How to gain control over the construction process

Construction expert David Sharp reveals the steps that home owners and investors can take to gain control over their new build, renovations and extensions.

David is a home renovation and extension advocate, supporting home owners through the entire construction process and ultimately saving them time, money, and unforeseen complications.

He joined KnowHow’s Bushy Martin on the Property Hub’s Get Invested podcast to discuss how homeowners and investors can regain control of what can be a costly, time consuming and stressful process if handled the wrong way.

Construction tip 1: Act with caution

David advised those going into construction of the need to proceed with caution and always research before making decisions.

“Just understand there are huge sums of money involved, and some of the smallest mistakes can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. So step forward with caution. No one’s trying to rip you off, but just assume that inefficiencies are going to be rewarded. Don’t believe every yes you said. I just sort of have a little bit of a scepticism involved with what’s going on, and just understand and try and interpret that person’s motivations as our industry is not full of people trying to do the wrong thing intentionally, but inevitably the wrong thing gets done,” David said.

Construction tip 2: Don’t commit too early

Some people are unsure of where to go or who to start the process with, and then commit too early to a builder without fully understanding the costs involved.

“So our industry is full of service builders, and they have a place and it’s great. You go there and they get their architect to draw up some plans, and they have engineers and all sorts of people. They’re paying a salesman a rate to manage your process and get you approved. But it’s all looked after them. You’ve handed over control. You’ll often find on page seven of the terms and conditions you actually don’t even own those plans,” David said.

“So right at the very start, from that very first phone call, you’ve made a fundamental error. You’ve handed over all control. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars here. It’s one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make, and yet we hand over full control over to other people.

“The other mistake is they go talk to an architect, and even though they’re fantastic at what they do, they have very little understanding of what things actually cost to build. I’ve seen it a thousand times where once you’ve seen a million dollar design, when you’ve only got $600,000, you all of a sudden say a $600,000 home is awful. You don’t like it, you don’t want anything to do with it. You’ve seen the light. You’ve seen it now. So, that’s probably the mistake – you’re actually often committing to who you’re going to buy off before you know how much it’s going to cost. Now, that’s a very vulnerable position.

“For some reason when we’re building, we jump in, we commit, we commit, we commit, then widen the pot $50,000 into the process. We then find out what it’s going to cost and it’s all too late. Those plans are unique, and they can’t just be shifted. So the number one fundamental thing is to try keep control for as long as possible.”

Construction tip 3: Make decisions based on your initial budget

David says investors and homeowners need to be realistic about their financial capabilities from the start.

“Everybody wants to dive in headfirst and go and just start throwing money at it, but that’s not always the right way to go about it. So the process should really start with an initial consultation to have that realistic budget discussion. I’ll be honest with you, probably around 30% of people I go to see I’ll say don’t start, because if that’s your budget and that’s your brief, there’s a gap. They either need more money, and we’ve all got finite amounts of money, but we also have a finite need. So if you need an extra three bedrooms to make your family work, but you’ve only got X dollars and it’s going to cost X plus a lot, then don’t start,” David said.

“There comes a time where you’ve got to start spending money. I’d rather say to people, stop, don’t invest, don’t do it now. I don’t want people on that treadmill. Too often they’ll say let’s go, let’s go, despite full knowledge that it’s going to cost way more, but they just anticipate that they’re going to go back to the bank and borrow more money. But those times are changing, that’s not so easy now.

“So start with that conversation early, get that information, empower yourself with that knowledge as early as possible and keep control on your side of the table for as long as possible.”

Construction tip 4: Define which tasks require external help

A key strategy to maintaining control is isolating individual tasks and determining whether something it is a DIY job or if it requires professional help.

“There are people doing minor renovations that may not need certification and council approval and an architect. So my advice to those people is to compartmentalise and have a series of buckets. There’s a level of approval needed for things. So just tiling a bathroom doesn’t need approval, you can just get it done, so put that into a bucket. Extending needs to go into another bucket, knocking down a tree is another bucket. So in the end you might only be going to a builder for one small part. You can manage those little bits on your own. The painting, the new window, you can control that,” David said.

From here, isolating each task also simplifies the entire construction process and lowers the costs.

“Keep those buckets separate and then say, okay, I’m only dealing with this one little bucket. Now, it’s not this whole elaborate project. If you go to a builder with the whole elaborate project, you’re going to pay for that whole elaborate project and it just adds up. It makes the job more complex and more difficult for a builder. If you can go there with just that one little bucket and say, hey, I just need that small wall knocked out, the builder will go, oh that’s easy, we can do that. And it keeps the contract price down and the fees will be less,” he said.

Listen to the full interview here.

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