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How (Not) To Choose Your Builder

Thinking of building but don’t know where to start?  When you are about to make such a large investment in your and your family’s future, it’s crucial that you start your building journey on the right track.

As builders, we know how to make the building journey easy and stress-free and we want to share our expertise and experience with you to help you on your way.  In this video, we explain why the old way of choosing a builder – ie. architect/designer completes your plans, you tender to multiple builders, and then you choose on price – is unlikely to give you the best outcome.  We outline a different approach that will save you time, money, stress and heartache.



Hi, I’m Jeremy Gates, Managing Director of Gaia Construction. We’re builders who specialise in renovations and extensions in Bayside and the surrounding suburbs of Melbourne.

Recently, we saw some advice from an architect on choosing a builder.  In a nutshell, the architect said you should select your builder by following these three steps:

[1]        Get an architect to draw up detailed plans and specifications and specify the standard of workmanship in the contract.

[2]        Tender to six builders.

[3]        Select the builder on price and time to complete.

In our experience, this is not the best way to choose a builder and today I want to quickly explain why. Knowing why you shouldn’t choose a builder this way could save you a lot of time, money, stress and heartache.

Firstly, we do not recommend that you go straight to an architect and engage him/her to design your new home without involving a builder.

The problem is, while budgets are generally discussed with architects at the briefing stage, some building designers and architects are not up to date with current build costs. Because of this, they often significantly underestimate the cost of building their designs. The object of a design is to design a home that you can afford to build and to get this design right from the beginning, not to pay the architect two or even three times to design it because the first designs are over budget when the job gets quoted by the builders. Builders know build costs. They are the ones who will be building your home, not the architect or the designer. By involving a builder at the design stage you can ensure that your design is both practical, cost-efficient and built within your budget.

We’re not saying that all architects are not up to date with current build costs. But the number of people who pay for designs, only to discover the architect has designed something that is never going to be affordable, is surprising. Unfortunately it is more common than you would expect. We have had clients, and from talking to other builders they have also had clients, who have wasted up to $30,000 or $40,000 on designs that were way over their budget and so will never be built. Money that could have been spent on their new home, completely wasted. The only winner is the architect or the designer, who gets paid regardless. We recently finished a house that was designed three times. It went from a three storey multi-bedroom, to a two storey multi-bedroom, to single storey renovation and extension because that’s what suited the client’s budget.

Secondly, all builders do not build to the same standard regardless of the standard of workmanship specified in the contract. There are thousands of different ways to put a home together. Specifying the standard of the materials in the contract is not a problem. But trying to specify the attention to detail required for all aspects of the building works is quite simply impossible. Don’t rely solely on the contract to provide you comfort on the quality of the building works. If it turns out that you have engaged a builder who doesn’t build to that standard, you would end up in a contractual dispute and no one wants that. Instead, have a look at the builder’s project portfolio or even better, have a look around one of their completed homes and speak to the builder’s previous clients, check on the standard of their work.

Thirdly, tendering to six builders is unlikely to work in your favour. Preparing a comprehensive fixed price tender can take a builder up to 40 hours. They need to thoroughly understand the plans, obtain fixed price quotes from their subcontractors, price their works, prepare a detailed project schedule, and pull the tender together. Tenders should be 20 to 30 pages long, with everything that is included and excluded, and any allowances, clearly set out and explained. Also, a professional builder will want to present their tender in person.

If you are seeking six tenders, builders will be reluctant to invest this amount of time in a tender, especially as the architect expects builders to do this work for free. We definitely wouldn’t tender against five other builders. Quickly prepared tenders are not a great basis for what will be an extremely important, ongoing relationship with you and your builder that involves one of the biggest investments of your life. There is just too much scope for argument in the future over things that the builder may have missed. Even if you can wave your contract and argue that the builder cannot claim for things that should have been included in his tender, is that really a situation you would want to be in down the track when your home is half built? If you do go to tender, it is generally accepted that you ask for tenders from three builders.

Lastly, choosing a builder because they are the cheapest is very risky. A cheap builder might be desperate for cashflow, their quote might not include everything or include numerous unreasonably low allowances, or they might be tempted to save money by using cheap poor quality materials or cutting corners. Be wary before choosing the cheapest builder, particularly if they are the cheapest by a long shot. We have often seen this end badly.

Also, what about the building experience? Don’t you want a builder who provides not only high quality craftsmanship but also a stress-free building experience? Excellent communication throughout the build can be the difference between an enjoyable building experience and a nightmare. If you are selecting the cheapest builder, how much time do you think they will be prepared to spend keeping you up to date and informed, guiding you and advising you throughout the process?

If you choose us, I will personally come to meet you and we will discuss what you want, what you need, your must haves, what is important, what you can compromise on, how we communicate through the design and build phase, how we maintain our high standards, and budget. We will match a designer, architect, and engineer to best suit you and your project. Then we will all work together to get the best result within your budget. By being involved throughout the design phase, we can also advise on different building materials or techniques, the difference between high cost details and low cost details. And also work with the engineer to make sure the build is put together in the most cost-efficient way.

If you are thinking about doing some building work, download our free guide on the 7 Things You Must Know Before Designing a New Home. It includes lots of useful tips to help you save time and money when designing a new home and renovation.

Download it now to learn how to save time & money and ensure that you are on track to your perfect home.

The Key Things to Know Before Designing Your New Home

7 things you must know book
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Sue Davidson

The highlight of Sue's job at Gaia Construction is handing over beautifully crafted homes to excited clients. In her spare time, Sue is passionate about the environment & the outdoors, enjoying time hiking, sailing, walking her dog Lulu and travelling around Australia with her husband Jeremy & Lulu in their small campervan.
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