Building a home with a smaller building company - checklist

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  • Get at least three quotes on the same detailed plans and specifications
  • Check your builder is registered with the Building Practitioners Board at the Victorian Building Authority, which replaced the Building Commission and Plumbing Industry Commission on 1 July 2013.
  • Use independent technical experts to check your building documentation is complete and correct – for example, a building lawyer, a building surveyor, an independent building consultant
  • You may wish to hire an independent building consultant who can advise you during the construction period, including checking the quality of work being performed by the builder and advising you if there are any issues.
  • As building contracts can be complex, we recommend you get a building lawyer to review your building contract before you sign – even though this will affect your cooling-off rights.

You are responsible for making sure building plans and permits are obtained.

Choosing a building company

You must use a registered building practitioner, who must by law:

  • use a written major domestic building contract
  • provide a current certificate of domestic building insurance for your building project (including the project’s address, cost of the work, builder’s registration details) before taking a deposit and starting work
  • have public liability insurance – ask your builder to provide you with a certificate of currency.

Get recommendations:

  • ask your family or friends to recommend a builder they have recently used
  • ask your architect to recommend builders whose work they know
  • contact professional associations and other industry organisations.

Check your prospective builder’s:

  • registration with the Building Practitioners Board. Ask for the builder's registration number and check it on the Victorian Building Authority website.
  • business history. How long has the builder traded under the same name? Check this with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
  • involvement in legal or disciplinary action with Consumer Affairs Victoria, the Victorian Building Authority, the Building Practitioners Board or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (check this on their websites).

Ask to see previous work and check references. 

As a minimum, ask referees:

  • Did the builder start and finish on time?
  • Were they able to communicate regularly and clearly with the builder about any changes suggested by either party, or about queries relating to quality?
  • Did the builder put details and the price of changes in writing and get them to sign off before making changes?
  • Did the builder’s sub-contractors arrive on time and do a good job?
  • Did the builder request any changes to the amount of stage payments or ask for payments before a stage was complete?
  • Were they satisfied that the quality of the work matched the contract?
  • What was the builder’s customer service like and their quality control procedures?
  • Did the builder give clear and regular updates on progress and were they available to meet when requested?
  • Did the builder communicate clearly, verbally and in writing?

Before you sign anything, make sure you:

  • compare at least three written quotes on your plans and specifications
  • are clear about what you are getting for your money and how the quotes differ
  • choose someone you think you can work well with – good communication is vital to a successful building project.

Get your own building team

  • A building lawyer – to help you understand and negotiate the contract. Seeking independent legal advice can protect you, even though it means you no longer have five days to change your mind (this is called 'cooling off' – View our Getting out of a building contract checklist). The Law Institute of Victoria can help you find an independent building lawyer.
  • A building surveyor – to check building work meets the minimum standards of the building regulations. You or your builder can appoint a building surveyor, but we suggest you choose your own to be confident of their independence. Ensure only one building surveyor is appointed, either by you or the builder. You can find a surveyor registered with the Building Practitioners Board on the Victorian Building Authority website.

In addition to the staff from the building company, you may also wish to hire an independent building consultant – to make sure the plans suit your specific needs and to check the quality of work during construction.

A consultant can provide the building lawyer with a technical understanding of the building project. Search building consultants online or in the telephone directory. Check they are qualified and experienced, and have insurance that will cover you for the type of work they are doing.

Plans and permits

Your builder may supply plans and specifications, or you can engage an architect, designer or draftsperson to do this. Make sure:

  • everything you want is in the plans and specifications, including detailed lists of specific building materials, appliances and fittings
  • your building contract clearly identifies who is responsible for obtaining planning and building permits – for example, your architect, your builder or you
  • the building permit has been issued, and you get a copy before the work starts.

As the home owner, it is your obligation to make sure planning and building permits are obtained, whether you get them yourself or get someone else (such as your builder) to do it for you.

It is also your responsibility to make sure that the Certificate of Final Inspection or Occupancy Permit is obtained when work is complete (this is the final step in the permit process).

View our Plans and permits checklist and Building contracts checklist.

Pre-construction contracts

Your builder must obtain a soil report and foundation data to design the footings and to give you an adequate estimate of the cost. They may ask you to sign a document to authorise this.

However, if the pre-construction contract includes design or specification work, obtaining permits or other building work, it is a building contract.

If a contract includes domestic building work and the price is more than $10,000:

  • it is a major domestic building contract (View our Building contracts checklist)
  • you have rights under the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 and the Australian Consumer Law.

We recommend you get legal and technical advice before you sign, even though it means you no longer have five days to change your mind (View our Getting out of a building contract checklist). If the document includes developing the design or drawing plans and specifications, due to copyright you may not be able to use these if you proceed with a different builder. You also may not get a refund on the cost of developing these plans.

Control your costs

  • Select your fixtures and fittings and make sure they are specified in the contract.
  • Where possible, avoid including fixtures and fittings in the contract that are not specified, for example, by model or make (prime cost items); and additional work items with an unknown price (provisional sum items). These can blow your budget and cause delays. View our Building contracts checklist.
  • Make sure any variations to the contract are agreed in writing with your builder.
  • A builder must obtain foundation data (from the soil report) to give you an accurate price. They use it to work out the depth of stumps, type of slab or strip footing required. You should not have to pay extra later for additional work that the builder should have foreseen using foundation data.
  • Pay for progress: you pay a specific amount for each completed stage of building – usually base, frame, lock-up and fixing – but only pay if you are satisfied the work is complete. View our Paying for building work checklist.