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Volume or custom? How to choose the right builder for your new home

by Daniel Butkovich


Choosing a builder is one of the biggest decisions in the home-building process, as they are responsible for creating the house your family will live in for years to come.

Builders can be roughly divided into two categories. Volume or project home builders are large companies that may construct hundreds of homes per year from a set catalogue of designs.

Custom builders are usually smaller companies that build homes specifically designed for the client, and might only complete a handful of projects in the same period.

Should you choose a volume or custom builder?

Volume builders offer significant savings over custom builders by standardising designs and maximising efficiency with materials and trades.

Managing director of Allworth Homes Stephen Thompson said for most people the decision between volume and custom comes down to price.

“With a custom one-off approach, the rate per square metre is quite a bit more than an off-the-shelf design, and that’s because of the speed at which we can build,” Mr Thompson said.

Buyers usually choose from a set range of fixtures and finishes, and there may be limitations on floorplan modifications.

According to managing director of architecture firm Superdraft, Mark Deacon, savings come at the expense of flexibility.

“It’s very cost-effective, but it’s not designed to maximise the site and you can’t customise it to suit your needs,” he said.

Volume builders may also offer house and land packages to buyers who don’t already own a block of land, which streamlines the process but limits buyers to specific suburbs, usually on the outskirts of major cities or in regional areas.

For those who do own the land, Mr Thompson said the block often dictates the type of builder, as most volume designs can’t be built on small or significantly sloping blocks.

“It tends to be people that have blocks that are a little awkward that end up going with a custom builder to get what they want,” he said.

Where to find a builder

Mr Thompson said most customers of volume builders choose their home in a display village, gravitating towards names they knew. Many buyers were referred to a company by friends who had positive experiences building with them, while others were repeat customers.

“They wanted to build with a builder they recognised, and they wanted to trust the salesperson they were dealing with,” he said.

Philip Drew from PMD Build said word of mouth and recommendations were the main ways most people came across a builder for a custom home.

“For the project we’re building now, the client saw us building a house in the next street,” he said. “I had a chat and introduced them to the client.”

Mr Drew said architects can also help connect clients with builders. “We have good relationships with architects – they pick us to match the client,” he said.

Consulting with an architect before looking for a builder will result in a fairer price, according to Mr Deacon. “If you get independent plans done, you can tender it out to multiple builders and they’re quoting off certified plans,” he said.

How do you make an informed choice?

Mr Thompson said buyers should be wary when inspecting display homes, which often feature optional extras that aren’t included in the base price, particularly expensive landscaping.

“The reality of what you get is far removed from what you see in a lot of cases,” he said.

Master Builders Association of Victoria chief executive Radley de Silva said shopping around is important. “Before committing, get at least three quotes from registered builders and understand what your budget will buy you,” he said.

While you can browse the work of volume builders in person, this can be trickier with smaller companies. Builders who rely on recommendations may not invest heavily in marketing, so a lack of online presence is common and shouldn’t necessarily be deal breaker.

In these cases, a builder’s credentials can be checked on the website of the master builder’s association in each state. “Be sure to ask for references and examples of their previous work,” Mr de Silva said.

It’s worth talking to a builder’s previous customers, and even arranging a walk-through of a home in progress or immediately after completion. “An ordinary builder leaves a lot of bits and bobs ––- at the end,” Mr Thompson said.

Choosing a builder you get along with is important, as is making sure their communication style matches the level of involvement you expect to have throughout the project.

“The key to a good builder-client relationship is clear communication,” Mr de Silva said.

“Decide on what you want to achieve from the start and ensure everything is in place to prevent unforeseen, costly amendments and confusion later on.”

This article was originally published on Domain.com.au.

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