9 tips on how to compare builders quotes

Let’s imagine you have had your design completed, received council approval and now want to find a builder to undertake your project. You have gone out to the market, been referred to some different builders by friends, your architect and maybe a neighbour. You now have three quotes in your possession, with prices ranging by tens of thousands, which do you choose?

This can be a difficult choice and the fact you probably have limited building experience means how are you going to make the best decision. When I was studying at university one of my lecturers said research had shown the average residential building client has the building IQ of a 14 year old child. It’s easy to see how the decision can be made incorrectly and before you know it you are locked into a contract with a builder who seems to have vanished compared to the one you met during his sales process.

Nine tips for evaluating tenders before choosing a builder are listed below:

1. Use the architect to manage the process, with builders they recommend and use often.

Architects are able to manage the tender phase on your behalf. They may also manage the construction process for you also for a fee but if that’s not affordable or necessary it may be worth tapping into their network of trusted builders to at least get through the tender phase. These builders will all have had experience with the architect and will be up to the standard required to be on that architects tender list. It’s best not to try introduce your own builder as they may not be in the same league as the architects builders and may be either use to doing smaller or much larger projects.

2. Did you get along with them?

It may seem simple but if you didn’t click with the builder he’s probably not the person for you. Depending on the size of the project you will have a long time to deal with this person and if he isn’t someone you can have a friendly relationship with its probably best to choose someone else. Take the time during the tender phase to get to know the person when they are at your house, during phone calls and through email. Offer them a tea or coffee and have a conversation with them, show them around and go over the plans.

3. How will the builder run the project?

Did the builder come to site and introduce himself and explain how his company works and how the project will be built? No doubt you have something in mind as to how the project will be run. Things like who will be the main contact point on site, the builder or will he have a foreman on site? Does he employ carpenters or contractors only? How often will you have site meetings? Will the builder record and distribute site meeting minutes following these meetings? What is the process for variations?

4. Reduce PC allowances.

If possible make as many selections before the tender phase, take as much if not all variables out of the project by doing all your homework before the project starts. It will probably cost you more money to make choices during the project. If the builder allows $30m2 for wall tiles but when the time comes you want tiles that cost $50m2 this will cost you extra plus an additional builders margin.

5. What will the builders margin be for variations?

Every building contract has a section for the builders margin to be added to variation costs. It’s good to know what this will be before you are sitting at your dining room table half way through signing the contract. You may feel then you have no option but to accept what the builder says.

6. What is the process for variations?

Imagine you decide you want to change the driveway from concrete to sandstone pavers. What is the process to be undertaken?

7. Is there a trade break down?

A trade breakdown is a one page document listing all the different trades of the project such as demolition, excavation, concrete etc. If all builders provide this breakdown it’s easy to compare where their costs vary as opposed to getting only the total cost of the whole. If one builder is $10k less on tiling he may not have included to supply the tiles where are the other builder may have. If you expect both have then you may be up for a surprise later in the project.

7. Is there a list of inclusions and exclusions?

Has the builder written a detailed list of inclusions and exclusions in his tender? A lot of the information may be on the drawings or specification but if it’s not you want to know what has been included or where assumptions have been made. If things have been excluded you also want know in case you thought they were included. As a rule of thumb a two page quote probably isn’t enough, our tenders include minimum ten pages of inclusions amongst other things, just to give you an example.

8. If there is Foreman who will be running the site, can you meet him?

If your builder is running multiple projects it is likely there will be a foreman who is running the daily activity on your site. This is normal and probably better than the business owner running the project as it allows this person to focus 100% on your project not have to worry about sending invoices, doing quotes, following up suppliers etc. You may find you speak and deal with the foreman more than the builder himself so it’s good to meet this person before you sign up to a builder.

9. How responsive was the builder during the tender phase?

How quick did the builder get back to you after you first contacted him? Did he have questions for you about what you wanted in your design? Did he return phone calls and emails? Did he follow up things he said he was going to? Was he organised for your meetings and arrive on time? His behaviour in these areas is probably an indicator as to how he will perform once the project is underway.

To wrap up all builders are not the same, but choosing the right builder who is going to do a great job and make your experience a pleasurable one will make the world of difference. Who knows you may even make a friend out of it, we have made friends with some of our clients.

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