While you're compiling a list of prospective builders you will hopefully have also been working with an architect or designer on the plans for your project.

The creative aspect of the design phase is often stimulating and pleasurable - enjoy it!

Once you’ve collaborated with the designers and have produced plans, it’s time to 'take the project to market' via a tender process.

It’s advisable to have a highly experienced architect or professional designer prepare a tender package that clearly articulates all of the requirements of the project. You should anticipate price variation in quotations. To keep variations to a minimum, and to give the builder every chance of providing an accurate cost estimate, it’s essential the tender describes your expectations in comprehensive detail. This will ultimately allow you to compare apples with apples.

Experienced architects and designers will be familiar with the preparation of tender materials for domestic building projects – it’s best not to cut corners when appointing your design professional!

The Tender

A 'tender pack’ will commonly include drawings, engineering and soil reports for builders. It will also include a scope of works statement that clearly describes the entire expectation of the project.

If there are ‘exclusions’, for example, Uncle Bruce is a registered plumber and has offered to do all plumbing works (how lucky are you?) this exclusion will be noted and the cost will be excluded from the quotes.

Your designer will be able to advise, relative to the specifics of your project, what the likely ‘exclusions' will be. Typically these may include demolition, traffic control, site preparation, permits, insurances, driveways, light fittings, window locks, flyscreens, etc.

Also included in the tender material will be a 'building schedule'. It’s vital that it be as comprehensive as is humanly possible.

This schedule contains details of all required fixtures and fittings. Cost ‘shocks’ often originate from oversights or under-estimation associated with fixtures and fittings. You must include precise detail when describing what is required, eg: 1 set Dorf Maxum Bath Set. Specification: Bath Colour: Chrome Material: Chrome Plated / Solid Brass Product Code: 1101.04 - an additional hyperlink to the manufacturer will also assist identifying the item.

You can't include too much detail when specifying fixtures and fittings.

One of the most contentious aspects of the building process is the start and finish date of the project.

It’s not uncommon for building projects to exceed the contracted price and to be completed well after the expected handover date. While the tender process allows you to ascertain estimated start and finish dates, it’s the contract process that locks this into place - likewise for progress payments. Make sure you have a well-experienced construction lawyer on your team.

Your lawyer will also be able to guide you on the critical considerations of Prime Cost items, Provisional Sum and Variations. It's essential you're familiar with these terms.

Pro Tip: It’s a good protection to specifically ask the builder to respond to a question requesting them to list any known exclusions. This bit of ‘reverse engineering’ helps identify items that may have been overlooked by you and the designer.

It’s also important to find out who is physically doing the work. Ask if that likeable builder, who provided the quote and appears competent doing the work? If not, is he on-site every day? or is the job handed over to a team you’ve never met? Best to find this out now.


The more detail you put in the tender document, the more value it will be for you to assess and compare builders. The more leg-work you do now, particularly around the fixture and fittings, the better the quality and amenity of the final construction.

Only after obtaining a sufficient number of quotes will you be able to ascertain a reasonable 'benchmark' of the true cost of the job. A very cheap quote should set off alarm bells!

Also, don't be discouraged if some recommended builders elect not to submit a quotation. There's a range of factors that determine who will ultimately pitch for the work. These include: excellent builders are always busy, the specific challenges of the project, travel time, availability of sub contractors, etc.

Final Comment

Read the unwritten ‘language’ of your builder. Were you comfortable in their company? Did they miss the tender deadline? Have they overlooked specific instruction in the tender? Were they easy to communicate with? 

The quotation is an explicit reflection of the builder. And it’s a fair indication of the way they’re likely to do business. If they’re disorganised, stubborn or hard to communicate with, chances are that’s how they’ll conduct the build. Instincts can play a part in builder selection.




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