Word of mouth, if you’re lucky enough to hear any, is still the best way to find a good builder. You may need to expand your web a little, and talk not just to friends and acquaintances and professionals in the construction industry.
The two main building awards in Australia may yield some names; The Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders’ Association insist their members comply with a code of ethics, so you can be assured a builder attached to theses association is reputable.
What should I ask a builder at a first interview and what should I look out for?
Most importantly: don’t just take their word, make sure you sight the builder’s, Contractor License and the appropriate Australian Business Law requirement such as: An Australian Business Number (ABN) also if they are a company an Australian Company Number (ACN) and a Certificate of Registration of the Business Name (check the validity dates to ensure they are current). Also ask to see certificates or membership cards of any industry affiliations they claim to be associated with.
References: It’s smart to ask a builder for details of the last three projects they carried out. Visiting these sites and talking to the owners will give a more current and more realistic picture of the builder’s work practices than the builder’s handpicked referees. This shouldn’t be necessary if the builder already comes recommended by someone you trust.
Since many builders specialise in either renovations or new homes, ask if they have done similar projects with a similar price range to yours. This is especially important if your project comes with special issues, like heritage value, green building requirements, prefabrication, or a difficult site. Also ask if they are fully covered by insurance (sighting a Certificate of Currency will ensure its validity) and if they offer any warranties.
Building is a creative occupation, and you should look out for signs your prospective builder has interesting solutions to problems. Are they already advising you on the best use of space, materials or lighting? Do they offer numerous options for fulfilling the brief? Are they spotting things before you mentioned them?
Get some sense of who you will be dealing with:
Is the company run by the person you are talking to ?
Who will be your contact when building starts?
Will there be a project manager, and who will talk through issues like material selection?
If it this is a one man band, you need to feel comfortable personally with this builder-manager?
Finally, get some sense of the builder’s schedule in the short term. Will they be available when you need them?