this is an article for people looking to get started on their renovation journey and explains how to go about it, the first steps needed to get started

Author - Jonathan Hayes (this is an extract from the book "Build It, The home renovation survival guide")

if people would like to purchase the book they can go to it is also available at all other online book stores.

when starting your renovation project, who should you reach out to first?

Engaging a builder

The residential construction industry is made up many different parties i.e. suppliers, home owners, subcontractors, government regulatory departments, housing industry bodies etc. The link between all of these parties is the builder. Your builder will deal with all of these parties in order to get your project built in accordance with Australian standards, the National Construction Code and local government requirements.

Most people are at the feasibility stage when they initially engage a builder. They want to know how tangible their ideas are e.g. ‘Can I take down this wall?’, ‘Is it structural?’, and of course, ‘How expensive will the project be?’

A good builder will guide you through this design process, work out what can and can’t be done, and give you a budget quotation or an estimate. A Preliminary Building Agreement (PBA) will help guide you through this process. There are costs involved as the builder will need to ask industry professionals to assess the site and comment on the overall design elements you are after. Some items required are a site survey, which consists of a contour plan identifying the land levels and an identification survey, which shows all structures on the land and pinpoints where they are in relation to the property’s boundaries; a rough design brief advising material selections and finishes such as flooring and scope of tiling; and CAD drawings completed by a draftsperson, or an architect if you are also engaging one.

The PBA is a good opportunity to see if the builder is suitable to undertake the entire project with you. Take note of how they communicate with you and other professionals. Are they systematic and thorough in their processes? A good builder will have good knowledge of all types of materials and styles on the market along with current trends. They will also have a good pool of knowledge to draw on based on other projects they’ve completed.

If your builder doesn’t possess their attributes, this early stage is a good time to find an alternative contractor to work with. Don’t worry, you will still be able to use the drawings and other materials the first builder has provided for you. And once this process is completed, you will have enough documentation to start getting fixed-price quotes.

Pros of using a professional builder

• The builder knows the processes involved to get the design phase started

• The builder will have relationships with industry professionals to ensure the process runs smoothly

• You get to see how the builder operates prior to progressing too far with the project

• The process will be quicker than going it alone

• This process will be cheaper than an architect


• None really. However, I may be a bit biased.

Engaging an architect

An architect will start by forming a design brief. They will discuss with you your expectations, project requirements and budget. During the design phase they will need to assess the site conditions and work out the best layout, orientation and position your project should take. The architect will then develop rough sketches and plans. Once these items are all known the architect can have the concept plans drawn up.

After acceptance of the concept drawings (this process takes a lot of back and forth between you and the architect nutting out the finer details of the design), the architect will prepare the technical drawings and specifications, and engage the necessary professionals i.e. structural engineers, acoustic engineers, hydraulic engineers, geotechnical reports etc to design these necessary requirements. These documents are then submitted to obtain local authority building approvals.

If you are using your architect to administer the project, the architect will send the documents out to tender. Quite often architects will have a list of builders they like to work with and they will invite them to quote on the works. Once the builder is selected, the architect works with the builder and other project team members to ensure your project is constructed in accordance with the drawings and specifications. It is important to remember that although you engage and pay for the architect to administer the project, the architect must administer fairly to both parties to bring the works to conclusion. The architect cannot be biased towards either you or your builder.

Pros of using an architect

• Architects have 7–9 years of university study behind them

• They are highly skilled and understand all facets of house design and construction requirements

• Using an architect ensures your project is seen through from concept to completion, and after the documents and approvals are finalised you can choose to have little input. All the decisions have been made upfront and if any problems or incidentals pop up, the architect will handle these problems themselves.


• The cost – architects are expensive. There are a couple of ways that architects charge for their services: 1. Fixed fee: if you are not sure of your construction costs, an architect will charge a flat rate based on the size of your house, or a base rate plus hourly charges for plan changes and incidental costs. Architects will be able to show you examples of their previous works and let you know the costs that they charged. 2. Hourly rate: for a small project your architect will more than likely suggest an hourly fee 3. Percentage fee: it is common for architects to charge a 10–15% fee based on the overall cost of your construction project for the plans and council submission only. They will then have a schedule of rates that they can supply for the administration of the project e.g. fixed site-visit cost.

Becoming an owner/builder In the tradition of having a go, many Australians are building their own homes. If you’re a confident project manager in another industry, it’s not uncommon to believe that a home renovation will be a walk in the park. However, I’ve been contacted by lots of owner/builders who are struggling to get traction on their job. Often things aren’t going as they’d hoped and they want a licensed builder to get the project finished.

Unfortunately licensed builders know all too well to stay clear of these jobs. Usually subcontractors have partially completed the works or structural items have not been installed correctly. With owner/builders it is all too common that mistakes have been made early in the build e.g. they’ve poured the slab to the wrong dimensions then the next trade doesn’t correct this or the owner/builder doesn’t know how best to remedy it. The longer this drags out, the more problematic it can become.

Back in my subcontractor days as a carpenter, I was contacted by an owner/builder who was building his family’s dream home. He was looking for a carpenter to do the fit-out on the project (install prefabricated doors, architraves, skirtings etc) but upon inspection, it was obvious to me that the house was a mess. Windows had been installed incorrectly, rooms were built out of square, the flooring was not level, plastering and gyprocking was not straight or square – the list goes on. I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t do the carpentry works to an acceptable standard and that he really needed to remedy the existing works first. He said not to worry about it and to just cover up the multitude of errors. I of course declined the opportunity to do a dodgy job. From the outset, his strategy was to screw down the pricing on all his tradies then try to cover up the poor workmanship that had taken place. I saw that house up for sale six months later – I feel sorry for the person who bought it.

Nowadays, owner/builders need to sit a course to take out an owner/builder’s licence. This course emphasises the importance of only using licensed tradespeople and the importance of supervising the works. Some owner/builders get sucked in to being an owner/builder when an unlicensed builder tells them they will manage the project and get the house built at a cheaper price. This however is fraught with danger. All governing bodies are against this set-up as it usually ends in disaster as the owner is taking on all risks e.g. insurances, warranties and compliances. This means the unlicensed builder can walk away from the project anytime without bearing any of the responsibilities.

Another downside of the owner/builder project is that usually it takes a lot longer than working with a professional builder. Owner/builders can be slowed down by trying to find reliable tradespeople and the quoting involved in doing so. Managing all these moving parts is also a big challenge. A builder is the connecting party between trades on a project and how they work together. Coordinating these parties can be overwhelming for an owner/ builder and unfortunately without intimate knowledge of the process, they will often take everything a tradie tells them as verbatim. This is a major downfall.

Generally tradies just want to get paid and move on to their next job. ‘The next trade is responsible to tidy up bits and pieces’ is a common phrase you’ll hear. However, this is just not the case. Often the owner will pay the tradie only to have the next tradie tell them, ‘I can’t do my job because the last tradie hasn’t completed their work’. In this case, the owner likely needs the previous tradie to come back. However, since they’ve been paid and moved on that can be a hard and long process.

Earlier in my career I was called out to quote on some building works, unaware it was an owner/builder who was approaching me to complete his project. Upon inspection it was evident there were some fundamental issues with the work that needed to be looked at from a compliance point of view. The owner/builder had allowed the concreters to set out the house slab but he never had the formwork checked for accuracy with the plans. Therefore the walls were in the wrong position by 100mm, which meant the building was encroaching the side boundaries – something that the PCA would not pass. The plans would need to be amended and re-submitted for approval. However, getting permission is not guaranteed.

I found out the mistake was initially found when the timber frames and trusses arrived onsite. The frame and truss manufacturer worked off the plans provided – however, they didn’t fit the slab. The owner/builder decided to alter the frames to suit the incorrect slab layout rather than troubleshooting the slab issue first. So after the frames were installed, the windows, brickwork and roof tiling all went ahead and tens of thousands of dollars of non-compliant, incorrect work was built. I stayed away from this project and later learnt that the owner/builder did in fact have his plans rejected and instead had to tear down the encroaching portion of the works. Not an easy task. This example illustrated that if you do choose to go it alone, you must adhere to stringent regulations, which every territory and state in Australia has.

You can find information about managing your own project at the below websites:

Victorian Building Authority: Fair Trading NSW: Government of Western Australia Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety: Queensland Building and Construction Commission: South Australia: Tasmanian Government, Consumer, Building and Occupational Services: NT Government: check-if-your-builder-is-registered

Pros of going it alone (not many of these)

• Get it done cheaper

• Work on it to your heart’s content


• Project will take longer

• You’ll have to closely supervise the tradies

• Tradies can take advantage of inexperienced owner/builders and get away with subpar work

• Costs blow out when rectification works are needed

• Compliance issues, such as obtaining necessary documentation from tradies

• Unfinished works

• Confrontations with tradespeople over money and scope of works

• Disconnect between tradespeople due to inexperience managing workflow.

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  • Key Words: home renovation, extension, renovation, custom built new home, kitchens, bathrooms, structural wall removal, alfresco, decking, bifold doors
  • Entry Type: Business