Take the time to research
Whether you’re building a new home or embarking on a renovation, it’s important to put in the legwork to find a professional builder. Housing Industry Association (HIA) director of building Simon Croft recommends you take time to research your options and ask a lot of questions. “The more information you have, the easier it is to eliminate uncertainties,” he explains.
Where to look
Online is a great place to start researching. Company websites, industry associations such as HIA and Master Builders, and building award sites can generate names of quality contractors to approach. Builder Rachael Turner, suggests social media as another tool. “For example, search #brisbanebuilder and you’ll bring up a list of builders whose portfolios you can browse,” she says. The best method, though, is often word of mouth. If you’re engaging an architect, ask for builder recommendations, and tap into friends, family and colleagues to share the names of contractors they’ve used.
Who to pick
“Pick the right builder for the type of job, who’s an expert in their field,” advises James Bawden, builder and consultant at The Reno Coach. “If you’re renovating a Victorian-style home, look for a builder who’s worked on similar projects. Or, if you’re starting from scratch, look at new-home specialists and visit their previous jobs.” Check the quality of the construction, finishing touches and try to chat with the home owners. Ask your prospective builder for contact details of previous clients so you can check references. Try to include people who had work completed more than a few years ago to see how the builder handled any follow-up problems.
What to ask
Good communication is crucial for a great working relationship. “When you meet a builder, you want someone you click with, trust and can openly discuss every aspect, from the budget to finishes,” says Rachael. “Discuss your expectations and ask the builder how they prefer to work. I like to manage the process from design through to completion, while other builders like to come on board once the plans are finalised and approved.” Availability is also key. “Ask how many other projects the builder has on, to check if they’re available when you’re ready to commence,” says Simon.
A builder or contractor should be suitably licensed and insured for the work. Ask to see their licence, or go online and search the relevant state or territory building authority directory for their registration details.
All building work over a certain amount, including labour and materials, requires a contract, but regulations vary between states and depending on project cost. Get clued up on the difference between a fixed price and cost-plus contract. “With a fixed price, an agreed project cost is set and the contractor is paid a lump sum on completion – popular for new builds,” says Rachael. “A cost-plus contract generally allows greater freedom to make decisions and choose finishes along the way, as the contractor will invoice for labour, material costs and builder’s margin throughout the process. This is beneficial for renovations, where there are more unknowns. But if finance is required it can be more difficult to get a loan without a fixed cost.”
Prime cost (PC): When a fixture or fitting has not been selected at the time of the contract, a PC figure is used. If the item chosen ends up more expensive, the client pays extra; if it’s less they receive a credit.
Provisional sum: In a fixed price contract, this is an estimated sum for an item of material and labour, where the builder cannot give an exact figure. This allows the contract to move forward, with the sum modified when costs are confirmed.
A variation: This is an alteration to the scope or type of work in a contract. It may be an addition, substitution or omission. As this can lead to an increase in cost, it’s important to communicate with your builder, discuss changes as soon as possible and get everything in writing.
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