Conversations with the Designers - Key questions to ask a Builder prior to engaging their services

One stage in the building process that instills more fear and overwhelm for many of our clients is... selecting the right Builder for the job. A Builder can make or break the success of any building project. 

The best place to start when searching for a Builder is to ask for recommendations. And when asking for recommendations don't just 'blindly' go with a friends brother who is a Builder, just because he knows him by default. You want a recommendation from someone  who has gone through the building process themselves with the Builder.

When seeking recommendations also ask your Architect/Designer. They will be able to steer you in the right direction. It's a good place to start as they will have worked with many builders and would also have feedback from clients' experiences. 

When you have the names of 3 reputable Builders (and you only need 3, any more than that will only confuse you when it comes to comparing quotes), it's a good idea to check their website out & have a look at some of their work (if possible). The next step is to send your drawings to each Builder requesting a quote. The Builder in turn will likely request to see the site so they may familiarise themselves with the project prior to quoting. (If they don't request to see the site you should insist they do so).

Once you've received the quotes & looked over them, set up a meeting with each Builder to discuss your plans and more importantly the quote they've submitted. Ask them to run through their quote and explain anything you are unsure of.

As most people know it's not an easy task comparing 3 Builders quotes, particularly if it's the first time you've gone through the process. Most Builders quotes are set out differently making comparisons difficult. The other important thing to be aware of when comparing builders quotes is to make sure they are quoting on the exact same things. You need to be comparing 'apples with apples'. The only way to do this is to provide each builder with a clear and concise brief. 

In order to decipher between each Builders quote there are questions you can and should ask. There are the obvious questions (questions 1-6) and the not so obvious questions (questions 7-10). All questions are relevant and should be asked, however questions 7-10 when answered, will enable you to clarify any grey areas you have with the Builders quotes.

Let's get to the questions...

1. Is the Builder licensed for this type of work?

2. Have they done this type of work before?

3. How many jobs do they have going on?

4. Who is the main point of contact once the job commences?

5. What is the expected time frame to complete the project?

6. Do they have clients willing to give a personal testimonial?

Asking the remaining questions of each Builder will put you in a better position to make informed decisions when it comes to making your final decision as to who you are going to be building with.

7. What is excluded from the quote?
Asking a Builder what is excluded from their quote is one of the best ways to understand what is included in the quote.

Knowing what is excluded helps to ensure that you are comparing ‘apples with apples’ when looking at all the Builders’ quotes. Some of the more common items that are excluded from quotes include: consultants’ fees, asbestos removal, retaining walls, driveways, footpaths, fencing, soft furnishings & often carpet. If any of these items are required to be included in the Builder’s scope of works then they should be included in the quote.

Knowing what is excluded has a direct impact on your building budget. These excluded items all have a dollar value and will need to be included in your budget.

8. How have provisional sums been determined?
It is imperative that you understand the significance of provisional sums. Provisional sums are allowances the Builder makes for tasks (such as the installation of structural steel and the construction of retaining walls) where the final selection is not yet confirmed or where there is detail lacking at the time of quoting i.e No Engineering drawings. They are an allowance that is made for both materials and labour that are required to complete that part of the project. As they are only allowances, they are also subject to change depending on the final cost of completing the work. The key here is to understand that the client pays for any shortfall in the difference between the provisional sum allowance and the final cost of completing the work, not the Builder. 

9. Have you included everything in the finishes schedule?
To avoid budget blow outs when it comes to provisional sum it's ideal to provide Builders with a highly detailed finishes schedule not just drawings to quote from.

Plans that are missing a detailed finishes schedule often lack the level of detail required for accurate quoting.  Having a detailed finishes schedule that is cross referenced to the construction drawings leaves no room for questions when it comes to quoting the build.

Basically, the more detail you provide the Builder with, the more accurate your quote will be and in turn the less provisional sums will be included in the quote. Detail is the key to avoiding the feared 'budget blow out', it also makes it much easier to compare quotes as you will be able to compare 'apples with apples'. 

10. How have you dealt with demolition costs?
If you are extending or renovating, there will be some level of demolition involved in your project. Demolition is another cost that might be included in a quote as a provisional sum and is subject to change. It is important that the costs associated with demolition are clearly set out in the Builder’s quote, so you can understand the full extent & costs of the demolition. Ideally, the demolition should be included in the quote and not as a provisional sum.

If the Builder has nominated a provisional sum, you should ensure you understand how much has been allocated for demolition works. Then, by comparing the allowances of each builder, you will know which builder has been more generous with his allowance, which therefore reduces the risk and severity of cost increases.

The answers received to these questions will either ease your mind or send up a red flag...and this is a good thing. Asking the right questions will help alleviate the stress when engaging a Builders' services. These questions and their answers will guide you to the right Builder for your project.





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