Choosing a builder involves more than just assessing their reputation for quality – they have to fit the type of build, the timing, and your own style in how you approach a building project.
Here are the factors to consider in order to find a builder who will match your needs:
Section 1: Where to start looking
Start by building up a list. Add names and building companies as you come across them, then whittle them down in stage 2.
Most people will start by asking someone that they know. They ask friends, colleagues, family and members of their local cricket team. All of which are only too willing to offer their opinions.
This haphazard approach is only human, but fraught with danger. It just might put a strain on relations if your brother-in-law was responsible for a very expensive rebuild.
Still, word of mouth is often valuable, and if the contact is a reliable source of good rational information on building, then the companies they mention are well worth writing on your list.
You might also visit display villages. By and large, the builders who build these houses for display might be adept at building certain models really well, but might not be able to provide the customisation that you require for your unique block of land and particular tastes in design.
But you can go, get ideas, talk with people there about house designs that are not on the plan, and pick up information about whether these or other builders they know are capable of more custom builds in the area you have chosen.
You could also run a search for building companies and crews, and find more names that way, though you might then find companies that are better at making websites than houses.
Or you could call an experienced, reliable and personable design team like Gilpip – that’s a time-saving option well worth doing.
Next is the process of evaluating the names on your list, starting with legalities.
Section 2: Licences and paperwork
Making sure a builder has all the right licences is a simple first step. Every person involved in building must hold an RBP to say that they are a Registered Building Practitioner. That is a basic requirement for all builders. Insist that you see it.
After that, there are many licences for specific jobs within the construction industry. One for plumbing, another for electrical work. A good building coordinator will ensure all of the appropriate licences are held by each relevant member of the team.
Get yourself a copy of the Housing Industry Association (HIA) sample contract relevant to your type of build. The builder will also provide you with a contract, and you should compare the two . Most builders will be using the same, or one from the Master Builders Association (MBA).
What you are looking for is what is NOT there. If something is missing, or there are clauses to state that this is exempt or not included, that’s a red flag and you need to run it past a lawyer to see what it means.
You need to know what you are not getting. To sign a contract with gaps will leave you no legal leg to stand on, and no insurance cover, if things go wrong.
The builder will also sign off the work at the end of the build, and will take responsibility that everything was done to industry standard. If they have a poor history in this regard, it will appear in the VBA register which you can check – see below.
Section 3: Experience:
Experience counts for everything in a build, but it is not a simple matter of comparing the number of successful houses one build team has created against another. As good a start as this may be, you are looking for a builder with the experience in building a house in the location, the style and to the degree of customisation that you want, as well as their connection with you in getting the job done.
Here are some easy ways to screen for the builder that is right for you:
Check their folio
Take a look through the buildings that they have built before, looking not only at the quality of the build, but also the style.
Everyone has a website nowadays, so it is an easy matter to take a look through their folio, looking for their area of speciality. They may have produced some of extraordinary quality decked out with a marble staircase, so this builder will be perfect if this degree of quality and custom style is what you want, but if you are looking for a no-fuss bungalow, this artisan of the abode is not the one for you.
If a simple house is what you are after, then you will be looking for someone who prides themselves in their many examples of a straightforward build, and will often be on display in display home villages.
On the other hand, the more ‘character’ your piece of land has, and the more individual features and style you want for your dream home, the more you will look through the builders’ portfolios for a wide variety of custom houses. If their sense of pride comes from making a success out of a challenging build, as seen in their folio, give this builder more consideration for your custom build.
Check their Quality
Now that you’ve seen the completed projects that they want you to see, do some digging to find the projects that they don’t include in their folio. How many projects have they undertaken? How many of those were completed? How many of those were of sufficient quality?
If a newly formed build team has built only ten houses, and all ten were beautiful, folio-worthy pieces, then that is a great success ratio and hopefully represents the care for attention and quality that they would produce for you. If another team has built 1000 houses, with the same 10 grand successes but not much after that, then one might question their standard of quality.
Once you think you have found a match for your desired type of build and quality in their folio, it is well worth your time to research what the builders do not put in their folio, and there are some ways to do this:
Check the references that they don’t give you
Find someone who has worked with them – a tradie or two, or an architect, and find out from them how the build went. Were they easy or difficult to work with? Would they work with the designer and come up with solutions to work them into the build, or would they insist on their own way? Would they be more concerned about getting the job done quickly, or slowing it down to make sure all the details are perfect?
And if there have been some abandoned builds in their record, then a financial manager might have the inside scoop on which party dropped the ball on that one: Was it the fault of the builder, or the client with bad planning on a tight budget?
If you know an insurance assessor, they might be able to let you know if your prospective builder’s name has come up in insurance claims, and what their response was if there was an error in building.
There are also registers you can look up to find out if any disputes have appeared under their name. the Victorian Building Register website has a function where you can check for your potential builder’s name.
As well as VCAT. Some caution needs to be applied in reading this register since a large and competent building company may have had a proportionately tiny number of cases, whereas a new and average company might have none.
Check buildings not in their folio
Once you have talked with some neutral participants in previous builds, you might be able to gain some of the addresses that they had previously worked on. If the owners still live in the house, you might be able to arrange a visit and find out for yourself what the build was like, and how the house quality has stood up over time.
Even a look at the locations of their previous builds will tell you a story about whether they have experience building in your chosen area, and on land similar to yours, and with the ease of Google Maps, you can glimpse the type of build without leaving your own living room.
You will also get a feeling for the motivation and skill between the designer and builder. A house built for function might be practical, but ugly in your eyes. Another might be beautiful, but awkward for your style of living.
There is a subtle art to do with proportions that can make one house plain and another attractive, and to see it shows plenty about the builder’s character, if only because he listens to his designer, who listens to you.