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Questions to ask your builder

Building can be a thrilling journey to embark on, and there’s few things as rewarding as your dream home taking shape before your eyes. But the process is lengthy and can feel overwhelming, particularly when you’re not an expert.

This checklist of questions should be asked of your builder as a starting point. Their answers will help you proceed with confidence.

Are you licensed and insured?

Always check that your builder has an up-to-date licence and is fully insured for their practice. It’s not insulting to ask, and legitimate builders will be more than happy to provide copies of this paperwork for you to verify.

It also pays to ask if your builder has even filed for bankruptcy and what their completion rate on projects is. If they are reluctant to share, there might be something to be concerned about, and you can do further investigation. A reputable builder will have no problem being transparent about their standing in the industry.

What are the site costs of this project?

Site costs sit outside the price you pay for your house and your land. Some are mandatory (such as building permit and fees, contour and soil testing), and some will vary depending on the specifics of your land. For example, if you have a fall on your block, this will likely add costs to accommodate extra earth works and engineering for the foundations, materials and labour.

Get a rundown of all site costs expected for your project so you can factor these into your budgeting.

Are there any additional costs?

What other costs will you encounter as the build progresses? Which are non-negotiable and which are optional? For example, elements such as flooring and driveways are often additional expenses.

Your builder should run through these in detail for you, so you can trust that you’re financially prepared for the adventure ahead.

What are the build timelines?

There’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes before construction starts, including important compliance processes. Ask your builder when the actual build is expected to commence; when will ground be broken?

Also make sure you get an informed estimate of the completion time frame (that is, how long until you can take the keys and move in) and the expected milestones along the way. This is essential for you to plan out your life while the home is under construction, and helps you keep your building team accountable.

What is the warranty period and what’s covered?

Home construction has warranty protections under Australian consumer law. A home may be the most significant investment you ever make, so it’s important you’re fully across your rights and responsibilities.

Ask your builder what time frame is covered by the warranty period for your home, and what specifically is included. For example, are you protected if the builder cannot finish the project? If they go out of business? Get them to explain anything you don’t understand and if needed, consult another specialist to help you interpret anything that isn’t clear.

Can I see your previous builds?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s sadly easy to photoshop. Ask the builder to show you recent homes they’ve worked on. Ideally, inspect the type of home or project you’re planning so you can compare apples with apples.

Check the quality of products used and ask as many questions as you like. Compare the finished product to the marketing materials. Have corners been cut? Or is the home just as was promised?  

Can I talk to other customers?

Ask your builder if they can connect you personally with previous customers (providing those people consent, of course). If possible, speak with people at different stages of the journey – mid-construction and finished home, for example. This helps you get a well-rounded perspective on what the builder and their team is like to work with, and how they may have approached challenges along the way.

People are usually happy to share their feedback. If you’re asking people in an area you’re moving into, it’s a chance to meet some future neighbours!

Read more: New First Home Loan Deposit Scheme explained

What’s your approach to managing issues?

Building is like life – full of unplanned bumps. Even if you’re working with the best, issues will crop up. The majority of the time they can be worked around, but it pays to know how your builder approaches these challenges.

Just like a job interview, ask your builder or their representative how they navigate issues. Have them share some stories and examples so you can gauge their strategies and reactions. You want someone who is upfront, includes you in the conversation and calmly gets to a solution.

How will we communicate during the build?

You should know how contact will work between building representatives during your build, and which people will be your main points of contact (e.g. it may be a customer liaison dedicated to your needs). Will there be email updates regularly? Phone calls? Can you reach out at any time with queries?

There’s no one ‘right’ way to do this. Get the lowdown and ensure you’re comfortable with the process.

About the author

James is one of Australia’s most experienced builders – he has built over 7000 homes and entire suburbs. Currently he serves as executive Building Manager across Resimax Group Companies, overseeing operations and construction teams. He has worked as site manager and led major building projects for other leading providers such as Metricon, Burbank Group and Devine Ltd.

James Farrar

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