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  • What you need to know about being an owner-builder

    What you need to know about being an owner-builder

    In previous blogs, I’ve written about renovating your home from an owner’s point of view – the importance of planning, using an architect, bringing in the light, energy efficiency, finding the right builder and many other aspects. But I’ve  met a number of home owners who, in one way or another, have taken an active role in the building of their own renovation. So, let’s talk about the building process and what’s involved in acting as an owner-builder.

    You’ve probably heard the term ‘owner-builder’ used around the dinner table with friends – “we thought about being an owner-builder to save some money on our renovation.” Owner-builder is a technical term used to describe someone who takes on the formal, legal and regulatory responsibility for building works to their own home. Generally, you will be legally classed as an owner-builder if you are going to use your own skills in your renovation or you’re going to manage the range of tradespeople who will do work for you. In other words, you’re going to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in!

    So, what skills might you have or need as an owner-builder, and what do you need to know?

    The skills

    If you’re going to do a bit of the painting and put up some shelves in the study, then you’re not an owner-builder. These types of ‘simple’ tasks are not part of the regulated building process. In fact, we’ve probably all done some of these jobs at some point already. I’ll bet there’s a paint stained t-shirt in the back of every home owner’s cupboard!

    But if for example, you’re going to be doing all the timber framing, laying bricks or you’re going to co-ordinate the work of all the expert trades (which trade comes when, checking their work, regulatory inspections etc…) then you’re in owner-builder territory. 

    The building process is highly regulated for a number of important reasons including: safety (no one is hurt during construction, the building is structurally sound etc…); standards (rooms are big enough, there’s adequate natural light and ventilation etc…); siting and appearance (it’s not too big for your neighbourhood, it’s not built too close to the adjacent block or the street etc…); and the list goes on. It’s for these reasons that builders in all states and territories in Australia must be licensed and registered with the appropriate authorities.

    A word of caution. Some building activities can only be undertaken by licensed tradespeople – particularly electrical and plumbing works. Do not undertake this kind of work in any instance – you must use licensed and qualified experts.

    What you need to know?

    As an owner-builder, you need to be aware of the wide range of laws, regulations and standards that apply – and this is where it can become complicated if you’re not an expert.

    Ideally, some experience is needed. Your local building authority or consumer affairs should be able to provide more information. It could also pay to have a ‘trusted adviser’ who could help out such as an architect, builder or project manager, but ultimately you will still be responsible for all decisions. You also need the required building insurances as an owner-builder both during the building work and once completed.

    One good way to get started is with a smaller project. Perhaps build a small deck, put a doorway into a wall, or maybe give your bathroom a makeover. 

    You’ll probably need to bring in some experts for these projects so ask them if they’ll let you work with them to learn. Even small projects like these may require building permits and other regulatory applications, but with a small project you can test yourself and start learning some of the necessary skills and compliance processes.

    Time is also important. As an owner-builder you need to consider when you will get the time to build? Perhaps you’ll need to take some time off work, but it’s more likely you’ll be working nights and weekends – during your ‘spare’ time. This approach will take longer to complete the project and will likely wear you and your family down. If you’re heading down this route make sure you take time out for a rest and be realistic about how much you can do in a given time period.

    The most important question you should ask yourself, however, is “why owner-build?”

    For some who have the skills required (particularly registered builders and tradespersons), it’s an obvious choice to complete your own renovation. For many of us though it comes down to saving money. If you act as owner-builder, you’ll have more control over the project and spending, and will save on the cost of a registered builder to co-ordinate the renovation works.

    However, building is a very complicated process with many regulatory and technical boundaries. The extra expense on a capable, registered builder to oversee your renovation might easily outweigh the difficulties and stress you encounter as an owner-builder. Those ‘savings’ may not seem quite so worthwhile when you’re deep into the challenges, with a concrete pour underway and someone forgot to connect the toilet plumbing!

    Do your research

    Talk with your local council, friends who may have done this already, your architect, builders and tradespeople. Get legal and insurance advice too, so you can make an informed decision.

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    About the author

    • Cameron Frazer

      Cameron Frazer from Archicentre is on hand to help avoid thousands of dollars on costly repairs that can turn that dream home into a nightmare. As our resident architect, Cameron, will show buyers what to look for and the questions to ask when purchasing a property, and how to get the right professional help for your renovation or building project.

      With over 20 years of experience in design, construction, project management and sustainability, Cameron has led significant architectural projects in the private and public sectors. He will also look at how to assess a property, consider the potential renovation costs and how to best unlock future capital growth.

      Cameron Frazer

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  • Disclaimer:

    The information here is of a general nature only and is not intended to constitute financial or tax advice. You should consult your professional adviser, accountant or taxation expert for advice specific to your personal circumstances.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of RAMS Financial Group Pty Ltd ABN 30 105 207 538 (RAMS),  Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 (Westpac) or their related bodies corporate. This article is strictly for information purposes only and neither RAMS, Westpac nor any of their related bodies corporate make any representation as to the accuracy or completeness of the information in this article or endorse the views expressed in it.