What To You Do When Your Builder Lets You Down

Property Builder

What To You Do When Your Builder Lets You Down

Builders! What a bunch of crooks! Well, they’re not really but if you watched too many current affairs programs after the news, you’d think every second builder is a shonk.

Running a story on builders who are ahead of time, not gouging on variations, and who are on good terms and communicating with their clients just wouldn’t make the cut. Isn’t that right Tracy?

If I did a word association test and asked you to finish the phrase after I say the word ‘dodgy’, you’d probably say ‘builder’. The rest of you might say ‘real estate agent’.

Honesty, or lack of it, is not restricted to the building industry – but it sure does get exposure there. As Mr. Buffet says “Honesty is a very expensive gift, don’t expect it from cheap people”.

Let’s jump forward. You’re into a project and things aren’t going well. The builder is behind time, he’s (that’s presumptuous thinking the builder is a male) hard to get hold of, not returning calls, and you’re getting peppered with variations.

You’re wondering “How did I get into this?” “Is he going broke?” “This is going to turn into a shit-fight”. You might be right. He might even be trying to weasel out of the contract.

Let’s jump backward.

How did you get hold of this builder in the first place? Was he a referral from a trusted source? Did you race to the bottom and select purely on price? Did you run proper due diligence – talk to current and recent clients, talk to suppliers and trade account holders, check online (state-dependent) for licensing, disputes, suspensions, run a credit check, contact quantity surveyors to see if they know the builder and don’t underrate good old ‘gut feeling’.

Who chose the contract supplier (Master Builder, HIA, Australian Standard etc) – you or the builder? Did you get your contract checked by a specialist? A property lawyer at least or better still a construction law specialist. Were certain clauses struct out? Were special conditions added in? The aim being to level the playing field and protect you at least as much as the builder.

Even then s*^t can still happen. In over 35 years of developing I’ve had two builders go broke. It wasn’t fun but I worked through it with my financier being on side (they don’t want a half-finished project) and good consultants like the quantity surveyor and certifier (building surveyor in Victoria). And of course a good replacement builder.

Choosing a builder is not infallible (like choosing a partner).

Here are a few steps to give you the best chance of success.

1. Look for referrals from sources you trust – architects, quantity surveyors, other developers, and even real estate agents.

2. Don’t choose purely on price and especially if one builder is quite a bit lower than the rest.

3. Run the checks I mentioned above.

4. Get your contract checked by a specialist.

5. Run regular on-site meetings with the builder (weekly, sometimes fortnightly) and always keep lines of communication open.


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