Essential Information You Need to Know when Hiring a Building Contractor

Building Contractor Melbourne

What you need to know when hiring a building contractor in this article we are going to give you some vital information about the different people/ businesses you might need to employ to complete your home extension or renovation project. So, let’s start with the most important question that needs to be answered:

What is a Building Contractor?

The correct term for a building contractor is a building practitioner, in particular when referred to under Victorian (Australia) law. A building practitioner is a licensed practitioner that can cover a number of areas in the building trade:

  • Builder: a person or company that coordinates a building project.  More about this below.
  • Tradesperson: this is someone that specialises in a particular trade, for example, a gas fitter, plumber, plasterer or electrician. More about this below.
  • Demolisher: someone that is brought in to knock down buildings and structures and clear building sites. Demolition is undertaken with careful planning and under strict control.
  • Building Surveyor: there are two types of building surveyor; one is a municipal surveyor and the other one, which you will come across, a private surveyor. They are responsible for ensuring that a building is safe, accessible and energy efficient, as well as being involved, directly or indirectly (via a building inspector), in inspecting a building throughout a project. This position should not be confused with a land surveyor, whose role is to establish boundaries on new land or confirm boundaries on existing land.
  • Draftsperson: a person, also known as a building designer, that draws up the plans for new homes, home extensions and small commercial buildings. Their work, for example, involves drawing out the position of a new extension, choosing the materials and construction methods to use, creating detailed floorplans and helping the client visualise their new extension through imagery.
  • Architect: a person that designs a new home or home extension that meets the requirements of the client. An architect will often be involved in the construction process.
  • Quantity Surveyor: beginning at the planning stage, a quantity surveyor estimates and manages the cost of a building project. Initially, cost projections are based on the architectural design or engineering plans. The surveyor will monitor expenses throughout the project and often work in partnership with the client and any other building practitioners involved in a building project. However, for small domestic projects, a builder practitioner will usually fulfil the role of a quantity surveyor.
  • Engineer: often an engineer will help maintain and improve the standard of a building. Structural engineers are able to design the structure of an extension so that is stable. Such design elements include foundations, load-bearing walls, footings and support beams.

You can be assured that by using a licensed building practitioner you will be using someone that has the skills, knowledge and experience to meet any government-backed national standards. It’s worth noting that you must use a licensed practitioner for important design and building work in your home.

To put this more specifically, when you use building practitioners, certainly in Victoria, it is important to understand that for any renovation, extension or repair that is going to be worth more than $5,000 the practitioner must use a major domestic building contract. Also, for work valued over $16,000 the practitioner must have taken out domestic building insurance. Make sure the builder has a registration ID before you give them a deposit and they start on any building work (a builder’s registration ID can be verified online at the Victorian Building Authority  – for Victoria, Australia).

Also, all practitioners must be registered with the Building Practitioners Board to carry out work worth more than $5,000.

So, the term building practitioner covers a variety of disciplines. However, the two most likely practitioners you will come across when building a new home extension is the builder practitioner and the tradesperson. The builder and the tradesperson are often mistaken for each other, often with many people not knowing the difference. So let’s look at each practitioner in detail so you will be confident in knowing the differences.

Builder Practitioner/ Contractor

A building contractor’s role is to coordinate the construction of your extension. This role covers a lot of areas, some of which they will be able to manage without you having to directly contract other building practitioners. For example, a builder practitioner can:

  • Design or examine your plans to ensure that they meet building regulations.
  • Put together a quote for building services.
  • Arrange for the submission of plans to local authorities.
  • Calculate the quantities of materials required for your project and then order them from reputable suppliers or advertise for tenders.
  • Supervise employees and sub-contractors ensuring that they are working to safe practices and their building work is acceptable and meeting requirements.
  • Coordinate payments to sub-contractors and suppliers.

One of the major jobs of a builder practitioner is to coordinate and manage sub-contractors. A sub-contractor is usually brought in by a builder to complete specialised areas of a construction project. For example, a sub-contractor could be a plumber, electrician, drywaller, plasterer or bricklayer. A great builder contractor will have a list of experienced, industry known and previously used sub-contractors that they will use for a project. Also, the builder will be able to negotiate better rates than a homeowner would. A not-so-good builder contractor will use cheaper and lesser-known sub-contractors which could be detrimental to your final extension/ renovation.

A Tradesperson

Tradespersons can be thought of as those that have specific skills that they bring to a construction project. Examples are:

  • Plasterers
  • Tilers
  • Electricians
  • Glaziers
  • Insulation Installers
  • Plumbers
  • Gas-fitters
  • Drainage experts
  • Fencing constructors
  • Drywallers.

It is common in a building project that tradespersons will come under the category of sub-contractor and will be managed by the builder practitioner. However, for smaller home jobs then it is usual that you would hire a tradesperson directly.

Choosing the right building practitioner will lead to a rewarding experience and a final result that matches your vision. To help you choose the right ones here are 10 tips for hiring and dealing with builder practitioners and tradespersons:

For Builder Practitioners:

  1. Have a clear understanding of what you require so that this can be conveyed succinctly to the builder.
  2. Shop around – get at least three quotes. A registered building practitioner with a reputation will provide you with an honest price. If a quote is much cheaper than others check out what work and materials are included.
  3. Ask lots of questions to completely understand what the project entails e.g. what is the time frame, the quality of the job and the options available such as different finishes, colours and designs.
  4. Payment – to avoid any potential disputes establish payment type and payment schedule up front. Also, find out what rates are charged for any unforeseen work e.g. existing rotting timbers are discovered during the build and need replacing.
  5. Communication – establish what the best forms of communication will be during the project and what expectations you have in terms of response times to any questions you have. Also, it’s good to establish how frequently updates will be provided on your project’s progress.

For Tradespersons:

  1. When choosing a tradesperson getting references from friends and fellow renovators is a good start. Stick to locals because the closer a job is to home, the more likely they are to want to take it on and offer a competitive price.
  2. Be specific about what you want and convey this clearly to the tradesperson so that they understand your expectations. Even small jobs are worth detailing.
  3. Agree on a price in advance ensuring that all bases are covered. For example, check if the tradesperson is adding travel time and fuel cost to the quote. If so, it may be wise to choose someone more local that won’t charge this extra.
  4. Refuse to sign off on a job if it doesn’t meet your requirements, which is why tip 7 is really important.
  5. Keep it professional. The key to a successful project is a good relationship with your tradesperson; so let them get on with their job and communicate in a pleasant but confident manner.

We hope you are now more enlightened about the all the different practitioners that you may meet during your building project and feel more confident in hiring and dealing with builders and tradespersons.

If you are still in the idea stage of your home building project and are unsure on what to do next then click here to check out our 5 part series on ‘where to start‘. Here’s to happy building.

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