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Avoid common pitfalls and traps

Adam Weaver

Avoid common pitfalls, traps, or mistakes

Being an owner builder can be incredibly rewarding - you get to design your home your way, and create something truly unique and valuable.

But just like Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility - if anything goes wrong on the project, you'll be the one held accountable.

Tip: Be actively involved in construction planning

As an owner builder, you'll have to take an active role in scheduling the work and the tradesmen. We'd urge you to build a little "fat" into your timeframes, so that if any early stage of the build is held up (by inclement weather, illness, or other unforeseen events), you won't have to seriously delay later parts. We find that early delays cascade into a "snowball" sort of effect, and on tight projects a one-week delay very early could lead to a many-month delay at the tail end.

Remember, lots of people are naturally optimists, and tend to under-estimate timeframes! Make sure you account for that.

Tip: Review the work being done

We regularly hear horror stories of owner builders picking the cheapest tradies they can find (because they're running out of time and money due to early budgeting errors), and having those "tradesmen" perform shoddy or completely ineffectual work. 

If you discover the errors early, the financial damage is minimal - you can sack the contractor and hire someone more competent.

But if you only discover the error towards the end of the project ... you could be talking about many many thousands of dollars in rectification work, involving tearing down perfectly good work to get at the bad.

As a builder, you're responsible for checking the quality of the work being done. You can't buy insurance for "faulty workmanship"; catching that poor work early is part of the builder's job.

Tip: Make sure your contractors are insured

Tradesman insurance is inexpensive and readily available. Just about every insurer in Australia offers a competitive package for trades type insurance, and each state's "builders warranty" insurance facility is simple to use.

Yet we occasionally hear from owner builders that tradesmen ask the owner-builder to carry the insurance risk for the tradesman, because he can't purchase it himself. 

Don't try to do that! Your insurance covers your risks, e.g. someone suing you for injury or damage caused by the project. Your insurance does not, and absolutely should not cover the tradesmen themselves - they need their own insurance. If your cheap-but-available contractor say that he needs the owner builder to buy the tradie's own public liability or home warranty insurance, then we'd suggest you find a new contractor. If he can't get the insurance himself - there's probably a very good reason why.

Tip: Take advantage of all the training and advice you can get

Owner builder training isn't compulsory in all states of Australia (though we think it should be!). Even if the training isn't compulsory in your state, we'd encourage you to take a training course (many are online and quite inexpensive). Remember this is one of the largest investments (your home) you're going to have - make sure you learn as much as you possibly can before committing your finances to the project.

If you're engaging a builder, project manager, or private certifier to run the project, make sure you talk to her (or him) as well! We always find that competent professionals like to share their wisdom with polite and engaged owner builders - talk about your timeline planning, your budget, and your vision for the project. A coffee chat early in the project could highlight some expensive errors to avoid.

Lastly: Get your own insurance

If you're renovating your home, make sure you talk to your existing home insurer as to the limits of cover. Don't assume that your home insurance covers everything (it won't). Most home insurers take the pragmatic line that your home insurance is for a home being lived in, not a home on a construction site.

Comprehensive owner builder construction insurance is extremely affordable, and simple to obtain.

At Allrisk we try to be extremely transparent about our specialist owner builder construction insurance. Quotes take around 90 seconds to complete, and are instantly e-mailed to you with a break-up in costs for all optional extras. We do that so you can pick-and-choose exactly what you want to insure, and won't pay for any insurance you don't need.

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