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  • Carmel Homes

The Dos and Don’ts of Choosing a Builder

Choosing who will help you bring your dream home to life is a big decision. It can also be quite a complicated one, with a few different options to be considered. And, given the amount of time, energy, and money you will be investing, it is definitely one you want to get right.

Thankfully, while building companies come in all shapes and sizes, most of the good ones share a few key traits. There are also a few clear warning signs that a building company may not be that great. And there are some simple things you should and should not do when searching for a builder.

Here we take a closer look at what these are and share our advice on choosing the best builder for you.

The Dos of Choosing a Builder

Let’s start with the positives – there is a range of things you can do to make finding a good builder easier. For example, before you even start looking at companies, you should:

  • Think about the type of company you want to work with: There are a few different types of building companies for you to choose from, and each has its own strengths. The right type of builder for you will depend on your plans and how you prefer to work. For example:

    • Volume home builder: If you are looking to build quickly and keep the costs down, a volume builder may be best. However, be aware that these companies specialise in delivering standardised designs and will charge a premium for any major changes. Also, most will not work with sites that have a significant slope, restricted access, dual occupancy or any other notable issues.

    • Custom home builder: If you already have a detailed design in mind, a custom home builder could be a better fit. These companies specialise in delivering more unique plans and will usually work in partnership with an architect or building designer. Many of these companies will also be more familiar with, or even specialise in, certain architectural styles.

    • Design and build company: If you also need help developing your plans, a design and build specialist can support you through the whole process. These companies provide a more streamlined service, with one team working with you from initial concepts to final handover. These companies also tend to specialise in certain architectural styles, though some work on a wider range of projects.

  • Have an idea of your preferred architectural style: As most builders specialise in certain styles, you need to have an idea of the overarching design you are after. For example, do you want a French Provincial home, a modern home design, or something a little more industrial? Knowing this will allow you to focus on builders that have a history of delivering homes that cater to your taste.

  • Be clear about your budget: It is important to understand how much you can, or are willing to, spend before you start speaking to builders. This will help you manage your own expectations and stop yourself emotionally investing in ideas you cannot afford. It will also allow the builders you speak to, to better tailor their proposals and make more realistic design suggestions.

How to shortlist your builders

Once you have defined the parameters for your project, you should shortlist potentially suitable companies by:

  • Asking for recommendations: One of the best ways to start your search for your builder is to ask those you know for recommendations. If there are people in your social circle who have recently built in your area, find out who they used. Also, check how they found the experience, any other companies they considered, and why they chose who they chose.

  • Checking out client reviews: Once you have a few names on your list, do a quick search online for reviews of each company. While these often need to be taken with a grain of salt, they should highlight any major issues. They can help inform the questions you ask when you meet with each company (more on that below).

  • Confirming they have the right licences and insurances: In addition to being suitably experienced, it is crucial that any builder you work with meets all the regulatory requirements. This means they are registered with the relevant authorities and have the appropriate level of public liability insurance. Generally, this information should be available on their website or can be found by searching on the associated authority’s website.

Then, you should make your final selection by:

  • Setting up formal interviews: Depending on your design, you could be working with your builder for a year or more. As such, it is important that you have a good rapport and similar approaches. And one of the best ways to check this is to meet with them in person to discuss your plans. This also gives you a chance to ask any questions you have and also see how they run their company.

  • Reviewing the company’s portfolio: The best builders will provide you with profiles, usually including pictures, of some of the projects they have completed. These are great for getting a sense of the company’s preferred design style and the quality of their work. That said, they will only represent the company’s best work, so it is worth doing your own research.

  • Making sure you are comparing apples with apples: Each building company will have their own approach to putting together proposals for potential new clients. This means that the exact details they include and how they calculate their quotes can vary significantly. As such, you need to pay close attention when reviewing proposals to make sure you are taking everything into account.

The Don’ts of Choosing a Builder

As you go through the process of finding a builder, there are also some common traps you need to avoid. Specifically, you should not:

  • Trust friends of friends: While referrals from friends and family are great, you should also do your own checks on any company you are considering. Choosing someone you know also has its risks, as if anything goes wrong, it could strain the relationship. They may also feel like they are doing you a favour, which can make managing any issues quite difficult.

  • Be fooled by the display home: Visiting a builder’s display home can give you a better sense of the quality of their work. But, as display homes are designed to showcase the builder’s skills, they often feature multiple upgrades. As such, the cost to build that exact property will usually be much higher than the quoted “build from” price. This is particularly true for volume builders, who will charge a premium for every change from their base design.

  • Assume everything will be included: To keep their quotes down, many builders do not include features like driveways, roller doors, and window dressings. Most will also exclude many of the supporting or additional works – like the demolition component of a knockdown and rebuild. As such, it is important to read the fine print and be aware of what is not covered.

  • Be afraid to ask questions: The only way to clarify any details that do not make sense to you is to ask the question. There are also certain things you will only find out by asking potential builders about them directly. For example, it is worth checking:

    • Who you will liaise with: Some companies will provide you with a single point of contact for the entire build. Others will have different teams working on different parts of the build, and your best contact will depend on the issue. This is worth checking upfront, and you should look for a company that matches your preferred working style.

    • How issues and changes will be managed: While it is best to finalise your plans before beginning building works, some changes are unavoidable. These can cause significant stress when they arise, so it is best to agree on how they will be handled upfront. This should make it easier to deal with unexpected issues when they invariably arise.

    • If you can speak to previous clients: A builder’s previous clients are an invaluable source of insight into what working with them is really like. Ideally, you should aim to speak to a client whose build was similar to yours (e.g. another French Provincial home, modern home design, etc.). This will allow you to check both the quality of their service and their familiarity with your preferred design style.

  • Accept quotes with significant “provisional” costs: Fixed price contracts make it much easier to manage your build budget and reduce the risk of overspending. As such, you should generally try to avoid variable costs and be wary of companies that quote a lot of them. That said, certain costs, like the demolition component of a knockdown and rebuild, will almost always be quoted as indicative.

Want to discuss this further?

If you need help finding a builder or are worried about choosing the right one for you, call Carmel Homes. We are one of Melbourne’s leading luxury custom home builders and have earned a reputation for the superior quality of our work. As a design and build company, we also offer an end-to-end service, supporting you through every stage of the process.



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