A builder or architect wont always point out all the things to consider in a build and can leave you either out of pocket or with a suboptimal design. This page goes through common mistakes Ive seen people make.
Contracts and Negotiating Changes
The best time to negotiate terms is before you pay the builder any significant amount of money and you have the option of moving on. Ask them for all the contracts they issue eg. Works Agreement and HIA contract before signing up and have it reviewed then.
Its common for builders to only issue a HIA/other contract months after signing up with them including when you have all your approvals. Do you think they would be amenable to changing contract terms or liquidated damages after they have 5-10% of your money, very unlikely. They know that once you have put down that 5-10% that you would almost never leave them at that stage.
Timelines and Builder Mistakes
Are you spending a small fortune for your build, and expecting a builder not to delay things or get things wrong because of how much you’re spending. The truth is everyone is spending a lot of money on their build and everyone is treated the same, unless you’re doing a luxury bespoke build for a few million.
A lot of people starting out get frustrated with their builder because things take long and emails or other correspondence arent followed up for weeks at a time. The sad truth is most volume builders who do both project/custom work are the same, though some are better at different stages than the other. You may not have this with smaller builders but expect to pay more for this service.
You may have chosen your builder because you liked the design and their price was competitive. Theres a reason for this, they try keep costs down wherever they can. Lets say a builder wants to improve their admin and they hire someone to help with this. Assume that person is paid $70k per year (I have no idea what they really get paid). That comes out of their profit margins, so the end customer ends up paying for this and their overall cost would be higher. This is why smaller builders have higher costs, because they cant spread salaries across enough builds among other things.
Dont trust what the salesperson tells you in terms of timing, speak to others building with them to get a true reflection. At each stage ask the builder how long a stage should take and when they should start following up, not all will give this but at least it can help set realistic expectations.
Dont expect a smooth ride and expect mistakes but judge the builder on how they fix these mistakes and puts things right.
Architect Plans – Copyright
When engaging an architect or builder to come up with a design it’s important to know who owns the copyright. Unless it’s explicitly stated or you’ve paid for it this belongs to them. If you decide to use their plan to progress further or use another builder they will either block you from using it entirely or ask for a large fee to release it, between $1000 to $5500. Speak to them about this before progressing on a design.
If an architect wont release the copyright they’re unlikely to provide the .dwg files which are critical for a builder as they need these to re-draw your plans exactly. Without these the draftsman have to either trace a pdf or base it on the dimensions on the plan and its easy for them to miss things. Dont expect a true replica, no matter how skilled they are.
Going through DA or CDC without getting costings from a Builder
A lot of trust can be given to an architect or building designer to draw up plans according to a budget however they are not a builder and wont have an accurate idea of the costs involved. This is especially true in 2022 when the cost of materials and labour are going up astronomically.
Some people will use their service and go to DA/CDC approval and only then go through builders to tender or provide an estimate of their project. There are some major flaws with this.
- If the cost of the build is over budget you will have to go through CDC/DA all over again
- You could have locked in a fixed price well before going through CDC/DA. With price increases by the time you get approvals back, which in some cases can take 6 month for council to approve, costs could have increased beyond your reach.
- A builder may not build according to how your architect or engineer has designed the house. Examples
- Brick courses may not have been considered and intersections could come out looking odd.
- Some builders wont allow a balcony over a living space
- Your architect may not have designed for an economical or efficient build. Complex designs can add cost. Examples are
- Larger windows can require onsite glazing and cranes to be used.
- Brick walls on the first floor sitting over an empty space. Cladding or Hebel could reduce costs significantly
- The hydraulic design might work but there might have been cheaper alternative designs
If you are building on a slope and especially a KDR you need to account for stormwater management or hydraulics. If you property slopes away from the street ie. water flows to the back of your property, you will need to find a way to either charge your water to the street, contain your water on your property or get an easement through a neighbour. All these can be costly and time consuming to get.
No builder will include this as part of their site costs because rocks are an unknown, even with borehole tests. Depending on how much you cut, special machinery may be required to break up the rocks. To remove the rocks from your site can also be costly to do. You wont know the cost until they start digging on your site.
Things to consider before paying a builder
Go through What to do before paying a builder which will give tips on budgets, survey and borehole reports and contract reviews.
Just want to turf your property, and think that cant be too expensive? A landscaper can easily charge you $20-50k just for this, and it depends on factors like site access, site conditions, and the level of finish.
Retaining walls can also be expensive to do especially if it requires an engineering report.
On your plans you might see items that say owner to provide or similar. Things Ive seen are the following but arent exhaustive
- Retaining walls
- Steps from the alfresco or laundry
- Arborist/Noise reports