This month we spoke with the lovely Karen (husband John is also a part of the team) who is working through an extension to an existing house in country Victoria.
We finished our chat with Karen thinking – 1) Karen speaks like she's learnt a lot through from her experience and 2) everyone needs a John in the owner builder process. Someone whose mission is to nail every part of the process – to perfection.
Why did you become an Owner Builder?
John is a steel fabricator and is the type of person who takes a lot pride in his work and likes things done right. He wanted to be part of the process especially the parts he could do himself.
Once you decided to become an Owner Builder, what did you do next?
Because we were extending onto an existing house, we approached an Architect as we felt we needed quite detailed plans and specialist knowledge. Part of what we needed to do was match the existing roofline with the new roofline and we wanted to find a way to use the existing roof trusses rather than removing existing infrastructure. We felt an Architect could find a way that could be done.
Our Architect also helped us with the application for the permit, planning approvals and Council requirements.
It was also our Architect who informed us of the requirements to get an owner builder permit through the VBA (Victorian Builder Authority). Doing a course was only introduced by the VBA during our planning stage.
I did a face-to-face training session to get my White Card then completed the Owner Builder course online. I found it quite simple to get through actual course.
What I found difficult was retaining the information from the course over a period of time, remembering what needed to be implemented in the different stages. I had to keep referring back to the course information throughout the build.
I relied a lot on our builder because I couldn’t retain the information about the Building Codes. It was up to us to make sure it was done properly.
Did you approach more than one builder to do the work?
We contacted a registered builder that we knew. We had a sense that a builder may not want to do the work but our builder was happy to fit in our job with his other jobs.
He was happy to do that because when you sub-contract to a builder as an owner builder, the builder doesn’t have to outlay any money. We were paying for the materials – putting deposits on windows, framing, he didn’t have to do any of that and payment for his labour came at the end of the stages.
The builder doesn’t take on any responsibility for the outcome of the build. That responsibility lies with the owner builder.
For example, under a typical build by a builder, if the builder’s plumber did poor quality work, the builder would have to follow it up. But under an OB arrangement, it’s the OB that needs to follow it up.
We found sub-contracting to a registered builder invaluable. Although it was tricky at times when it came to the lines of communication – the builder was speaking to me then separately to my husband, wires got crossed at times.
Did you do a written contract with your builder and other trades?
Yes. It clearly outlined the work the builder would do as well as the payment stages. The builder actually provided a contract and that made it easier for me.
We used detailed quotes as the written agreement for other trades e.g. the plumber. Plumbing and electrical are governed by regulations e.g. plumbing and electrical certificates are a mandatory part of building inspections at certain stages (their workmanship is governed by different authorities).
We found it hard to get contracts with other trades like the concreter. They weren’t interested in signing contracts. They’re not bothered whether they do a job or not because they’ve got plenty of jobs on the go with volume builders every single week.
Did you rely on your builder’s contacts?
We did a bit of both. We used trades recommended by our builder but we also did some sourcing of our own. For example, we wanted to use a certain window manufacturer but our builder advised us against it and suggested another supplier that was dearer but better quality.
What would you do differently if you had your time over?
One overarching piece of knowledge we have learnt is when you’re getting your quotes from trades people, make sure they’re quoting for the exact same thing.
If you know what they’re quoting for, a dearer quote is dearer for a reason and sometimes it can be because they allow for more time on the job making sure it’s right.
Not all trades are going to share your interest in doing the job right.
From a relationship perspective, what advice can you give?
We didn’t have any experience from the outset, we valued working with people that we knew of or knew so we could communicate with them – drawing on their knowledge and experience.
In some ways, when you create a relaxed and familiar business relationship with the person working on your job it can make it hard if you need to be authoritative.
If there was a problem, it was more difficult to navigate when things weren’t to standard.
The more knowledge you have yourself about different aspects of the job, like concreting, plumbing, tiling and how it should be done, the better.
Either talk to retired tradies, Google or watch Bunnings installation videos. It’ easier to go back to them and say, that’s not right, it needs to be changed.
If a plumber does the work before the walls go up and in one year, there’s a problem. It’s building insurance that covers repairs, not the plumber.
Don’t always trust your tradespeople to do everything 100% right because they’ll do it as quickly, easily and cheaply as they can.
If you had your time again, would you still do it as an Owner Builder?
Yes! Because I know my husband would want to be a big part of it and want things done right.
No one will love your house as much you.
Three key points from Karen we believe are worth mentioning again:
- Responsibility for the entire build falls on the Owner Builder.
- Question the difference (if any) in quotes from trades and understand why the difference.
- The more knowledge you have of the building process, the better. Especially when it comes to making sure the job is done properly.
A very big thank you to Karen for taking time out to share her (and John's) Owner Builder experience.