Owner builder

In stead of using a builder to build your own home, you can act as the builder yourself and owner-building your own home or small commercial building (less than 500m2 that is not a detached house). Note that your home cannot be owned by a corporate body or trust. You must be the owner of the land and intend to reside on the land which the building work is to be carried out when the building work is completed. 

For small projects under $20,000 you don’t need to apply for owner builder. On the building permit you still write your name as the builder, but you don’t need an owner-builder permit.

When applying you must show that you have sufficient knowledge of the duties and responsibilities involved in being an owner-builder to the Building Services Board. This can be done by completing an owner-builder course, being registered or licensed as a building industry professional/tradesperson in Western Australia, or having other relevant building industry qualifications or experience. 

https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/building-commission/owner-builder-application

If you build as owner-builder, you have to be aware that you have to comply with Building codes, Australian Standards and safety regulations. Owner-builders are responsible for the building work carried out for a minimum of six years. If you hire supervisors or managers, you are still responsible. If you sell your home within seven years from the date of a building licence or permit being issued, you need a home indemnity insurance that covers subsequent owners if problems with the building develop and the owner-builder fails to rectify faulty or unsatisfactory workmanship due to disappearance, death or insolvency.

Why would you want to be an owner-builder?

Most people would build owner-builder for cost saving reasons. Builders charge around 10-20% for their building service and that is easily $50,000 for a $350,000 building. On top of this you can save money on jobs that you can do yourself. Especially if you have a trade, like carpenter or brick layer, you can save a lot on labour cost. However, don’t forget that when you work on your home, you are not working for your own clients. Some owner-builders keep working and work on their own home after hours and in the weekends. Be aware that this is quite demanding. If you don’t have a trade, but you are handy, you can still do jobs like painting, assembling flat-packs, installing insulation, keep the site clean (and bring waste to the disposal centre). 

You don’t have to work on your home. You can just organise and supervise, which is time consuming enough. You can also hire a supervisor, but keep in mind that you are still responsible for all the work. 

Three key elements in the success of owner-building are: people, communication and organising skills

People

You need the right people for the job. And this can be quite a stressful part. You are trying to find honest and well skilled trades. And how do you find these? Ask around (and not only through Facebook) for trades that friends are well bespoken of. Look on the internet and try to find reviews. Not all trades are computer users, and there are still quite a lot out there who would not be on google maps or other platforms where you can find them like Houzz, but they can be in the yellow pages. If you don’t know the trade professional, try to meet and ask if you can see some of their work. Further, use your intuition. 99% we get a feeling the moment we talk to someone (either over the phone or face to face). And last, don’t rush. This is sometimes hard as time is money as well. But it is not worth the time (and energy)  that it takes to make corrections and solve disputes just because of rushing something to get done quickly. 

Communication

Never assume that other people understand what you mean without explaining. You might feel a control-freak, but it is better to check certain installation techniques and materials and have a copy of the relevant drawings for them handy. Some tradies read from their phones, because they didn’t print the drawings. Best of all is that all important information is on the specifications, working drawings and/or the engineering drawings (these would overrule the working drawings). They have quoted jobs based on what you have supplied them, so if there is something missing or not clear, a dispute can arise (“I haven’t quoted for that because it was not on the drawings”). For example plumbing for wall cabinets that you would like to have hidden in the wall, but it is not noted on the drawings or an Rvalue of insulation that you would expect higher, but it was not specified (and the minimal standard is used). Regarding the working and engineering drawings, you have to understand every detail on them. These drawings can be overwhelming in the beginning. Just ask questions what you don’t understand. If you don’t understand them, you can not instruct or supervise the work. 

Organisation

A lot of details don’t have to be specified on the drawings for council approval, but are crucial for building construction. 

Before you start, it is good to have a checklist or detailed planning in place to organise your project. If there is a delay on a critical path, this means the estimated date of completion will be delayed. These can be simple things, like you forgot to order the lintels or the scaffolding on time for the brick layer. Therefore, it is important with every new trade on board, to check (if it is not in the quote): what do you supply and what do I supply? And sometimes you might have to order certain products from interstate (for cost savings or lack of supply) and this takes longer. 

You have to be “in the mood” for owner-building and having the time for it, otherwise it is not worth the pressure of the responsibility. And the final total cost can be even more than paying a builder. 

However, when designing a home, you don’t have to make the decision as yet to go owner-builder or use a builder. Although we recommend to involve a builder at engineering stage, you can wait until lodging the building permit.

© 2017 by Spacewise Design Pty Ltd

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