute resolution forcing builders to rectify defects.

This redoubles the importance of selecting a trustworthy builder. Your own fact-checking about a builder is your strongest consumer protection when building a home.

CONSTRUCTION

How can I oversee the construction process?

You will need a professional inspection from the council or a private firm at the foundation, frame and completion stage in order to obtain an occupancy permit. But these checks are bare minimum legal requirements. It is far better to engage a professional, or a trusted friend with knowledge of the building process, to check on the work more regularly. Such professionals include architects, surveyors, project managers and building consultants.

What if I get into a dispute with my builder during construction?

The most effective way to resolve a dispute is to lodge a complaint with your state's consumer affairs office. Depending on your jurisdiction, the complaint may involve an inspector coming to look at the site, rectification orders, or conciliation. You may also seek legal advice in parallel with this process.

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