Finding a Home Builder

Finding the right builder for your home renovation is the most crucial decision you’ll take for your project, so it’s worth making sure you leave no stone unturned.

Whether you are considering Addbuild or another builder, we hope you’ll appreciate this comprehensive guide to help you make an informed choice.

Some of this advice may seem obvious, but other parts aren’t so well known. Our aim is to give you the inside track on what to look out for.

Confirm Your Wants and Needs

Deciding on a clear objective is an all-important starting point, for example if you are renovating to sell and make a profit, or you’re a homeowner expanding their home to accommodate a growing family.

Being clear on the objective will help you more easily identify a list of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ ordered in their importance. It also gives you something to sense-check with your family to ensure you haven’t missed anything.

Architects and Alternatives

Most people expect that your next step is to find an architect to design your plans, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

You may be better off consulting with a ‘design and build’ company – Addbuild is just one of many – and we explain the difference in detail in this recent blog article.

In our experience, you are ready to approach a builder if:

  • You have a firm idea or a sketch design and want plans drawn up by a ‘design and build’ specialist, submitted to Council and built.
  • You have full plans drawn but need to obtain the necessary approvals and get it built. Again, there are plenty of builders like Addbuild offering a service to manage the approval process as well as construction.
  • You already have plans and approval but need a builder to get the plans built.
  • You may also be in the situation where you already have plans and quotes, but the building quotes are beyond your budget. So you need some expert assistance to redesign the plans to still achieve your needs within a budget. This is also where a specialist ‘design and build’ company may be best placed to deliver a more affordable solution.

Do Your Research

Next, which builders to approach?

The low hanging fruit is to ask friends, family and neighbours who have had recent work done.

Personal recommendations are a good start, but they are unlikely to provide you with a big enough list to narrow down from, so it’s likely you will have to extend your list using online research.

You can also visit one of the industry associations websites like the Housing Industry Association (HIA) or the Master Builders Association (MBA).

It’s important to filter the list of builders to ones that specialise in the building work you are looking for.

So, for example, there is little point approaching a builder specialising in constructing new homes if you want a 2nd storey addition to your existing home, even if they are an excellent builder and have been highly recommended by friends.

Create A Shortlist

Once you have a good sized list of builders, it’s time to do a second pass of checks to narrow down your list – shortlisting three companies should be enough:

  • Visit their websites to look for similar projects. Most builders will have a section of ‘before and after’ pictures;
  • Check how long they have been in the building industry;
  • Check NSW Office of Fair Trading for validity of licence, and any unresolved disputes or restrictions on the licence, and check they are licenced for the type of work you require;
  • Ask for and thoroughly check references from recent clients. If you can, talk to the referees yourself;
  • Check memberships to building associations such as the HIA and/or the MBA;
  • Ask what services are provided, from design through to development approval, not just construction. Depending on the answer, you may need to do some of the leg work yourself, for example, preparing submissions to Council which can be time-consuming and difficult for people with no experience;
  • If you are looking for a ‘design and build’ company, do they charge substantial upfront fees to prepare concept designs or is it an obligation free service?

Get A Quote

By now you should have a shortlist that you are happy to contact for this next stage.

You should look to get an accurate price including the following – again, this may vary depending on whether you already have plans or are approaching a ‘design and build’ firm:

  • A clear design and written specification proposal;
  • A proposal that’s in a simple to follow format;
  • A clear list of inclusions and any exclusions – if in doubt ask;
  • A nominated type of contract to be used if moving ahead.

Compare Quotes

You are getting closer and should now have received 3 quotes, one from each builder, but how to best compare and assess them?

You should look at each one and weigh up:

  • Is the information in an easy to follow and clear format?
  • Does the format makes it easy to compare prices of each component? If not, ask for a better breakdown of the costs;
  • Consider best service for price – the cheapest quote is not always the best company to choose;
  • Make a final check on the quality and depth of each company’s references and experience – again, your decision shouldn’t be based on price alone.

Final Choice

When making your final decision consider:

  • Are you happy that the proposal clearly and accurately reflects your wants and needs – again, if in doubt ask for more details;
  • Is there anything you want added or taken off. It may be relevant to ask all builders to price any further inclusion or exclusions;
  • Ensure it is clear who is responsible for preparing all contract documents, coordinating any consultants and obtaining all the necessary approvals. These can incur significant cost and time, so will make a significant difference if comparing a design and construct builder to one just quoting the building works only. This is where design and construct builders add enormous value and service.

Sign the Contract

So you’ve made a firm choice and you’re now at the final stage before the project can commence: the contract.

When signing a contract with the chosen builder, you should:

  • Check that the name on the contract (company or individual) matches the licence;
  • Check that the contract documents clearly identify:
    • The works to be completed (plans and specifications);
    • The price and how it may be adjusted (eg. variations & unforeseen conditions);
    • Any adjustable allowances (commonly called “Provisional Sums” and “Prime Cost Items”, sometimes called “PC’s”) are clearly identified and have a reasonable starting value attached. These allowances are a common and legitimate tool in building contracts to cover works for which the price cannot be fully determined either due to being subject to a later selection by you (eg. Kitchen) or prior to it being completed (eg. Sewer and stormwater connection). Unfortunately less reputable builders can use them to reduce the starting contract price knowing it will be adjusted at the end for real cost — again the initial cheapest price is not necessarily the best. If in doubt ask;
  • Generally industry approved, proprietary contracts are the safest and offer the best protection for both the owner and the builder with clearly set out rights and responsibilities in plain English. For example, Addbuild use the contract prepared by the NSW Government’s Office of Fair Trading, however there are equally good contracts prepared by industry associations such as the MBA and HIA. Most importantly, seek independent legal advice if a one-off contract is offered.

Of course, signing the contract with a builder is just the start – no construction has actually commenced – and it seems like you’ve already done quite a bit of work!

However, taking a thorough approach to finding the right builder for your project gives you the best possible chance that everything will proceed without any major issues.

More Home Improvement Advice

Looking for further advice? We’ve continued to provide free advice to homeowners over the past 4 years with our home improvement blog covering a number of relevant topics with over 50 articles.

You can also download our free Consumer Guide to Home Improvement, and graduate to our Home Alterations Masterclass.

If you are further along the path and ready to contact a builder, Addbuild is Sydney’s leading home additions and extensions builder and if you have a relevant project, we’d love to hear from you.

Feel free to contact us by calling (02) 8765 1555 (our office opens again on 9th January 2019) or by using our online form.

And finally, a happy New Year to you!