THE BULLI BLOG: BUILDING THE DREAM (TEAM) – CHOOSING A HOME DESIGNER AND BUILDER
Once you’ve decided that building is the right move for you and your family (read our post about deciding whether to build, buy or renovate), the next stage is to build the team who will make it happen for you. This post is all about choosing your home designer and builder.
Your house build requires two main people or teams of people, one to design your home, and another to build it. There are a number of different ways to find the right people and also different ways your team can be structured, depending on your preferences and budget.
One option that this post doesn’t cover is owner-builder, because… well I can’t even imagine!
How we chose our team for the Bulli Build
Each person’s path to choosing their team is different, and of course, there is no right or wrong.
We started our process thinking that an architect would best meet our needs in designing a unique, beautiful and highly functional home. We interviewed two architects, one of which had built a lovely house for a friend, and another who had designed houses we’d admired in the region.
Our shortlist quickly became ever shorter, down to just one architect (the referral from the friend), as the other was consistently quite unresponsive, and I wasn’t prepared to chase people who were slow at replying or generally didn’t give me a great feeling about the way they conducted their business.
We also contacted a couple of draftspeople along the way but unfortunately also found them a little unprofessional in their communication. I do, however, now know of draftspeople in the Illawarra who do lovely work and are reportedly great to work with, so don’t let my experience put you off if that’s the right option for you.
Our quote from the shortlisted architect was around 40 thousand dollars, which was a lot of money for us to find upfront, and we started having doubts whether the resulting design could actually be built for our budget. A preliminary chat with an independent builder flagged the potential for a significant discrepancy between the budget and the proposed design.
So how did we find the right designer for us? Like most people thinking of building a new house, we’d done our fair share of hours over the years traipsing around housing display villages, forming up ideas around the possibilities for our new home, and what we did and didn’t like.
At one of those display villages, Haywards Bay (which isn’t a display village anymore!) we visited the South Coast Homes display (GN Williams was then South Coast Homes, the brand is no longer used). The home stood out in terms of design and quality and we soon realised that it wasn’t like the other display home companies, but that it was a custom build service.
GN Williams stuck in our minds and a few years later when we were ready to build and we found the architect wasn’t suiting our needs, we knew where to go.
Here was our take on the home design choices available:
The most highly qualified in the category, an architect could potentially produce an awesome and creative design but with an up-front fee payable, and with potential issues in the budget required to build the design unless the builder is consulted during the design phase. Architects usually charge the highest upfront cost.
Great for: Achieving a high-end result.
Consider: Do you have the upfront funds available and a flexible budget?
Building Designer or Draftsperson
This category has a lesser qualification than an architect, which of course may not have any bearing on the quality of the design. We certainly saw some beautiful homes designed by building designers and draftspeople. We never got to the quote stage and, in any case, our concerns about the build cost vs the budget still applied. Building designers and draftspeople usually charge a midrange upfront cost when compared with the other options.
Great for: Achieving a custom design for a midrange upfront fee.
Consider: Do you have some breathing room in your budget to allow for unexpected build costs for a design you fall in love with?
Custom Design and Build
This is probably the least-known category and the one with the most confusion around it! It’s also the category that GN Williams falls into. Custom Design and Build companies have building designers and builders working alongside one another, within the same company. The advantage here is that the builder is always ‘in the room’ (with calculator!) and can ensure the budget is kept in front of mind, so your beautiful design can actually be built! There is a low upfront cost as the design process forms part of the overall business model rather than being a standalone fee.
Great for: Achieving a unique design based on your specifications, without blowing the budget.
Consider: Are you happy to be the primary decision-maker in terms of what you want in your home?
I’ve included Project Builders in this discussion about home designers because when you choose a project builder, you’re choosing a templated or pre-designed layout, so the base design is included in the build price. These companies don’t call themselves ‘project builders’, but they’re the larger companies that often advertise on radio and TV, and have a large presence in display villages. They can offer good value for money if you can find the right house for your family and your block. Selections are limited so it’s a good choice for people who aren’t fussed about bespoke, innovative or out-of-the-box inclusions or features in the home and would like to be more hands-off in the design process. Although they advertise as ‘custom’ or ‘customisable’, making each change and opting for upgrades usually attracts a fee, which can quickly add up.
Great for: Budget builds.
Consider: Will an ‘off the shelf’ home fulfil your dreams for your new home?
Choosing a great builder
Whichever option you decide is right for you, you’ll also need to consider the build team, not just the designer.
We used the following criteria in ensuring we choose a great builder:
Hop on Google and read reviews, and also ask the builder for the email addresses for at least a couple of former clients who’ve indicated they’re willing to speak. Yes, you’ll only be given details for the happy clients but you never know what you’ll learn by asking some questions. Keep in mind that occasionally you do see a rogue negative review on the internet that’s just a troll and has nothing to do with the reality of the business, so keep an open mind but do your due diligence.
Has the builder ever been bankrupt? Building a house is a big financial commitment for you and your family, but it’s also an exercise in cash flow management for a builder! You can run a credit check through various online services.
Check for red flags.
Does the builder currently have any disputes against them?
Review previous work.
Look through photos of previous work the builder has completed to get a sense of the quality of homes they usually work on. For example, if you’re wanting to build a million-dollar home and the builder’s portfolio is limited to decks and bathroom renovations, you need to consider if that’s the right builder for you.
You may love working with the builder’s sales team, but who will you be working with during the build itself? Who is your contact point? When and how will you be kept updated about your build?
Maintenance and guarantees.
What guarantees are on offer? What after-handover support is offered?
Essential boxes ticked.
The builder should have a license number, Home Warranty Insurance (this insures your build against financial losses due to incidents such as incomplete building work or bankruptcy and is a legal requirement in a number of states), as well as Construction Works and Public Liability Insurance (covering accidental damage from natural events such as flooding or storm damage as well as malicious damage and theft.) The name of the insurance may differ from state to state. Your state’s Fair Trading website is a great place to start for more information and to check Builder’s License numbers.
With our due diligence done, we were confident in the capability of the GN Williams team to build our house with excellent quality tradespeople, solid business and finances, and a friendly team with direct contact with the owners of the company throughout the process.
It was a matter of – ‘tick, tick, tick’ for us. We’d found our dream team. Now to get the house design happening!
About The Bulli Blog posts
Nat Foxon and her family are clients of GN Williams. Nat is also engaged to write about her experiences. Find out more about this custom home.