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Picking the right builder for a reno

Picking the right builder for a reno

A good quality builder is essential for a successful project, but how do you weed the good from the not-so-good? Ilse Wolfe explains.

By: Ilse Wolfe

28 June 2023

It’s common for first-time renovators to search for builders on sites like No Cowboys. But while this method is popular, it’s also risky.

“Ideally, the best way to find a builder is through reliable word of mouth,” Wolfe says. “But not everyone has access to this sort of insider intel.”

However, this doesn’t mean you need to skimp on quality. Here are a few tips to help ensure you find a reputable builder.

Be wary of Google

Sometimes jumping online can be your only option when builder hunting. But online sites are self-promotion, so there isn’t the confidence of having that word-of-mouth referral.

And there’s also a real mix of quality on these types of websites, and Wolfe maintains it can still be risky to rely solely on someone’s self-promotion. One way around this is to look at their calendars. “If they are full, they are in demand, this means they are doing a good job.”

Look for pairs

A solo builder isn’t going to cut it for a renovation project. This is why, when deciding on the size of the company to use, you want to be looking at how many employees there are, and what sort of work they focus on.

“Companies that can have two, four, six builders are great,” she says. “That gives them the ability to scale up or down through the renovation scope as needed.”

This is because (ideally) you want a builder to be agile and able to shuffle between different sites.

“In Whangarei, my builders can jump between my renovation sites and their new build projects from one day to the next, often driven by the weather,” she says. “This works well for renovation projects. And if they are really good builders they will know how to optimise their schedules.”

This is a very different set-up to the world of new builds, where there are usually loads of people on site. This is why it’s also important to ask any potential builder what type of work they do.

“Some companies will focus on architectural new build design. These builders are going to be premium price – more than what is needed for retrofitting an existing build.”

Websites say a lot

Yes, a strong online presence is a good start because it means they back themselves, Wolfe says. However, there are certain red flags to watch for.

“You want to see a quality well-built website, testimonials, and the option to reach out to past clients,” she says. “But if they say ‘We will beat every quote’, it quite likely won’t end well.”

Also, if there is no online presence and they are purely listed on those catalogue websites, then tread carefully.

Get them on site

Wolfe says once you’ve got a shortlist, and had a chat over the phone, it’s important to get them to the site ASAP. “This is the interview. You want to hear them speak about the job.

“Ask questions as if you are trying to be educated, but really you want them to demonstrate their worth.”

Wolfe says you’re looking for them to be knowledgeable about the building code, methodical and quick to answer questions. It’s also a good idea to line up the electrician and plumber at this point, to sound-check ideas from your builder.

“If everyone is on the same page, this is a positive sign. If they’re stalling, and stuttering, or misinformed – maybe search elsewhere.”

Common mistakes

It’s very tempting to opt for the cheapest quote, but you can’t have the cheapest price and get the best job. It’s all about balancing budget and quality. Also, don’t get too hung up on finicky details.

An investor I know missed out on a good builder because they got weighed down with too many details. The to-and-froing emails were too much for the builder, and he walked away. It’s all very well to ask questions, but don’t get bogged down.

Finally, always get at least two quotes, and check you are working with a licensed builder.

All things considered, it’s not necessarily a risk to use a builder from a shared website, but you must run your due diligence in tandem, especially before payments are made.

Head to opespartners.co.nz/learn for the full article. Ilse Wolfe is Director of Opes Accelerate Coaching Program. To enquire about memberships and how you could accelerate your property investment pathway contact Ilse at accelerate@opespartners.co.nz. For further information visit www.opespartners.co.nz/accelerate. Follow Ilse at @opesaccelerate on Instagram.