Undertaking a major home alterations project will most likely be the biggest purchasing decision you make after buying your house so it’s worth taking your time when planning it out and choosing your builders.
Here are 7 tips that will help you choose the right builders and get the home of your dreams without the drama!
1) Do your research
The most important part of your home alterations project is the research – do this well and everything else will be much easier.
When you know what you want, you’re in a better position to shortlist potential design / build companies. When you research those companies (get references, ask to see previous work they’ve done, check their status with the Office of Fair Trading), you’ll be confident you’ve chosen the right people for your job.
To assist you here are some things to keep in mind when looking at potential builders:
- How long have they been in the additions/alterations industry?
- Do they specialise in first floor additions, ground floor extensions and/or whole house renovations?
- Can they provide the full range of services? That is from design through development approval and to construction. Or will you need to do some of the “leg work” yourself such as preparing submissions to Council or other statutory authorities?
- Do they charge substantial upfront fees to prepare concept designs or is it an obligation free service?
- Can they provide previous clients as positive references for the quality of the service and work preformed by the builder?
- Do they have any “black marks” with key bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading?
When it comes to design, if you’re interested in particular features, do some online research so that you can clearly describe what you have in mind to the designer. That way you can avoid the common pitfall of not clearly communicating what you meant and potentially being disappointed down the track.
2) Don’t choose your builder on price alone
Accepting the cheapest quote can be fraught with danger. Ask yourself: Why are they the cheapest? Here are some things to consider:
- Could it be they are using lower grade materials?
- Are they simply a less experienced, inferior or less trustworthy builder? Have you checked their references and past work?
- What services are they not offering? For example do they expect you to organise development approval through your local council whereas another builder will do this for you as part of their service and is therefore included in the price they quoted you?
- Are they offering you a fixed price contract or are there numerous “allowances” that could add to the cost during the course of the work?
- Is the specification somehow different? For example is the cheaper quote specifying aluminium windows and not the cedar timber windows that other builders have specified and that you requested?
Choosing the right builder for you should be more than just about getting the cheapest price. It’s as much about how well the builder meets your needs with their design and specification versus your budget. If that happens to be the builder who provides you with the cheapest quote that’s fine but be wary particularly if this quote is substantially less than the other quotes you receive.
3) Get expert advice
This typically comes down to legal and financial advice.
If you are planning to sign a building contract with a builder who uses their own specific contract then it’s probably good advice to have your solicitor look over the contract just to ensure it is fair to both parties. (Of course this should not be an issue if the builder is using a standard contract such as the NSW Office of Fair Trading Contract).
These days many clients need to consult with their bank or some other form of financial institution before they are in a position to proceed forward to a building contract. A reputable design and build company understands that and will work with the client to provide them with the necessary documentation to help with the loan approval process.
This typically begins with the builder providing the client with a detailed design and quotation that they can take to their financial institution to discuss loan approval. It then extends all the way through to the building contract and plans being made available to the financial institution to help facilitate regular progress payments throughout the construction process.
4) Check the fine print
Be wary of the builder who provides you with a lengthy list of Provisional Sums that are simply estimates for components of the work that are subject to variation rather than a fixed price.
Whilst Provisional Sums are a natural part of building contracts the list should be kept to a minimum and to those items that the builder cannot be reasonably expected to set an absolute fixed price up front for until the work had commenced (connections to existing sewer or storm water are valid examples of this) or to items such as shower screens or staircases that vary greatly in specification and cost and are ultimately subject to the client’s particular tastes.
One last thing to keep in mind: the builder should provide you with pricing that is inclusive of GST. If the price doesn’t specifically state that GST is included ask the builder to restate the price in writing again, this time with GST included.
5) Ensure you’re covered for cost or time blowouts
A reputable builder will advise you of any potential cost increases as soon as possible after the issue is identified and certainly before any additional work is done and the cost incurred. This should be done in writing and in fact, building contracts such as the NSW Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Building Contract stipulates that any variation to the agreed contract price needs to be put in writing by the builder for consideration by the client. Acceptance or rejection of the variation is also in writing by the client back to the builder.
The NSW OFT Contract also calls for a maximum construction period for the work to be undertaken and completed. This is fair to both parties in that it does also provide for extensions of time due to delays outside of the builder’s control such as inclement weather.
However even in these circumstances the builder should advise the client the reason for the delay and the additional time required to complete the work.
6) Communicate clearly what you want
As obvious as this sounds, you’d be amazed how often a client will say to their builder: “That’s not what I meant!”
Builders, like everyone else, are not mind readers. They depend on you to clearly communicate what you want. That doesn’t mean you need to have a master’s degree in building to ensure you get your message across; rather it means that you need to take some degree of responsibility to ensure that what you are asking for is clear to both parties. Today the internet is a great source of reference as are display and renovation centres and renovation magazines so it can be easier to find and communicate the exact outcomes you’re looking for.
A reputable design and build company will discuss your requirements in detail with you at various stages throughout the process to ensure both parties are clear on what is being provided. If you are unsure at any stage, ask questions and remember there is no such thing as a stupid question!
7) Know your rights
If you feel you have been wronged in a legal sense then these days it’s far easier to ascertain your rights. Bodies like the Office of Fair Trading have been established specifically to deal with building issues and are there to assist you if you feel you have a legitimate grievance. Their website is an excellent source of information on consumer rights.