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So you have decided that you want to build a home and not sure which builder you should partner with! There are 100’s of builders out there and one can only assume that as long as the builder is licensed, what can possibly go wrong?
It’s important to note that just because a builder has a license and an ABN does not mean that they are a good builder. Conducting your due diligence is very important when selecting the right builder.
So how do you go about comparing builders? To answer this question, we will need to look at things a little differently.
- What is the general path of the journey that you are about to embark on?
- What stages do you generally go through before signing on the dotted line?
- How do you compare builders along these stages?
It’s imperative that you must start with writing down your requirements from the very start. Always begin with the end in mind. Be clear about your answers to these questions:
- What do you want in a builder?
- What is important to you in the build?
- Do you want quality / flexibility / transparency / honesty / fixed pricing?
- and whatever other questions that are really important to you…
Only when you have clear answers and objectives that you can start comparing builders.
The 3 Stages
Here are some general stages that everyone who is looking at building their home would go through:
Stage 1: Research
- LEARN LEARN LEARN
- Narrow down a design to less than three (less is always better) or at least elements that you liked if you are going down the custom design path
- Narrow down to 3 builders
The initial stage can go for months from the moment you jump online to have a look at what’s available to visiting display villages etc… Regardless of whether you are building for the 1st time or the 10th time, you will constantly be learning.
The biggest mistake that you can make is think you know better or know it all. You don’t…
At this stage, some of the things you may want to learn about include but not limited to the following:
- build process / stages
- what happens at each stage?
- why do things happen at these stages? (just because a builder told you that this is the way things are does not mean they are right!)
- does every builder do things the exact same way?
- what constitutes a great home design?
- what makes a facade great?
- understand that no two designs are the same, unless they are! Make sure that you are comparing designs in the right way.
- what design are you after? can you find one that already exists with a builder or are you going to customise a design?
- can you modify an existing design to suit?
- what are the potential design complexities and associated costs?
- read builder reviews and look for patterns
- it’s ok if a builder has some bad reviews; the concern is when you have reviews that share similar patterns. Will you be ok with these patterns?
- ensure that the reviews are genuine and they are not from 5 years ago
- visit display homes and websites to find the right design for you and your family
Your key to learning is finding the right builder who is willing to help you learn as well as work with you in a flexible manner to achieve your goals.
Always remember that you do not have to choose a builder because you fell in love with the design. Choosing the right builder trumps any design preferences.
I would rather have the right builder supporting me with my design works rather than choose the wrong builder just because they have the design that I love. This is a common mistake that I see happen time and time again!
Stage 2: Shortlist
- narrow your picks down to 2 builders
- narrow your designs down to 2 designs
Now that you have learned as much as you can about the build process and you are relatively a subject matter expert, it’s time that you start comparing builders at a deeper level.
Stage 3: Engage
As always, my number one advice is always pick the builder not the design nor the inclusions. Your builder can make or break your home building experience. It can be a nightmare or the best thing that you have ever done in your life. It all comes down to your builder.
I am not saying pick the best builder with the worst inclusions and designs.
Engage the right builder who will tick all of your boxes and one that you can truly trust. Do NOT compromise – you wouldn’t compromise with your child’s safety or with your parents’ wellbeing; so why would you compromise with your builder?
Below are some areas that you may want to consider when you are shortlisting your top picks:
The first rule of thumb: if a builder is in a display village or has a license number, then they must be a reputable builder. This is WRONG.
Reputation is hard to measure but relatively easy to identify it’s lack of existence. Evaluate the character of the builder and the manner they conduct themselves.
If there are patterns of horrible behavior with a particular builder, then I would stay away regardless of how fantastic their homes are.
Things I generally look for are when I am conducting background checks or interacting with their team or reading reviews:
- proactive communication (they contact me not the other way around),
- fixed pricing – refer to my blog on how to obtain a fixed price tender?
- how they deal with client complaints
- a classic response that just does not work for me is: “I am going to ignore your complaint but I am going to ask you to contact our office for assistance”
- I mean if you were so helpful in the first place then I wouldn’t be vocalizing my complaints online… A better approach is to respond to my concerns, take responsibility and then ask me to call you)
- variations – is there a lot of concern around this?
- transparency – are there enough comments that convey this
- on budget issues
- warranty and maintenance issues
- do they have any complaints lodged with fair trading or NCAT?
- builder license checks to make sure there is nothing against them
- low pricing at the start and increasing the price along the way
- staff turnover and longevity
- if staff turnover is massive or if the longest serving staff is the owner or family members, then just walk away
- other general type of problems that their specific clients are having – after reading a few reviews, I would get a feel for what is going on with the builder.
I would meet with the builder or their team, visit their display homes or a few homes that they have built. Consider the list of suppliers that they are using and whether they are reputable or not. Look at their warranties to make sure that the products as well as the workmanship of their homes are good enough to be warranted.
Quality is intangible, and much like reputation, quality is hard to measure but relatively easy to identify it’s lack of existence. Instead of me explaining what quality means (and it could mean different things to different people), I would strongly suggest that you visit a few display homes and you will get an idea of the type of quality that you may want.
Some of the things I would look for when I want to know the quality of the builder include but not limited to:
- Who are the suppliers?
- What is the quality of their contractors?
- Can I speak with their supervisor(s)?
- What quality checks do they have in place during construction?
- Can I have my own building inspector? – if they say no, this is a red flag.
- have them have it in writing if they agree to it upfront with the condition that they refund all of your money and release the floor plans to you if they change their minds at a later stage.
- Inclusions level which I will discuss in the next section in more detail
- How much time they spend to explain the design and the way it was designed?
- How many supervisors have they had leave in the last 3 years?
- 40mm vs. 20mm vs. laminate benchtop?
- number of drawer sets?
- number of shelving to pantry?
- overhead cupboards?
- double bowl undermount sink?
- these include bathrooms, ensuites, powder rooms, laundries
- double vanities vs. single vanities?
- size of shower recess (min should be 900 x 900)
- bathtub size
- separate laundry or combined into the bathroom located in garage?
- shower and bath niches vs. none?
- double shower heads vs. single shower heads?
- brands used?
- 90mm vs. 70mm framework?
- colourbond roof vs. concrete roof?
- steel frame vs. treated pine?
- a chemical and physical termite barrier vs. a reticulated termite barrier
- brickwork vs. cladding vs. aerated concrete (hebel and the like)
- concrete pads under rainwater tank and ducted air conditioning unit?
- 900mm vs. 600mm size appliances?
- built-in vs. free standing
- ducted-to-outside rangehood vs. reticulated rangehood
- dishwasher provision?
- brands – omega vs. westinghouse vs. miele
- 1 year warranty vs. 5 year warranty
- floor coverings included? – tiles, timber, carpet, etc…
- skirting sizes?
- number of paint coats? – 3 is the minimum for a decent finish
- number of shelves to walkin pantries / walkin linens / linens / robes / walkin robes
- privacy locks to bathrooms or all rooms?
- coved cornice vs. square set finish?
- number of gas points?
- front door size and height?
- number of water taps?
- recessed hot water system?
- eave size?
- roof pitch?
- number of gas points included?
- double powerpoints vs. single powerpoints?
- number of double powerpoints per room?
- light fittings or just light points?
- LED lights or oyster lights?
- number of TV outlets
- number of data points?
- how about phone points?
- antenna included?
- what is not included?
- is spoil removal included?
- is there a limit to how many lineal meters that are included?
- how about drop edge beams? are they extra?
- BASIX – has the builder accounted for light colour scheme or any colour scheme?
- A Note: light colour scheme is usually what the builder includes in their standard inclusions.
- However the moment you change the colour of your externals to darker colours, you will get hit with extra costs when it comes to BASIX
- I would read through their list of exclusions and extras that the builder would charge for should it not be included. Therefore, I would be better off when comparing it to the next builder so I can have a better picture of overall costs.
- moroka vs. rendered finish?
- balconies vs. no balconies?
- glass balustrade vs. brick finish to balconies?
- stacker stones vs. tile finish?
- what you see is what you get?
My honest advice here is to completely ignore this word. Promotions are smoke-and-mirrors – they are designed to make you think that you are getting trillions of dollars worth of value for nothing. This is simply not true.
I am not saying that there are not genuine promotions out there, on the contrary, a lot of builders do offer them.
However my advice is: treat the items in the promotional package as just another level of inclusions and completely IGNORE the dollar $$$ values assigned to them. They are, well mostly, crapp.
This is a very complicated topic to simply add to this blog. Please visit Comparing Floor Plans – Part 1 for more details on how
- you compare floor plans and
- how to identify differences that can save lots of $$$ on your next project
I like using spreadsheets. Perhaps create a spreadsheet with the builders that you have shortlisted, list all the inclusions and your requirements. Once you have the builders side by side, it’s relatively easier to pick the right one for you!