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In this series, we follow a Christchurch couple in their bid to turn their 1960’s fixer-upper, from a retro rental to a modern home.

If you’ve ever considered buying an older home but have lacked the confidence to tackle something totally outdated, this guide is for you. It’s a whole lot of fun, and not as hard (or anywhere near as risky) as you might imagine.

In the previous chapter, we learned how Jeremy and Alana found and applied that inspiration to the home they’d purchased – creating a vision for their renovation.

So with their vision in mind, sketches in hand; full of excitement and anticipation, its time to talk to Builders!

We go through how they made contact with three candidates, what they asked and how they went about settling on the ‘right’ builder for their project.

You’ve got your mission statement and vision clearly settled on. What’s next?

With their mission statement: “An uncomplicated renovation to transform our house into a warm, peaceful home. Easy to live in. Clean and simple finishes. On-time (10 weeks) and on budget ($75k)” set, Jeremy and Alana considered, and researched, all the changes they needed to make to their recently purchased house – to have it meet that aspiration.

When they felt like they’d researched and decided everything they could – it was time to find a Builder to help them realise their vision.

  • There were four general points we were mindful of when we set out to find the right builder (in no particular order):

    • Communication/feel
    • Cost
    • Availability & reliability
    • Workmanship

    There’s a saying we were both mindful of: ‘speed, quality, cost: pick two!’. We were unsure if this applied to building, but we hoped not!

    Because we were going to be project managing the renovation ourselves, we were aware of the importance of having the right chemistry with the builder doing the work. This really came down to communication, and how well we understood each other. We’d be careful to pay close attention to this throughout the search.

    We were open to either a fixed price, or hourly rate, and wanted to have a good chat about the merits and drawbacks of both.

    When it came to workmanship, we expected whoever we chose would be both experienced in, and passionate about doing the kind of work we needed done. We didn’t want a builder who was mainly passionate about new builds, doing our work because they needed to fill a gap. We wanted someone who could grasp and share our vision, who was passionate about doing a great job – and who was excited to help us fulfil our dream.

    Finally, we needed someone who could get in and do the job as soon as possible. We wanted someone who would be able to see it through, without needing to put us off for weeks mid-job, while they tended to other work.

    A lot of people talk about ‘getting a quote’ on their job. For us, it was much more than that. We were evaluating many factors – cost was only one.

How did you find builders to meet with?

With a plan in place for evaluating whether a builder was the right match for their project, Jeremy and Alana set about finding builders to meet with and discuss their project.

  • Even if our story wasn’t going to be featured on Builderscrack, we’d have used it.

    • We could put in all the details about our job, and have builders express interest. (rather than ringing around)
    • By going through each builder’s history and feedback, we got a good idea of other people’s experiences with them. (rather than the hit and miss of navigating multiple websites)
    • We controlled who we then communicated with.

    We carefully crafted our job post to appeal to the kind of builder we wanted to make contact with. We viewed our job as a kind of ‘ad’, to attract the best builders for our job – and made sure to include as much detail as we knew about what needed to be done:

    We have recently purchased an original 1960’s three bedroom brick home. We would like to completely refresh the house inside and out. This includes the following building work:

    • Remove all existing timber single glazing and replace with aluminium double glazed units
    • Replace existing timber main entrance door with aluminium door
    • Replace two large windows with triple stack sliding doors
    • Frame up two exterior doors and ready for bricky to cover
    • Enlarge doorway between the kitchen and living area, to create an open plan living space
    • Insulate and re-gib ceiling and three walls
    • Install two cavity sliders
    • Remove all existing kitchen joinery and prepare space for new kitchen
    • Remove existing carpet
    • Remove existing hot water cylinder and cupboard
    • Create space for new hot water cylinder

    We’re looking for a builder experienced in renovation type work to undertake the above and liaise with the other tradespeople involved.

After posting your job, what happened next? How did you manage the visits?

With their job on Builderscrack, it was now time to meet and discuss their project with the builders they’d chosen to communicate with.

  • We had several interested builders! It was really exciting, the feeling that things were actually underway, even though this was just the start.

    Builderscrack allowed us to communicate with up to three builders. Our first job was to look through each builder’s work history and customer feedback. To be fair, all applicants were really good.

    The builders we communicated with all had completed jobs of a similar nature and size before through Builderscrack, and their client’s had raved about them.

    It’s worth mentioning that because we were anticipating using Buildercrack to find all of the tradespeople to work on our project, for this feature – we wanted to discuss that too. Almost all builders will have sub-contractors that they will either recommend, or completely manage for you to keep things simple. We would be managing all the tradespeople ourselves, so needed to discuss this.

    Organising the meetings was simple. We chatted on the phone and organised a time to meet at our house.

    From there we took each builder through the house. We spoke about our general plans for the reno, as well as asking various questions and chatting, so we could get a feel for each other:

    • How long have you been building?
    • What is your favourite kind of work?
    • Do you do a lot of work like this?
    • What other work do you have on at the moment?
    • How many guys work in your company?

    And then project-specific questions:

    • Do you have any other suggestions?
    • Is there anything we need to think about further?
    • Is there any restricted building work as part of this project?
    • Are you qualified to do all the work?
    • Will we need any building consents?
    • Is everything we’ve discussed pretty straightforward?
    • Will there be any problematic bits?
    • You will want to ask if they have their own sub-trades, if you want them to manage the project completely. We asked if they were happy for us to use our own sub-trades.

    And finally, pricing and time questions:

    • Will fixed rate or hourly be more suitable for this job?
    • If hourly, can you please provide an estimate?
    • If fixed, can you please provide a full quote including materials (or if too difficult to quote for materials, can you estimate materials)?
    • When are you available to start?
    • How long will the job take?
    • When will I have to confirm with you for you to stick to those timeframes?

    We met with each of the three builders, and waited for estimates and quotes before making a decision.

Who did you choose, and why?

After meeting with three builders and discussing their renovation project, Jeremy and Alana had received three quotes and/or estimates. It was now time to choose the builder they’d work with to realise their dream!

  • Before we talk about this, it might be useful to share the difference between a quote and an estimate.

    • A quote is a legally binding contract, and is actually often used as a contract in building work under $30k (if above this value, a contract is legally required)
    • An estimate is not legally binding, and is offered as a courtesy from the tradesperson to the client. Though it may be presented in the resolution of a dispute, it is up to the adjudicator whether they consider it or not.

    So at this point, we had met with the three builders we’d found through Builderscrack and spent time with each one discussing our project. We had three quotes and/or estimates and were ready to decide who we’d go with.

    Mark Smith, owner & operator of Mark Smith builders was our choice.

    He provided an hourly rate quote, with estimates on total hours and materials. Through discussing with Mark when we met, we agreed that this pricing arrangement would be the best approach for this project – given the potentially variable nature of some aspects.

    Mark and his guys could start in a week, and he estimated the building component would take about 2 weeks.

    Two of the things that really attracted us to Mark was his experience, but also his problem solving approach to the things we wanted to do. In the course of our initial meeting, he asked many questions about things we hadn’t thought about. If there was anything we didn’t know, he had great ideas for the way it could be done.

    We felt in safe hands, confident that Mark would lead the project through to a great result.

    We agreed that the quote would form the contract, and Mark would invoice us periodically for hours and materials.

    After committing to working with Mark, we organised a further site meeting to discuss the exact project details and make a project plan. Before we met, we would need to organise for the house to be made electrically safe; critical for the project to begin. Mark also suggested we meet with the glazier/joiner on-site at the same time as our meeting, to measure the windows with Mark present- ensuring a perfect fit.

    It was time to get cracking!

Lessons learned when finding a Builder

  • The right ‘feel’, or ‘chemistry’ with your builder is critical. You should feel listened to and understood.

  • Evaluate your time constraints, desired quality of finish (including materials), and budget. Discuss these points with the builder at the first meeting.

  • Builderscrack has some real advantages over other ways of finding tradespeople, including being able to view each tradesperson’s work history and customer feedback. Learn everything you can about the tradesperson you’re meeting and be confident to ask about their previous experience and feedback when you meet.

  • Craft an appealing job description. Sell your job! Make your description appeal to the type of tradesperson you’re looking for. The more information, the better!

  • Ask lots of questions when you meet the tradesperson. Be sure to discuss what they think is the best way to quote or estimate on your job.

  • Sit down and evaluate everything you’ve learned about each of the tradespeople you’ve met. Don’t be focused solely on price quotes or estimates – great communication and chemistry are generally what makes projects run smoothly.

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