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

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Home - - FRONT PAGE - More Eden Brae Homes, eden­brae­; Law­son & Lovell Build­ing Ser­vices, north­ern­beach­es­

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.”

Pos­i­tive at­ti­tude

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.

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