Choosing the
Right Builder

How do you know you’re choosing the right Canberra Builder?

When it comes time to choose a design and builder, if you live in Canberra you’re spoiled for choice. Our city has the massive national building companies, back-yard operators and everything in between. That choice is a good thing.  It’s great to have options, after all. But it can also be bewildering.

Building a home is one of the biggest projects you’ll ever undertake – and the most expensive.

When the stakes are so high, how do you know you’re making the right choice?

When each builder says all the right things, how do you look behind the curtain to see what they’re really going to build a home you’ll love?

That’s why we’ve put together this guide for you: eight questions that’ll help you find a true professional.  It draws on our experience of building in Canberra for more than 40 years.

Whoever you choose, any builder who answers these eight questions to your satisfaction will be one to trust.

choosing the right builder



Is your company financially stable?

When you’re investing so much in your home, you want certainty that your builder is going to be around to finish the job.

Of course, every builder says that they’re in good financial health.  So how do you tell who’s really robust? As a bare minimum, look for a builder who’s been around for at least 10 years.  That tells you they’ve ironed out all the creases in their processes, and have a steady cash flow.  That past record of stability is some indication that they’ll stay on track. Look for a builder who obtains Home Warranty Insurance through the Master Builder’s Fidelity Fund – The Master Builder’s apply additional checks when providing insurance which will give you additional piece of mind.

To be really sure, though, take it one step further. Look for a builder who’s externally audited and confirmed as financially stable. Here, an Independent firm reviews the builder’s books and balance sheets with a fine-toothed comb, checking for even a hint of financial risk. Builders (like Bode Living) who take on ACT Government projects have to meet this requirement (as well environmental, OH&S and quality standards). There aren’t many builders in Canberra have gone through that process. That compliance is a lot of extra work for us, but it gives you a whole lot of extra comfort.



Will the plan require costly amendments to ensure it fits on my block?

Canberra’s blocks and planning authorities are like nowhere else in Australia.  When you look at our subdivisions mapped out, you’ll often see strange wedge-shaped blocks and odd angles. We also have unique requirements for solar access, building setbacks and plot ratios.

What does this mean for you?  For one thing, it means that you should approach ready-made house plans with some caution. National builders often advertise hundreds of plans.  But when it comes to our city, the majority of these plans can’t simply be place it on a Canberra block, and expect it to fit. By the time you finish poking and prodding the design to make it fit, it will look nothing like it started and have cost you valuable time and money.

Because of our blocks’ assortment of shapes, plans will only work if they’re Canberra-specific; or better yet, suburb-specific.

Ask your builder which plans they have that are specifically designed for Canberra.  Even if you do have to make modifications, you’ll be you a lot further along the planning process. Or if you’ve got your mind set on a pre-made plan, make sure you ask them how much it will cost to adapt it to your block. The cost of the amendments can significantly add to the advertised price…you want to know what this is before you commit.



Is the design suitable for my block orientation and topography?

How you lay out your plan on the block significantly impacts the energy efficiency and “liveability” of the home. This is impacted by the development conditions in relation to setbacks, heights, driveway location, easements and the topography. (Topography is essentially the slope of the land) Not only can topography and the suburb development conditions impact what you can build, but many owner-builders forget that the total build costs are influenced by what’s below the ground just as much as what you put on top.

 This is where choosing an experienced Canberra builder pays off.  You’re getting someone who has a head-start in figuring this out, because they’ve dealt with the whole range of sites and have solutions to suit what you want to achieve. 

 They know what questions to ask: will you need major earthworks? Do you need more retaining walls? That way, you’re much more likely to get a realistic costing on your build.



Does your costing include everything I'll need to pay?

Any builder will tell you that their inclusions list is comprehensive. So how can you be certain you’re getting everything you need?

There is a way to gain that confidence, but it’s not a quick fix — you’ll need to set aside an hour or two.

Now take all the inclusions lists from the builders you’ve seen, spread them out on the kitchen table, and work through each item.  Builder A has included tiling for all the rooms you need. Does Builder B include this too?

If there’s a large variation in the costing you get, make sure you understand why one quote is substantially lower than the others.

As we said, this can take a fair chunk of time.  But it’ll pay off by preventing major cost blow outs and disputes down the line.  You’ve been saving for years to build this home.  Now you just need one more small investment of time to make it run smoothly.

At Bode Living, we make the whole process easier by actually sitting down and working through the inclusions with you.

But whatever builder you talk to, choose a builder who’s thinking ahead, and can help tailor an inclusions list that suits your lifestyle.

Look for a builder who will add value to your inclusions. A good builder has more than just a great inclusions list. They bring their expertise and experience to make your home fit your lifestyle down to the ground.



How will you help me manage my spend?

When you’re dreaming of a new home, we’re guessing you’re not fantasizing about the footings. Most people get far more excited about the finishing’s and internal fit out.  That makes sense. The light-fittings and tiles are what you’ll be seeing every day.

The danger, though, is that you’ll commit to ‘must have’ light-fittings, then find yourself running out of budget early in the build. If a builder hasn’t costed the job properly, extra structural works like retaining walls can blow a hole in your budget.

Look for a builder who’s upfront about site costs: how much it will cost to put your plan on your site. 

Also look for a builder who’ll work with you to get the build done within your budget. If that means making some trade-offs that you’re comfortable with, even better.

That’s where the Canberra-specific knowledge of topography, ground conditions and development requirements come in.  Those are the costs that you’ll need to pay before the first wall goes up.

Once you’ve got that portion of the budget squared away, you can let your imagination run wild with your internal fittings.



Can you guarantee completing the build on-time?

When you’re asking this question, pay particular attention to when the builder will give you the project schedule.  At what stage in the planning process will they lock in timing? Some builders do this far too early.  They rush ahead and promise you a date, so they can close the sale, without being 100% sure they can deliver.

A responsible builder will sit down with you and scope out all the factors (soil type, contractor availability) before they give you a time.  A responsible builder will also give a window of say 3-5 weeks to allow for those rare contingencies, like heavy rain. 

When you ask your builder about timeframes, don’t just look for a guarantee.  Make sure the timeframes are realistic.

Your home is a big investment and it will significantly impact your day to day life – the price for a quick build may well be long term headaches so it may be worth allowing some extra time to ensure you get the best outcome.



How do you make sure your contractors do the work on time and to standard?

Finding a builder who’s good at their job isn’t enough. They must also line up all the trades and keep them on track.

You’re looking for two things here: project management skills and relationships. For project management, it’s helpful if the builder has commercial construction experience.  If they’ve wrangled multi-million dollar contracts, you know that their processes will be watertight when it comes to building your home.

That’s also where the relationships come into play. Most builders will often call in whoever is available at the time.  At Bode Living, we only use trusted contractors on our builds with locked-in start and finish dates. 

Our contractors are generally locals, are committed to Canberra and proud of the business they have created. They want to do the right thing by us, and also by you.



How will you keep me updated throughout the build?

What does ‘being kept in the loop’ mean to you? Do you want a fortnightly email on progress? Or are you a ‘no news is good news’ person, who only wants a call if something major happens?  Do you work night shifts, so there’s a narrow window for phone calls?

What’s important here is that the builder adapts their communication approach to suit you. You want to be sure that if anything does come up, you know exactly who to call.

How did you go

Going through these questions, how did your builder stack up? If they answered all eight questions to your satisfaction, you’ve found your builder!