General Building

How to Choose a Builder (Part 1)

Once you have plans drawn up and building approvals in place, the next step in any construction project is to choose a builder.  This is an extremely important decision.  Unfortunately there are many shonky operators in the industry.  Over the years there have been numerous examples of substandard workmanship, cost overruns, missed completion dates and builders going into liquidation, leaving the owners with an incomplete building and being owed vast sums in compensation.  You may never get any guarantees that a builder will live up to all your expectations, but there are certainly steps that you can take to lessen the chances of being burnt.

There are several ways to choose a builder.  You can create a list of builders based on recommendations from industry bodies, friends, colleagues and business associates, before undertaking some preliminary research to create a shortlist.  Alternatively, depending on the size of the project, you could go out to open tender.  Either way you will hopefully end up with, at the very least, several expressions of interest, or for smaller projects, a number of detailed offers.  For small projects with little inherent risk the down-selection process may be comparatively straightforward, resulting in only a single contender.  For most projects however it would necessary, if not wise, to consider multiple tenders.

The assessment process should start with a number of preliminary checks.  The first and most important thing to check is if a builder is licensed.  There are many people masquerading as builders but who don’t have the necessary qualifications and are not registered.

There are lots of reasons why you should engage a licensed builder.  If the building work is valued above a certain threshold and requires council approval, the builder must have building indemnity insurance and a written contract will be required.  For domestic building, the work must meet plan, specification and legal requirements and must be finished within a reasonable time.  The work must be performed with care and carried out with quality and suitable materials.

Most tradespeople are required to have a licence.  Some trades also need formal qualifications that are normally awarded after an apprenticeship.  This applies to plumbers and electricians.  Is the builder a member of any registered industrial bodies, for example the Master Builders Association (MBA) and the Housing Industry Association (HIA)?  If so, feel free to approach the associations to verify the builder’s membership and standing in the industry.  Read testimonials from previous clients and, if possible, verify them by talking to those clients.  Ask to see completed building projects.  If a builder has nothing to hide and is keen for your business, looking over some of their part work should not be an issue.

Is the builder registered for home owner’s warranty?  Have there been any past, or are there any current, building disputes associated with the builder?  Has the builder ever been declared bankrupt?  Who is the builder’s construction supervisor?  Is the person well known?  Does he or she have any reputation (good or bad)?  The construction supervisor is the person who supervises the tradespeople on a building project, and is the best guarantee of the workmanship involved.

It’s also important to know if the builder specialises in a particular type of building work.  Some builders specialise in renovations, some focus on new buildings, while some do both.  If a builder specialises in renovations, it might be better not to engage them to construct a new building.