How to choose the right builder.

For the uninitiated, selecting the right builder can be a most daunting task. There are so many questions and doubts, compounded by the fact that that you don’t know the answers! What if you picked a lousy builder? What if he went bankrupt mid-way? What if...what if...?

Do I go for the cheapest as I have a limited budget? Do I leave it to the Architect - he is the expert, right? Do I take my auntie’s recommendation? - after all, her builder did a great job with the kitchen cabinets! Do I sign on with this guy whom I seem to get along well with? Do I...?

Who made me the expert?

I don’t profess to be the know-all on this topic. But because I am from this industry, I have heard and seen more than the average number of horror stories and problems faced by home-owners - because they used price as the most important criterion for selecting their builder, or they just did not know how to do it better.

Having practised as a typical Architect before going into design-build has given me a broader perspective. With this experience, I’d like to offer some tips to people in search of a builder-partner to create their dream home. For many, this landed property could well be their once-in-a-lifetime residence. So doesn’t it make sense to get it right from the very beginning?

Great tips.

Whilst these tips may not thoroughly address all your concerns, they will at least provide you with a guide on how to find the right builder.

  1. Never leave the selection of a builder to your Architect.
    1. He will not take responsibility if anything untoward happens between you and the builder, or with the building process - because this falls outside his job scope.

    2. You, the home-owner, must be an active participant in the building process. Voice your thoughts, and discuss their feasibility. Don’t push your way blindly through if the builder advises against any of them. Understand the issues, look for solutions, and be open to alternatives.

  2. Do not push the price down unreasonably, or drastically. In fact, in my experience, the value-added benefits you get from the builder, if you do not bargain too hard, far exceeds the cost savings you might have had.
    1. Remember, it’s the little things which make up the collective cost. When you bargain, you are not ‘reducing’ the profit of the builder - you are merely giving him reason to save -and maybe cut corners - on the details of your house.

    2. Never award the project to the builder with the lowest tender, especially if he is way lower than the closest competitor. It would likely be a case of penny wise, pound foolish.

      He could have quoted for the barest minimum to clinch the deal. Once the project gets underway, you will be faced with many add-ons - which will possibly bust your budget in the end. Alternatively, the builder may not have included a sufficient buffer against rising material costs. If these do go up and you do not put in more money, your builder may well abandon your project than lose money on it.

      But don’t just take my word for it; talk to any Architect and you will get the same advice. Go for a proven track record, visit their sites and talk to the management of the company.

  3. Past track records do not always imply current or future performance! In this industry, many builders come and go every year.
    1. Reliability and honesty are not (yet) highly priced traits in this industry. Builders can list as their own, projects in which they played a very small role. For example, if they did only the plastering, they may claim, list and show you the whole house as their project. The industry is a tough one, so don’t be too trusting of impeccable financial records and paper work.

    2. A successful track record is no measure of how the builders will perform tomorrow, or in the future. Such is the risk inherent in this industry.

    3. Beware of recommendations by the sub-sectors. Some of them work on ‘commissionable’ recommendations.

  4. If tenders, track records and recommendations do not work, what else is there left to do?
    1. Look for personal philosophy traits. Most builders face two main problems:

      1. Poor financial management.

      2. Poor personal habits (drinks, women, greed, laziness, love of material comfort etc). Check them out as much as you can. Trust your instincts when they scream ‘No way I can work with this sleazeball!’

    2. Look at organisational set-up:

      1. The unfortunate thing is, the more established the set-up, the higher their overheads, and the more expensive their building costs. The organisation will likely have more staff, own more equipment, have its own review of building standards quite apart from what the industry deems as standards. Ask yourself - are you prepared to pay for all these? Or are you prepared to take a risk - on your dream home?

      2. You may want to reject the well-established, big budget set-up. The other end of the spectrum is the simple organisation, which translates into lower costs. But this also means it will rely on industry standards - which are so low these days that we recommend you think long and hard about this option.

      3. Is the company interested in the house after the warranty period? What is in place after your standard guarantee is over? Talk to the builder’s previous clients - they give the best reference of (ir)responsible behaviour.

  5. So many weaknesses in my selection criteria! So how else can I find the right builder?

    You can check on the company’s stability, and commitment to the clients and industry. These factors boost your chances of finding the right builder-partner and getting a properly-built house.

    Do take note of the following when you do your research:

    1. High paid up capital.

    2. Written completion guarantees.

    3. Engagement in activities beyond the services provided - that is, R&D, marketing, visionary objectives/long-term plans. These show its commitment as an industry player. When you see this, there’s all the probability that your house will be in good hands during and after it is built. Such a builder will want to protect its reputation.

    4. Helmed by professionals in the industry.

    5. Has competent down-stream supervision of work.

    6. Has procedural protocols to handle different stages of construction.

    7. Has plans for dispute resolution.