What’s it like to be an owner builder?

Jun 13, 2019

owner builder act

Have you ever thought about building your own house? Not physically laying the brickwork or connecting the gas and plumbing, but project managing the process without the help of a licensed builder?

It can be done, and it’s called “Owner Builder”. An Owner Builder doesn’t have to be a tradesperson, or even someone highly familiar with building. They just need to pass the Owner Builder course, and get an Owner Builder license, which then allows them to build one house every 5 years.

Rosin Bros chatted with friend Michael from Chifley, who recently built his house as an Owner Builder.

Michael and his family had spent years contemplating building a new home, and finally decided to do it as a knock down rebuild in an established suburb. They set out to find the perfect block: reasonably priced, large, flat, and with elevated views. It took a year, but eventually they found what they were looking for in Chifley.

Having considered Owner Builder for some time, Michael made the decision to go ahead and organised to take a year off work. He completed the Owner Builder course online, and applied for an Owner Builder license. The family found a place to rent, and started the process of building their dream home.

“When we started, the planning phase alone took us a year,” says Michael. “We engaged an architect and a certifier who helped us design the house we wanted that fit within planning regulations.

The bank loan process is also pretty complicated. You have to put together all your quotes in advance, so the bank can create a schedule of payments. They then pay for each stage as it gets completed (slab, framing, brickwork, lock up and so on). Banks also typically don’t loan the entire amount, so you have to be able to cover a substantial portion of the up-front costs with a large deposit.”

Once they were ready to begin building, Michael started looking for tradespeople. The first step was to knock down the old house, remove asbestos, level the site and set up the fencing.

“The first thing I learnt is that it pays to shop around for quotes. With asbestos, the first quote I got was $30,000. The third quote was $3,500 for the exact same job. So I instantly found that searching online for tradespeople and picking a business from the first or second page of search results wasn’t the best solution.”

Instead, Michael found that referrals were the best way to find the people he needed to get the job done.

“I hired a friend who was excellent at framework, and between him and the people who had come to level the block and lay the slab, I started getting referrals for other tradespeople. I’d still get quotes from my own sources, but in almost every instance the person who was referred was the one who got the job.”

Michael says that Canberra can be a good place to go through the Owner Builder process, as everyone knows everyone, so it’s easy to find out if a company is good or bad.

“People who get referred to you typically don’t advertise. So they’re hard to find. But once you know who they are you can understand why they always have work – they’re just excellent at what they do.”

Michael left the interior design of the house to his wife Maria. Maria loved the process of designing so much she ended up changing careers and studying interior design. Maria now runs Studio Black Interiors in Canberra to help others who are building or renovating their homes.

It took just 10 months for Michael and his wife to complete their new home.

The building certifier, who had been with them through the entire process (approving each stage of building), provided the final certifications and they moved in just before Christmas.

“Overall it was a great experience,” says Michael. “And I’ve inspired a few family members to do the same! But it definitely wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap. You have to be so organised, and really stay on top of it all.”

Owner builders can build a new house every 5 years, so Michael and his family can enjoy their new home for a while, before contemplating the next one!

Michael’s top tips for aspiring Owner Builders:

  1. Have patience. The process takes time, especially with a custom build.
  2. Stay organised. There’s a lot of paperwork, phone numbers and schedules to keep up with.
  3. Make time. I’m not sure you could do it around a day job. I was on site every day, so I could quickly answer questions and guide the tradespeople. You also have to keep the site clean and prepare for the next stage.
  4. It’s not cheap. Even before we started we’d spent over $20,000. If you’re going to be stressing about money, it won’t be a good experience.
  5. Always get 3 quotes.
  6. Work off referrals.
  7. Get builders insurance. You’ll need it in case anything happens to the house, or anyone working on the house throughout the build.

For more information, or to discuss how Rosin Bros can help you build your dream home, contact Robert or Danny Rosin on 6247 4799 or email info@rosinbros.com.au.

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