Builders are the backbone of any new house project. They can make your home building project a memorable and rewarding life experience. However, they can also lead you down a path of frustration. I’ve met builders who are truly wizards of excellence. They go above and beyond the call of duty and truly enjoy what they do. But, I’ve also encountered builders who seem to need instructions on how to tie their shoelaces. Unfortunately, there are charlatans in the field – those who take shortcuts, waste an awful lot of time, cover up mistakes, and vanish when they get found out. Beware of the charming facade because there is more litigation between clients and builders than in any other building trade.
Given the wide range of skills among builders, choosing the right one can make the difference between the success and failure of your project. Therefore, don’t underestimate the time you need to invest in finding a good building team.
Like every profession, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly in the building industry. Besides poor workmanship, a significant challenge is that the majority of builders charge a commission on the building products they source. This practice can incentivize them to use specific brands or products that may not be the best fit for your build. It can slow down your project, requiring more installation time and resources, which ultimately costs you more. This is a problem because the higher the price of the product, the higher the commission. This means we can’t necessarily look to builders to help solve the ever-increasing cost of building. It’s essential that our good builders make a profit, but we also need to keep it in check.
I’m not trying to make enemies among builders here, but it’s crucial for you, our clients, to understand the industry and where potentially the biggest investment in your life is being spent.
My preference is to pay builders a good hourly rate, well above the norm in fact, and then I source all the materials and products. This means I can control the cost of materials and products and negotiate better prices. This strategy could save you tens of thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands if you have a good procurement process and know where to shop.
I also offer a performance bonus for good work and meeting time deadlines. This approach saves me time and money, and I end up with a better build. I also reduce the administrative work for the builder, which is often appreciated.
So, how do we unearth the Bob The Builder’s of this world? Here are my top seven interview questions to help guide you:
7 Builder Interview Questions
1) Communication: Can you communicate well with them? Communication is the most critical aspect of the build. If you struggle during the interview, move on, regardless of how impressive their CV might be.
2) Building Method: Ask about their preferred building method. See if they consider more efficient building systems and address the sustainability and health of the products they use.
3) Procurement: Ask them how they source their products. If they get all their products from one builders’ merchant, then that could be a red flag. This practice isn’t necessarily the best as builders’ merchants are getting more expensive and stocking fewer of the products we need for modern energy-efficient and sustainable builds. In New Zealand, the bigger Builders’ Merchants seem to be posting some of the highest profits in decades. So, we have to wonder who is profiting and if we could get better prices shopping elsewhere.
4) Commission: Also, ask the builder if they charge a commission for their sourced products. If they do, ask them how much, and would they be willing to give you full visibility of the costs? Remember, some merchants will issue two invoices: one for the client and one for the builder. Make sure you get to see the builder’s cost.
5) Planning: Ask them about their planning process. How do they manage staff and procurement activities? Delays for products arriving on site inevitably mean delays in the building process and clients pay for these delays unless it’s a fixed cost contract. Do they visit their builders’ merchants every morning to pick up what they need, or do they order all their products in advance and get them delivered to the site? Remember, every trip your builder makes to the merchants means lost building time and less efficiency.
6) References: Can they provide references from previous clients for the last two years? Make sure they are recent references and relevant to your build. If they only give you a reference from 5 years ago, then get suspicious.
7) Contract Type: Is it a fixed price contract or pay as you go? This is a challenging decision. If you agree on a fixed price and the builder doesn’t include enough contingency in the contract, then you may well find them going bust, leaving you with an unfinished build. If you pay as you go, you could save a lot of money, but only if the building team is efficient and uses an efficient building method. I would recommend employing a quantity surveyor to help derive a proper cost estimate of the build. This will give you a much better understanding of what the real cost should be. Factor in bad weather delays, material cost increases, and a few unknowns, like getting out of the ground.
Ultimately, you want the best builder you can get. If you need to wait for the right builder then wait – if you can afford to wait that is. Remember, a good builder is worth their weight in gold, and unfortunately, they are getting harder and harder to find. So do your research, invest time in finding the right builder, and be prepared for a rewarding and hopefully fun home building experience.