How to find the right builder to realise your dream
Even when you’ve walked through this many award-winning houses, picking a reliable builder is not as straightforward as it seems, writes Robyn Willis
Q The houses that win awards always look amazing but I don’t know where to start. What’s your advice for choosing a good builder?
A Brad Hoad has been judging entries in the NSW HIACSR Awards for almost a decade and he’s seen a wide range of housing over that time — and not all of it good. “Sometimes you walk in and think ‘what were they thinking?’ ” he says. “There are some houses you go to where you don’t want to leave — you are at peace.
“Then you go to other houses and you wonder why they entered because I can’t find anything positive to say.”
Fortunately, this year the standard has been particularly high across the board, he says, especially at the higher end of the market, which he says is a reflection of the housing boom.
“There’s been a massive jump in the value of building projects,” Brad says. “Each category might have five to 15 entries but this year in the $1 million to $2.5 million category, there were 20 to 25 entries. “The market has moved up a bit.” If you’re on the lookout for a builder, Brad says you should ask to see projects they have completed and are working on at the moment.
And while beautiful finishes can be seductive, he says it’s important to look beyond surface impressions.
“Most of that stuff like benchtop surfaces and underfloor heating, they’re add ons,” he says. “That doesn’t make it a brilliant house. “Look at the overall style of the house and the scale of it so that each room is usable and they have delivered a quality product. You want something that is universal in its execution — and the walls should be straight and plum.”
Once you’ve set up a meeting with the builder, Brad says there are some signs that you should look out for.
“New builders have to start somewhere so not all of them are going to be able to offer testimonials,” he says. “It’s more about their attitude to make it work on your property.”
Where you’re working directly with the builder, look at the plans and see how the house has been situated on your site, paying attention to where the natural light is coming from.
“If they have all their glass facing south on the plans and that’s their standard design, I would think twice,” Brad says.
“If someone is pushing heavyweight construction or lightweight construction, consider whether it’s right for your area. Lightweight construction is better near the coast while heavyweight works better inland.”
After you’ve signed the contract, it can be difficult to sack your builder so use those early meetings to get to know him.
“If he is juggling three phones when you meet him, that would be a red flag,” he says. “If there are cash flow issues or there is demand for payment too early, I would be worried.”
The bigger, the better
For many, dealing with a display builder can be the best option because of the security of working with a bigger builder. Brad says visiting a display centre can also give you a feel for the style of the house you can expect.
“A lot of people can’t visualise something from a 2D set of plans,” Brad says. “If they can experience a room and they can feel the mix of glass and the floorboards and the materials, that can really help.”
He says a display home should give you an idea of how the builder has balanced the natural light against privacy needs.
“Look at how the display home has been positioned,” Brad says. “If the builder can’t get it right on that site, how are they going to do it for you?”
When you’re sitting down with a display builder, ask about costs associated with moving windows, doors and walls to get better access to natural light. Flipping a house plan is a pretty standard request, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Again, Brad says the HIA Awards, which have a number of display home categories, can be a good guide to which builder is at the top of their game right now.
“Some builders who have been in the awards for 10 years or so have maybe matured and it’s obvious when they are entering that they have really nailed it this year.”
This house by Lawson and Lovell Building Services addresses solar access and cross ventilation. It is a finalist in the 2017 Greensmart category.