Is Your Builder Giving it to You Straight?

Knowing what advice to take and what to cast aside is half the battle of a building project, especially for first timers.

One of the trickiest things about a building or renovation project is knowing which pieces of advice to take, and which to disregard. As the client you probably don’t have a lot of experience in the building industry and you are likely to ask a lot of questions, often of friends and family as well as various building professionals. The advice can be inconsistent from one person to the next, and eventually you will realise its best to rely on the advice of a few key people, like the designer and the builder.

A trusting relationship between you and the builder is particularly important, especially if you don’t have the assistance of an architect or building designer to administer the contract and deal with the builder for the duration of the project. Here I will shed some light on a few things that you might hear builders say, and help you read between the lines of their true meaning so that you are better placed to make the right decisions.

“My quote is spot on”

Is it …? How do you really know?
One of the important things to look out for when receiving quotes from builders is a grouping of quotes. A grouping of similarly-priced quotes will give an indication of what is likely to be a fair and reasonable price to pay for the project.

Be very careful about accepting a quote that is significantly lower than a group of higher and similarly-priced quotes, as it is more likely that the builder has omitted items or made an error in the quote. Accepting a significantly lower quote without thorough investigation is more likely to come back to bite you in the long run, as the builder tries to recover his financial position.

The key to getting clear, consistent and thorough quotes that are easy to compare is to issue the builders with high-quality documentation to quote from. This should include your drawings and an Inclusions Schedule, which sets out the dozens of items that need to be allowed for that are not dealt with in the drawings. Without those critical documents you will be left guessing what each builder has allowed for, what has been left out and which quotes represent fair value.

“Sorry, you won’t be allowed on site”

Builders have an increasingly difficult role in ensuring their building sites are safe working environments, with OH&S requirements continually being tightened to improve safety on site. This may result in your builder advising you that you are not permitted on the building site without prior arrangement. This may come as a shock as it is your house and you may feel you should have access to it whenever you so desire. How else are you going to monitor progress?

However, it generally isn’t as bad as it sounds. It doesn’t mean they won’t allow you on site; it just means someone will need to be with you to ensure your safety, in order to comply with work-safe requirements for building sites.

Renovations and extensions can be tricky to manage in terms of site access, especially when the clients are living in the house throughout various stages of the build. In those circumstances, a common sense approach is critical. The builder will probably establish a temporary boundary between where they are working and the space where the owners are living, but there will also generally be areas of common use for site access etc. In this case it is important that the builder and the tradies take responsibility for maintaining the space as safely as possible.

It is also important that the owners respect the working zones of the property, so that the tradies can go about their work without undue interference and distraction. Building sites can be exciting places to explore for young children; however, there are too many potential hazards that can cause serious harm and this should be avoided.

“My suppliers will look after you”

This may sound like a sales line that helps the builder stay in their comfort zone, and while that might be the case there are some benefits in sticking with what is tried a tested. For one thing, builders buy a lot of materials; therefore they generally get a discounted price on what they purchase. They will probably also have a better idea about which suppliers are more reliable with the quality of their products and customer service.

To ensure you are getting the best possible deal you should also confirm with the builder if they are willing to pass their trade price on to you for Prime Cost (PC) – a dollar allowance for the supply only of items like sinks, taps, toilets, appliances etc. The builder needs to allow for the installation of the item separately.

Importantly, because a PC is an allowance only, it is subject to change depending on your final selection of the item. So if your final item selection costs more than the PC allowance, you will need to pay the difference as an extra.

“I’m a bit worried about that holding up”

When selecting a builder, one of your more important considerations will probably be their relevant experience. For that reason any concerns raised by a builder regarding structural issues should be considered very carefully. The reality is that any good builder will want to ensure the structure is sound, as there is simply too much at stake if things aren’t done properly.

Poor structural solutions may result in ongoing warranty and maintenance issues for the builder, so they will generally be motivated to offer sound solutions to ensure there are no issues in the future. In many situations there will also be a requirement to involve a structural engineer to resolve structural problems. An established relationship between the builder and the engineer is often beneficial, as it encourages broader discussion on a range of ways the issue might be resolved, taking time and cost into consideration.

“I will only work with my regular tradies”

Clients often ask builders if they can use a particular tradesperson they know; which is often not a good idea. Good builders rely heavily on the quality and the reliability of their group of regular tradies because it is these people that execute the work for which the builder becomes known. So even though you may know a painter or electrician, don’t be surprised if the builder stands firm on their preference to use their regular tradie group. The builder has probably been through a lengthy trial and error process to recruit people that they can rely on, and who will complete their task to a high standard.

If your builder does agree to use a tradie you have selected, you must accept that you are taking more responsibility for their involvement in the project, including the quality of their work and their reliability. Even a small delay in the building program can have a larger knock-on effect with scheduling and availability of tradies. Think about the position this puts you in before making that commitment.


“I reckon that roof might leak”

Leaking roofs are a builder’s worst nightmare, as they can be very difficult to find and rectify; they often require several attempts over a series of weather events to resolve. For that reason, builders will often take a conservative approach when it comes to the design of roofs and associated drainage. If your builder is concerned about the design of the roof in terms of the potential for leaking, it would be foolish to ignore those concerns.

Typical problem areas include box gutters (especially when not big enough), concealed gutters, butterfly roofs, membrane-sealed and low-pitch roofs. Problems can also arise when water from an upper floor roof is directed onto the roof below, adding to the volume of water that downpipes are required to deal with.

Box gutters and concealed gutters should always be designed with overflows included, so that if the downpipes aren’t able to cope with a large volume of water it can escape elsewhere before leaking internally into the house.

“I didn’t quote it that way so it’s going to cost extra…”

Variations (or costs over and above those agreed in the contract) are one of the most contentious issues likely to arise during the building process. In the worst cases, builders will take advantage of poor and inadequate documentation to submit deceiving and unrealistically cheap quotes, so the first step in safeguarding against a constant stream of variations is to ensure you have high-quality documentation. This should include your drawings and an Inclusions Schedule.

Here are couple of examples of how variations may be applied:

1. If the builder has miscalculated the number of bricks required to build a particular wall and needs an additional 500 bricks, the builder will be liable for the additional costs and a variation and margin cannot be charged to the client, as the drawings and scope of work have not changed. The additional cost must be absorbed by the builder as it was their error in quoting.

2. If you ask the builder to install a Colorbond steel roof for an extension instead of the concrete roof tiles shown on the drawings, a variation and margin can be charged for the difference in the cost of roofing material, as the drawings stated concrete tiles and they were what the builder quoted.

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