Engaging a builder - Building NZ
Engaging a builder

Engaging a builder

There are certain things every builder should be able to tell you if you’re approaching them to build an architecturally-designed home

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

There are certain things every builder should be able to tell you if you’re approaching them to build an architecturally-designed home. Of course, all builders have different skill sets – some may be used to dealing with a certain niche, for example villa renovations, others may specifically focus on group home builds.

Doing Your Research

If you’ve got a set of plans for a complex or cutting-edge architecturally designed house, it’s likely these are not the sort of builders you’re after. While their skills may be suited to certain applications and they may excel at those, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to perform at building a complex engineering and architectural innovation.

That’s where it pays to do your research, manager of Lindesay Construction, William Lindesay, says. And there’s more reason than one to ensure you’ve done your due diligence before engaging a builder.

Your Compatibility with the Team

“The main things to think about are reputation, experience, capabilities, qualifications and character,” Lindesay says. “It’s likely you’ll be working with the builder you engage for a year or two of your life and injecting your life savings into the project, so while you need to ensure they are the right builder in terms of qualifications and experience, you also need a good personal match, a team you know you will get along with.”

Valid Qualifications

Builders should be industry qualified. There are various different qualifications or professional industry associations builders can be aligned with, the most common are Registered Master Builders Association and the New Zealand Certified Builders. These industry organisations have high requirements for membership that involve continued professional development.

Building Certification

“There are also requirements around having licenced building practitioners (LBPs) either undertaking or overseeing a lot of the work involved in putting together a new home,” Lindesay says. “This is really important because if those aspects of the work are not carried out or overseen by a LBP, you will be unable to apply for a Code of Compliance Certificate. Without this, people can face problems in future in regards to insurance, sale of the house, and the level of the work carried out.”

Great communication between builder and architect is highly important. Fold House designed by Bossley Architects, built by Lindesay Construction. Photo by Simon Devitt.

Past Projects & Reference Checks

Another thing to consider when researching builders is to look at their past work. Have they completed projects similar in scale and complexity to yours? Have they won any awards for their work? If it’s practical, it can be worth asking the builder if it’s possible to see any of their past projects to have a look at the standard of work completed. “One of the best ways to check a builder’s integrity and experience is to ask for the details of some of their past clients to contact and have a chat to. Any builder worth his salt will be able to give you a handful of names and contact details,” Lindesay says.

Ask the Right Questions Early On

“I’d recommend asking those past clients how the builder dealt with any issues that arose, how they managed the site, how the communication was, and about whether or not the project came in on budget, as well as any other comments that person can make about the builder.”

Once you’ve found the right builder for the job, the next step is asking questions about how the build will be carried out, including timeframes and what sort of contract are they proposing.

The Contract and Its Content

At the contract stage, there are three main options. Either the builder can use a Registered Master Builders contract or a Certified Builders contract, each of which have a standardised version, or if the project is architect-led, the architect can use the New Zealand Institute of Architects Standard Conditions of Contract document. If an external project manager is running the process, they generally use NZS3910, which is a New Zealand standard contract that anyone can utilise.

“The contract will set out what sort of payment terms are required as well as a lot of the details and information the client will need. It is important at this stage for the client to understand how the pricing structure works. The two most commonly used ways for payment are a fixed price contract in which the price is set and will not change during the project, or what we call an ‘open book’ contract, which is payment for the work completed, and also known as cost reimbursement or ‘cost plus.”

Hackett Street, designed by Patterson Architects, built by Lindesay Construction. Photo by Simon Devitt.

Level of Project Involvement

Once work gets underway, if the architect is managing the project, he or she will observe the contract work as it progresses and have full involvement throughout the build. “This is the ideal situation from our point of view; it creates a good team atmosphere and open and flowing communication between builder and architect,” Lindesay says. “Sometimes they can be loosely involved, attending the odd site meeting and keeping up to date with progress, or they step out at the Building Consent stage before construction begins, but that is not advised.”

“It’s always best if the architect can be fully involved in the project. With complex builds in particular, the design never really stops. While the architect can draw all sorts of different sections, it’s often how those sections meet that we find can’t be depicted as well in two dimensions. Sometimes when you’re standing on the ground a better way to do something becomes clear and so having the architect involved in that process and any changes is imperative.”

If changes are made to the design after the drawings have been consented, those drawings need to be altered and re-submitted for consent. No building work can be done that is not consented.

Transparency in Communication

As the build progresses, clear communication between builder and client is essential. Lindesay sees regular communication as a key part of the relationship, and one that can allow a client to enjoy the process of building, which is generally a stressful time but the right management can alter this. “It’s about embarking on a journey together and that journey should be enjoyable for all involved.”

Completion of the Build

At practical completion of the job, the builder is required to provide certain documentation to the client. This will have been noted in the initial contract, and includes warranties on all products and materials used, and the provision of an operation and maintenance manual, which will include details such as how often the home will need to be repainted, how to use and maintain an air conditioning unit, for example.

Future Advice and Ongoing Assistance

“But the work doesn’t stop there. Clients should expect to be able to contact the builder again in the future and discuss any issues that may arise, have any changes made that they require over time, or ask about additions. Houses (like cars) require regular maintenance and it is helpful if the builder is able to support the client for years to come with this.  The relationship with a good builder is ongoing and should not end abruptly at practical completion.”

Visit ArchiPro to peruse some of the country’s best builders here.

Check out past projects of similar scale and complexity as yours. Herne Bay House, designed by Fearon Hay, built by Lindesay Construction. Photo by Simon Devitt.
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