22 June 2017 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.