Managing building project costs

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Important note: owners have a new duty to notify the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) if the revised final cost of work has increased by $15,625 or more. You must notify the VBA within 28 days of becoming aware. This applies to any building permit issued from 1 July 2019. For more details, view Advising the VBA of the final cost of work on this page.

Know your budget and what you want

Work out how much you can afford to borrow before you start. You can find information about home loans and mortgages on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s consumer website, MoneySmart.

Shop around and ask questions. The home on display may be top of the range. Most builders allow you to change the floor plan, fittings and fixtures to some extent. If you:

  • want an exact replica of a display house, your building contract must include exactly the same plans and specifications as those used to build the display home
  • don’t want an exact replica, get the exact cost of building the display home and the exact cost of building what you want. Changing standard plans can be expensive.

Do your own detailed estimate (including all your selections of fixtures and fittings) and add 15 per cent for unplanned costs.

Talk to at least three of the builders’ previous clients. A good builder will be happy to give you references.

Consider sustainability. Under the 5-star environmental standard, new homes must have:

  • a five-star energy rating for the building fabric
  • water-efficient taps and fittings
  • a rainwater tank for toilet flushing or a solar hot water system.

You can find out more about sustainable building options at Sustainability Victoria's Resource Smart website.

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 items with an unknown price (provisional sum items). These can blow your budget and cause delays.

Check these costs are included in your contract price:

  • the building fee, which may or may not include the cost of mandatory inspections by the building surveyor and may vary between companies
  • planning permit fees (if your council requires a planning permit)
  • lodgement fee paid to the local council for recording purposes
  • crossing deposit or asset protection fee paid to the local council and refundable at the end of the project, if no damage has occurred to council property
  • inspection fee, a non-refundable fee paid to the council for the cost of their inspection of council assets
  • government levy charges when the contracted cost of work is more than $10,000. There are three levies based on the total cost of your building, which also apply to owner builders. Your building surveyor can advise you of these costs.

Make sure any variations to the contract are agreed in writing with your builder. This is not required by law when the builder reasonably believes the changes will not:

  • require a new permit
  • cause delay
  • add more than two per cent to the original contract price.

For more information on building contracts, view our Building contracts page.

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 from the foundation data. View our Foundations page.

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 page.

Advising the VBA of the final cost of work

Variations to building work under a permit can cause the final cost to increase from the initial estimate. This may increase the amount of building permit levy you have to pay to the VBA.

For building permits issued from 1 July 2019

As the owner or permit applicant (if the variation relates to an amendment of a permit), you must monitor and maintain records of the cost of work.

If the revised final cost increases by $15,625 or more, you must notify the VBA within 28 days of become aware of the final cost. The VBA will provide further information, including how to notify them, soon.

You may have to pay a penalty levy if you:

  • fail to notify the VBA of a variation to building work, or
  • provide false or misleading information about the final cost.