Want to know how to choose the right builder for your renovation or new build?
Here’re 3 things to know, and the big mistakes to avoid when researching, interviewing and selecting a builder.
This is a special episode where I’ll be sharing how to choose the right builder and some of the mistakes I see homeowners make when it comes to selecting the builder for their new home or renovation project.
Before we jump into the episode, I want to mention a mini-course that I created a little while ago and have been super excited to see well over 100 beautiful people jump into already.
It’s called ‘Choose Your Builder’, and it’s designed to give you actionable and practical information so you can be more confident when researching, interviewing and selecting your builder.
Inside, you’ll find my video workshop, “The 5C’s to Choosing Your Builder” where I give you a simple framework to remember and use as you’re looking for, and speaking with builders – plus I outline all the right questions to ask.
I also have a series of short videos outlining the common mistakes many homeowners make when choosing a builder, and working with them in their project – so you can totally avoid these in yours.
There’s also some helpful resources curated for your builder checks, and a PDF download you can use to interview your builder, and remember all the questions I want you to ask them … because this is how you get the answers you need to make an informed decision.
And, when I created this program, I ran it live and we had one of the most epic Q & A sessions that went for almost 90 minutes … and that’s also included in the mini-course. We covered so much ground, so many varying topics in that Q & A, your questions are bound to be answered in there too.
All of this is packaged up and ready to dive into, and move through at your own pace, and make it super easy to get informed, plus the resources you need to make a confident decision about your builder. Head to undercoverarchitect.com/choose to join now.
Now, let’s get on with the episode.
A fair few weeks ago, I posted a question in my instagram stories. It said:
“What makes you nervous about selecting a builder?”
It was great to see the responses I received, and they were all very common nerves that I’ve heard from homeowners many, many times before.
They included worries such as:
- Unexpected costs
- Whether they’ll be there for the entire project
- Integrity of the company
- Being ripped off
- The builder claiming to be able to build just to win the job
- That their workmanship will not be of a good standard
Plus lots more along similar lines. And really a lot of these nerves boil down to this:
Can I trust this builder? Can I trust them to do a good job of building my home, to do what they say they’ll do, to be honest and have integrity in the way they run their business, build my home and the way they take care of me?
Throughout my architectural career, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing builders. Builders who have mentored me, helped me be a better architect, and been incredible to collaborate with on projects.
I’ve also seen some seriously bad builders. Builders who are so dodgy, so slippery, and have done terrible things with their clients’ money, and clients’ homes.
And I’ve also come to know a fair amount about how builders tick, what drives them, and what the residential construction industry is like.
You may or may not be aware that last year, I started another business called Live Life Build. Builder, Duayne Pearce who you may be familiar with if you’ve listened to the podcast for a while … he and I joined forces to create this new business.
Duayne is a builder with over 20 years experience in the industry, and like me, he is super passionate about improving this industry so that everyone can enjoy building and renovating.
So, we started Live Life Build last year, and we created a coaching program and membership for builders to help them run their businesses better, create better systems and processes, know how to take better care of their clients – which is you – and operate as professionals in this industry. And we’ve got an awesome group of builders we’ve been taking through this program over 2020, and have loved seeing them grow their businesses and improve the way they do their projects, and their lives.
We’ve also created a smaller program which teaches builders our PAC Process – which is our Paid As Consultant Process.
This is where your builder comes on board as part of your design team, as a paid consultant, and works with you to ensure the affordability and buildability of your project, whilst it’s moving through the design phase.
This is a proven method to help homeowners deliver projects on budget, deal with so many of the risks and problems in renovating and building, and ensure you can work well with your team before the stress of construction.
There’s a huge range of benefits to the PAC Process, so if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, I’ll pop some links in the resources so you can learn more about why it’s great to have a builder on board in your design team, and what else to know about it. I also go into it in a lot more detail in my Choose Your Builder minicourse too.
We have huge plans for Live Life Build … really, really exciting stuff that’s coming ahead, and the reason I’m telling you is this.
Since Undercover Architect began, I’ve heard so many times about the fears in choosing a builder, and the seriously heartbreaking dramas that have come from having the wrong builder on board. It sucks, because I know there’s loads of good builders out there, and I can teach you how to find them … so that’s what this podcast episode and the Choose Your Builder mini-course is definitely about.
But I also dream of this … Building an army of builders that I can trust to take care of the beautiful homeowners in the Undercover Architect community, and then be able to send you to them. Because I know there are great builders out there – and I also know we need a way to help them learn more about how to take care of you, and check that they’re doing so.
There are so many builder lists out there that help you search for a builder in your area, but have no decent way of reviewing them or auditing them for whether they’re ACTUALLY any good. And with online reviews being faked and a lack of accountability in any of these builder registers and databases, it’s not good enough. It doesn’t improve the experience for you, and it definitely doesn’t improve the industry. We want better than this.
So Live Life Build is all part of this plan. And it’s exciting to see the builders coming on board, wanting to improve their businesses and the industry overall. We have big plans for 2021 and beyond, so I’ll be sure to keep you updated as we go. My mission has always been to change the way we build and renovate our homes, so it’s enjoyable for all, so Live Life Build definitely sleeves into that!
And what’s awesome about it too, is that I’m spending time with builders, hearing their passion for building your homes, hearing their nerves about telling you the bad news that your budget isn’t big enough, or that it’s going to take longer than you think.
Good builders are people pleasers by nature, but it can be more damaging when they tell you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear.
It’s really interesting – because I think our need as humans to belong and feel connected to others, means that we can fall into a trap during these types of interactions where we want to be liked.
I see homeowners doing this – especially women. They want to be liked by their potential builder, and not be seen as ‘that’ type of client.
You know the one I mean. The nag, the difficult client, the one nobody wants to work with. The one that puts off any builder at the outset. I know many fear being seen that way by potential builders, and those builders running a mile as a result.
On the flipside, I see builders worrying that they’ll upset you, or kill your dreams, or really put you off using them if they tell you the truth about your project, your budget, your wishes and aspirations.
So whilst it’s definitely important to be able to get along with your builder and communicate well, being liked is not the goal here.
In fact, you’re much better served being the prepared, proactive, curious homeowner I know you can be, so you can get the information that will actually help you choose well.
So, I want to share with you 3 really useful things to remember when you’re choosing your builder so you can find one you can trust, and then work with them really well in your project.
And don’t forget, if you want to dive into this in much more detail, then the Choose Your Builder mini-course is a great way to do that.
Firstly, let’s look at your RELATIONSHIP with your potential builder.
Building and renovating is best done as a team sport. Homeowners often don’t realise this when they’re starting out, and so they choose one professional at a time and jump from one professional to the next, such as the designer, the engineer, the surveyor, the builder, the interior designer, etc etc.
Doing it this way means often having to revisit work already done as they get more advice and input, or the next professional suggests better ideas, cost savings or necessary changes. When your project is done like this, you’ll naturally find it takes longer, because there’s often time gaps in between dealing with each professional. You can often end up paying for work twice as well.
And because your project activities are siloed between each professional, with you acting as the go-between, you’ll have to be the carrier and remember-er of all of the details. It comes down to you to remember all of the information about your project so you can accurately brief the next professional who needs that information. This is understandably exhausting for homeowners, and it’s where errors happen, and things get forgotten along the way that cause problems down the track.
Instead, your goal is to build a team, and one that will work collaboratively together and coordinate their activities for the overall improvement of your project. And bringing a builder into this early in your project is a sensational way to smooth out your overall project experience, and in the end, move much faster, more efficiently and more confidently through your project journey.
The relationship you’re seeking with your potential builder is one of partnership, demonstrated through how they approach and relate to you, and how they’ve also helped previous clients. Partnerships recognise the value that each party brings to the process. Partnerships are collaborative.
Many homeowners work with their builder in an employee / employer relationship – in that the homeowner actually behaves like the employee of the builder, and is seeking to please them, be liked, not ruffle feathers, not have confronting or challenging conversations.
Instead, partnerships enable openness, honest feedback, because they’re about delivering on a goal that unites you, and driving that agenda forward.
I’ve also seen the other side, where homeowners kick off their relationship with their builder trying to establish their dominance. They seek to ‘put the builder in their place’ and ensure the builder knows they’re not going to get away with anything. And, even worse, I’ve seen homeowners bully the builder. This is usually done from a place of fear, with the homeowner thinking that if they don’t get on the front foot of being in charge and in control, then things will run away from them and they’ll get taken advantage of.
And, I’ve seen builders bully homeowners as well. Homeowners have told me that their builder bullied them into making payments ahead of time. Bullied them into agreeing to things they didn’t want to. Bullied them into design decisions, spending decisions, timing decisions. This is all relationship stuff, and it’s all to do with the standards you set right from the outset.
Whenever I speak to homeowners about projects that have gone wrong, there were warning signs and red flags early in their project that they ignored. And setting expectations, actually defining what your expectations are and how you expect the relationship to go … and then calling it when it’s not going that way, is something that many homeowners avoid because they want to be liked, or struggle with challenging conversations.
However, when there’s so much at stake, and it’s such a big investment of time, money and dreams in what you’re creating, it’s essential that you do what you need to, so that you’re empowered to navigate this relationship well – right from the start of interviewing the builder.
This leads me onto my next point, which is REQUEST MORE INFORMATION.
I don’t know about you, if you’re a mum like me, but when I was looking at the pram we were going to buy before our first child was born, I researched for a really long time.
I asked people I saw in the park how they found theirs to use. I went online and read reviews. I spoke to salespeople in stores. I spoke to friends who had prams like the one I was considering.
I mean, this was going to be several hundred dollars, we were likely to have it for 6 or more years given we were planning to have a few kids, and it needed to last. It needed to be durable, easy to use, adaptable, look decent, be easy to clean. It was a big decision.
Does this sound familiar? (And does it sound like building a house – except that the pram is a significantly lower cost purchasing decision!)
This is the thing: I’ve seen so many homeowners, when it comes to things like buying a pram, choosing a school, buying a car, being absolute ninja researchers and question-askers, requesting more information and digging deeper. And then it comes to choosing a builder for one of the biggest investments they’ll make, on probably the biggest asset they own, and they trust online reviews and make a decision from a brief meeting on site, the ‘feel’ they get, and who is available.
And I think this goes back to the ‘wanting to be liked’ issue I discussed previously.
Many homeowners, especially women, are not wanting to come across as a nag, or too nosey. And they scold themselves for not being able to make decisions more quickly, or feeling like they’re procrastinating.
Most of the time though, you don’t have sufficient information to make a confident decision, or compare apples with apples in the various builders you’re most likely speaking with.
To make that choice simpler for yourself, request more information.
If you’re about to invest tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars – and even more – ask loads of questions.
You’re not a nag. You’re an interested, invested and curious homeowner. Some questions may be silly, and that’s totally ok. You’re not supposed to know what you’re doing. You’re not in the industry, you’re probably doing this for the first time, and you bring with you all sorts of additional pressures in that it’s your money, your dreams, your vision, your future home.
It is a BIG deal.
It IS a big deal.
Anyone who makes you feel stupid, patronises you, belittles your concerns and nerves, is not someone you want to work with. Notice the red flags. Pay attention to that niggling feeling in your gut, your intuition. Keep requesting more information and asking more questions.
Inside my Choose Your Builder mini-course, I have over 100 checks and questions to help with requesting more information to help with your builder researching, interviewing and selection.
And these questions aren’t all just for the builder – the best thing about knowing the questions to ask is that you can request information from other people who can help you determine if a builder is trustworthy, a good business owner, and a good operator.
Which leads me onto my last point and that’s RECOMMENDATIONS.
I mentioned earlier that online reviews are often faked. This is becoming more and more prevalent, and it works both ways.
I’ve seen many business owners in many different industries struggle with a competitor lodging a 1 star, terrible review and comment on their google reviews that’s clearly faked. They’ve not been able to find a customer with that name, and then had to navigate how to respond, because trying to get any reviews taken down is next to impossible.
And the flipside is all the 5 star reviews left by family and friends who’ve never used the services that the business provides, but have written glowing reviews that then influence how other people make their decisions about working with this company.
And both of these definitely happen in the building industry.
In addition, you’ll no doubt know about many of the online forums or free Facebook groups where people seek recommendations on people to work with – and then act on those recommendations without doing proper due diligence on their own.
What’s right for one person, and their project, may not be right for you and yours for a variety of reasons. I remember seeing a woman posting in a free Facebook group warning against people acting on recommendations – because she had, and had a terrible experience.
Businesses change. Builders are people as well, who hit financial trouble, go through family issues, marriage breakups, kids having difficulties – just like the rest of the human population.
I knew a builder once who was brilliant to work with, and in the course of one project, went to being a disaster – purely because he had a bunch of personal and financial stresses that made it really difficult for him to still operate his business well. He started cutting corners, and things went really pear-shaped – and he ended up in court over it all. Twelve months prior, he was getting recommended left, right and centre.
So, all recommendations and reviews still need your thorough due diligence. Don’t act on what you find online, or on the testimonials a builder publishes or hands to you. It’s essential that you speak to the source and get the info you need.
I also want to touch on recommendations that are accessed via third parties. So what I mean by this is where you may be working with someone like a building broker, or a service that sells the fact that it will help you find a quality builder and do the work of interviewing them, getting prices from them, coordinating them to ensure they’re the best fit for your project.
Building brokers are super common in Western Australia, and I’m seeing them crop up in other locations as well. And there’s lots of one-stop shop services that offer to almost act like a project manager to bring together all the moving parts of your project.
The challenge with a lot of these operators is that there’s very little transparency about where money changes hands, how they’re getting paid as the coordinator (other than the fee you might be paying them), and kickbacks they’re getting along the way.
I recently was speaking to someone I know, and heard about one of these types of operators, and it actually made my blood boil. This service is a company operating nationally and they offer to get builder pricing for your project that will beat any quotes you may get independently. They promote that they have a suite of quality builders to choose from, that they will tender your project out to, and secure a better price and saving on any quote you’ve been able to get on your own.
When asked how they assess and accredit their builders as ‘quality builders’ there was nothing tangible that they offered. They mentioned that they look at the awards they’ve won – and like any industry – the award winners are not always the best operators. They don’t do anything to look at business operations, financial management, client relationships, build performance, or anything else that would actually reflect the quality of the builder.
When asked how they get paid, they said they tell the builder the price to quote the job at, and to add an amount on top of that before passing on the quote to the client. The builder then pays them with their progress claims along the way. And so, the client never really knows what they’ve paid for them. It’s buried in their build cost.
Now you may say – well, it’s ok, because I’m getting my home for less than it was going to cost me before I got these people on board. But perhaps if you knew that ‘cut’ they took could be anywhere between $20,000 and $90,000, and purely related to what they thought you could tolerate in your total price, or what they need to beat in your existing quotes, then you might think differently.
My feeling is, that if you’re getting a range of quotes, at say $800,000, and then you go to a service like this, and they get you a quote of $650,000 that includes their $90,000 cut, there’s something a bit array in the quality of project you’ll actually get at the end. I hate to think what the homeowner, who must have been super excited about saving $150,000, actually got as a finished home. And, that buried in that building contract was the $90,000 finders fee paid to a company who simply acted as the go-between.
If you’re dealing with a service like this – a one-stop shop service that promotes their ability to save you money, take care of all the coordination, and walk you through it all – then simply ask how they get paid, and how they assess the builder and other professionals they’re putting forward to you.
If they’re advertising they find you a ‘quality builder’, what tangible assessment do they use to determine quality? What accreditation process are they taking those builders through to ensure they meet some required benchmark? You want to see a stringent process that reviews and checks the builder’s performance across a range of projects, and that gets revisited and updated on an ongoing basis. Demand transparency and openness, because it’s what good business operators offer.
So, those are my tips to help you choose the right builder for your renovation or building project. Let’s recap briefly.
Firstly, look at your RELATIONSHIP with your potential builder. Seek a relationship that’s one of partnership, where you work collaboratively together with your whole team, including the builder, to deliver on the shared goal and vision of your future home.
Secondly, REQUEST MORE INFORMATION. Ask more questions. Dig deeper. Find out what you need to know to make a more informed and confident decision when choosing your builder.
Thirdly, check any RECOMMENDATIONS and REVIEWS. Whatever the source, wherever you’ve seen them, do your own thorough research and due diligence. Ask how the quality of a builder is being assessed by the person recommending that builder. Don’t trust online reviews as the only source of endorsement.
And as I said upfront, if you’d like more help with how to choose your builder, be sure to check out my mini-course. We dive into a lot more detail on the checks to make and questions to ask, and why getting that information is so important when researching, interviewing and selecting your builder. You can find it at www.undercoverarchitect.com/choose
I think one of the most helpful things in what you learn inside Choose Your Builder, is that it shows you what you can and should expect from any builder you’re choosing for your project.
In an industry where certain sectors are more significantly driven by profit, shareholder value and productivity (and that can sometimes sit at odds with creating durable, sustainable, high quality, high performing homes for their clients), we have been beaten down to expect very little from those we work with in our projects.
The bar is unfortunately set very low.
And so that means it’s much easier to end up with really terrible people on our team.
It breaks my heart to see what homeowners will put up with from those that they’re working with, and endure it for months, sometimes years, before it just becomes too much and they either cut their losses, or try to do something about it. Usually thousands and thousands of dollars out of pocket.
When you’re choosing a builder, you’re signing up to a person or a company that will be in your life for a relatively long time, and what they build needs to be, to stand the test of time – as does their company so you have someone to contact should anything be an issue down the track.
Get yourself well prepared to have informed conversations with the builders you’re researching, interviewing and selecting. Set the expectations, pay attention to the red flags, and jump into the Choose Your Builder mini-course if you want more help, guidance and checklists too.
You can do this.
I know you can – and I’m always here if you need someone in your corner to help you feel more empowered and confident in your project.
Now, in the next episode, I’m really excited to be sharing something new with you.
As you may be aware, I’ve been doing this architect thing for a while now – I have over 25 years experience in this industry that I love, with most of it being in residential design and construction. And in the many years I’ve had Undercover Architect, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to be part of thousands of homeowners’ journeys as they build or renovate their homes.
I’m always looking for what creates true enjoyment and success in projects. Whatever the scale or size, budget or location, what is it that really matters and makes not only the experience of building and renovating an enjoyable one, but that also creates a fantastic family home at the end of that journey.
I’ve come to realise that it comes down to four key ideas. There’s 4 things that make designing, building and renovating your family home do-able, enjoyable, worthwhile, and save you time, money and stress along the way.
So, in the next episode, I’ll be talking about what these four things are, and also bringing you some super exciting news I can’t wait to share with you.
Remember to head to the resources below for links and more information on what I’ve talked about in this episode, and the full transcript for this episode is also available on the blog.
LISTEN TO THE EPISODE NOW.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS PODCAST:
Find out more about the Choose Your Builder mini-course here >>> https://undercoverarchitect.com/courses/choose-your-builder/
Avoid your design blowing your budget >>>
What happens when you suggest a builder get paid to be involved during pre-construction >>>
If you’re a builder and would like to learn more about how to get paid as a consultant during pre-construction, head here >>> https://www.livelifebuild.com/pac-challenge/