How to kick-start your next renovation
With March already upon us, now’s a great time to freshen up your home and kick-start that renovation you’ve been thinking about since last year. But for many of us, finding a good builder can often cause unnecessary headaches – and can prove costly if we get it wrong.
So where do you start?
According to the Housing Industry Association (HIA), Australia’s leading home building and renovation industry association, there are four essential qualities to look for when embarking on your search for a builder – presentation, communication, skills and experience, and professional reputation.
“A good builder will operate in a professional manner and should be reliable. If they say they’ll get back to you by the end of the week, they will,” says Kristin Brookfield, senior executive director, HIA Building, Development and Environment.
“How a builder communicates with you, even before the contract is signed, speaks volumes for how your relationship will be once they start work.
“Renovating can often be more complex than building a home from scratch, so your builder also needs to have solid skills and experience in this area. He should also be able to provide good references from previous clients,” says Kristin.
Finding a good builder is often a case of asking your friends or family for recommendations.
“In this business reputation is everything and the majority of our work is secured via word of mouth,” says Brent MacKinnon, director of NSW Central Coast-based home building and renovation company BBM Constructions.
“We also get enquiries from families who’ve seen our signs locally, and are keen to find out how we can help with their own renovation projects. So don’t be afraid to do the same if you like the look of a project nearby.”
Asking the right questions
Once you’ve found two or three potential builders, the HIA recommends meeting them face-to-face onsite to discuss your project in detail. These initial interviews will help you determine who’s best qualified to handle your project, says Kristen.
“Take your time and ask lots of questions. Professional builders will welcome the opportunity to tell you about their experience and services,” she says.
These initial interviews also give the builder an opportunity to demonstrate what they can offer in terms of ideas, suggestions and guidance in developing your plans.
“A good builder should also be able to advise you on the best materials to use and the latest design trends in items such as cladding, tiles, bathroom fixtures and even colour palettes. In short, they should be as equally enthusiastic and invested in your project as you are,” says Brent.
Choosing a builder: 5-point checklist
Even though you may have a good rapport with a potential builder, it’s vital you also tick off the following 5-point checklist.
1. Check licences
Make sure the builders you’re talking to are licensed. All tradespeople must be licenced for residential building work valued at more than $5,000 in labour and materials. You can quickly check by entering the relevant licence number into the Department of Fair Trading’s licence checker.
2. Check insurances
It’s also important to check the builder has all the necessary insurances to protect you and your home if something goes wrong. Ask to see certificates of currency for builders’ all-risk insurance and public liability insurance.
And if the value of your works exceeds $20,000, you will also need to check your builder is eligible for home building compensation fund insurance (previously known as home warranty insurance). This insurance protects you from defective or incomplete works if the builder becomes insolvent, dies, or disappears. You may also need this certificate if you’re planning to sell your property in the near future.
3. Check contracts
Contracts are not only a legal requirement for all works over $5,000, they will protect you if anything goes wrong. A good builder should be a member of an industry association – either the Housing Industry Association (HIA) or Master Builders Association (MBA). Both organisations offer consumer-friendly building contracts as does the Department of Fair Trading. Ask to have a look at the contracts before you agree to proceed with your works.
4. Check references
As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to check out all references supplied. Surprisingly, many people who ask for references never actually check them and this can be a mistake. According to the Department of Fair Trading, the top five questions to ask are:
- Was the project completed on time?
- Did the builder stay close to the quoted costs?
- Was there proper supervision of other tradespeople?
- Did any defective work get fixed promptly?
- Would they recommend the builder?
“And if you’re planning to live in your house while it’s being renovated, make sure you also ask previous clients who went through the same process how that worked for them. Having builders around at home can be a stressful experience for all concerned,” Brent adds.
5. Check workmanship
And finally, check out the skills and experience of your potential builder. Go and have a look at one or two recent projects to see the quality and style of works up close. “This way you’ll get a good feel for the quality of workmanship and whether you’ll work well together during the renovation process,” Brent says.
For more information, head to the Department of Fair Trading website.
The HIA’s Housing Local site also has some great tips on working with builders.