- Check your builder is a registered building practitioner for the type of work they will be doing and uses a written major domestic building contract
- For major renovations, we recommend you get a building lawyer to review your building contract before you sign, even though this means you no longer have five days to change your mind (cool off) after signing the contract
- For work costing more than $16,000, your builder must provide you with a current certificate of domestic building insurance for your building project before taking a deposit and starting work
- Before work starts, check with your home and contents policy insurer that you are covered for the renovations – you may need extra cover
- If you are doing any structural work to a building, then the builder or tradesperson must be registered, regardless of the cost of the work, and you will require a building permit – check with your building surveyor
- If the total cost of your project is more than $10,000, the builder must use a major domestic building contract even if the contract is split into several smaller amounts – for example, a pre-construction contract worth $4,000 and the main contract worth $7,000.
You can do your extension or renovation by:
- engaging a builder to supervise the entire project and sub-contractors. If so, you must deal with the builder, not directly with the sub-contractors
- managing the building process as an owner builder (where you engage and manage registered sub-contractors yourself). View our Owner builder checklist.
Do not sign a building permit as an owner builder at the request of a builder or tradesperson who will be doing the work. They may be trying to avoid their legal responsibilities. You may end up paying a lot more than you expect.
Getting plans and permits
As the home owner, it is your obligation to find out if you need planning and building permits for the work. It is your responsibility to make sure they are obtained, whether you get them yourself or authorise someone else (such as your builder) to do it for you.
Your builder may supply plans and specifications, or you may decide to engage an architect, designer or draftsperson to do this.
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.
- everything you want is in the plans and specifications, including detailed lists of specific building materials, appliances, fittings and colour schemes
- your building contract clearly identifies who will obtain the planning and building permits – for example, your architect, builder or you
- the building permit, if you need one, has been issued and you get a copy before the building work starts.
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.
Choosing a builder
Use a registered building practitioner
A person must be registered with the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) if they:
- carry out work worth more than $10,000
- use a combination of skills, such as plastering and painting, when working on your home
- reblock, restump, demolish or remove a home, or do structural building work – regardless of the value of this work.
- use a written major domestic building contract – a contract required by Victorian building law – for work costing more than $10,000
- provide you with a current certificate of domestic building insurance for work costing more than $16,000 (including the project’s address, cost of the work, their registration details), before taking a deposit and starting work
- provide a current certificate of public liability insurance.
Certain single tasks, such as painting or plastering, do not require a registered building practitioner. View our Home improvements costing $10,000 or less checklist.
Registration as a building practitioner is not the same as licensing of electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople. It is also not the same as membership of an industry association. A builder is responsible for ensuring sub-contractors are licensed. If you engage tradespeople yourself, check:
- plumbers, gasfitters and drainers have an identification card and are licensed with the VBA
- electricians are licensed with Energy Safe Victoria
- tradespeople are registered with the VBA if necessary
- asbestos removalists are licensed by WorkSafe Victoria for the work being undertaken.
- ask 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.
Ask to see previous work and check references. Ask the referees these questions as a minimum:
- Did the builder start and finish on time?
- Were the referees 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?
- What was the builder’s customer service like and what were 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 when fixtures/fittings were required to be available?
- Were the referees satisfied that the quality of the builder’s work matched the contract?
Before you sign anything, make sure you:
- compare at least three written quotes on your plans and specifications
- be 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 project.
Check your prospective builder’s:
- registration with the VBA. Ask for their registration number and check it on the VBA website
- business history. How long have they 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 VBA or VCAT on their websites.
Your building team
Your building team should include 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
- building surveyor – to check building work meets the minimum standards of the building regulations. By law, your builder cannot appoint a building surveyor on your behalf. This is to ensure that your surveyor is independent of your builder and remains impartial when signing off work. You can use a municipal (council) building surveyor, or a private building surveyor.
If you decide to use a private building surveyor, you can authorise another person (for example, your architect or draftsperson) to act as your agent to appoint a building surveyor for you. You must provide them with a written authority before they can appoint a building surveyor on your behalf.
If you decide to use a municipal (council) building surveyor, you do not need to appoint them. Your local council will nominate a surveyor for your project if you apply directly to the council for a building permit.
See more information on appointing your building surveyor on the VBA website.
You may also choose to engage an independent building consultant, who can make sure the plans suit your specific needs and check the quality of work during construction.
A competent consultant will also be able to provide the building lawyer with a technical understanding of the building project. Search for building consultants online or in the telephone directory. Check they are qualified and experienced in the type of work you are undertaking (for example, two-storey, timber-framed construction), and have insurance that will cover you for the type of work they are doing.
Control your costs
- Select your fixtures and fittings and make sure they are specified in the contract. Ensure they are available when required by the builder. View our Building contracts checklist.
- Where possible, avoid including fixtures and fittings in the contract that are not specified, for example, by model or make (prime cost items) and 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.
- Your builder will need to 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 the amount set by law for each completed stage of building (base, frame, lock-up and fixing). Only pay if you are satisfied the work is complete. View our Paying for building work checklist.