How to Choose a Builder, a Designer or an Architect

How to Choose a Builder, a Designer or an Architect


Home RenovationsYou’re planning TO build a new home or renovate your existing property. You have a clear vision of what your dream home looks like, your finances are in place and you’re keen to turn that long-held vision into a reality … it’s time to assign professionals to the task, so where do you start?

“Whether you’re looking for an architect, builder or designer, there are numerous ways to find the right people for the job,” says Robert Caulfield, Managing Director of Archicentre, the building advisory service of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. “The first thing to do is to ask family, friends and colleagues for recommendations — it’s always good to have someone that comes by referral.”

Another step in the right direction is to take note of properties and renovations that appeal to you as you drive around the area you reside in. “If you’ve seen work that you like, it’s generally not difficult to find out who the architect or builder was,” adds Caulfield.

If you’re in need of an architect, Caulfield points out that you can take advantage of Archicentre’s client/architect matching service: “When people call we discuss their budget and what exactly they want to do and we will match them up with a registered architect in their area, someone who will know local builders and subcontractors, understands weather and environmental conditions in the area, and is familiar with local council regulations.”

A similar service applies for builders. The building and construction industry is presided over by the Master Builders Association of Australia, and your relevant state or territory branch of the association will help you to locate a registered Master Builder in your area (see box).

“There is a licensing system for builders in every state and your number-one priority should be to make sure the builder you employ is registered,” says Caulfield. “You can contact the Builders’ Registration Board, or the equivalent board in your state, to check registration.”

When looking to hire a builder, one thing to be alert to is anyone who suggests that you take on the owner/builder mantle for a discounted price. “This will often indicate that the builder is not registered, or has been struck off for bad practice,” Caulfield explains.

Interior designers and decorators best come personally recommended, advises Caulfield. “You do not need to be qualified or registered to set yourself up as an interior designer or decorator, so ask plenty of questions and make sure your consultant is qualified and is completely independent and not receiving any kickbacks by selling products,” he says.

The key to making a confident choice is to always get at least three quotes. This will give you some insight into what different companies have to offer in terms of the service they provide. In addition, price can vary enormously from company to company, and having this knowledge can give you some bargaining power.

Once you’ve spoken to a professional about a quote, you want to obtain as much information about the services they provide as possible. The most efficient way to do this is to have a list of questions at the ready. Things you need to know include:
• Is the business licensed and insured?
• Exactly what the quote covers and how long it is valid for.
• If the quote covers DA applications.
• If the architect or builder has access to a network of licensed professionals (electricians, plumbers etc).
• A clear outline of fees, which should be broken down.
• If references are available and if you are able to view previous work.
• If the company has a lot of experience in creating the look you are after (whether it be modern or traditional).
• If the company uses eco-friendly design principles that save on energy and water.

You should expect your consultant to be able to answer all queries without hesitation, and they should also be asking questions — it’s a sure sign they have experience in meeting the needs of their clients.

“It’s essential to inquire about each client’s lifestyle to ensure that the home they have in mind is actually going to be appropriate for their requirements,” says Richard Gremmo, who, along with brothers Michael, Andrew and David, owns and manages Sydney-based Gremmo Homes. “We begin by considering basic things, such as how many people are in the family and how many bedrooms are required, the location of the property and whether there are views that should be taken into account. Then we cover lifestyle options such as how much entertaining the clients do and whether they require a large kitchen or an outdoor entertaining area.”

Gremmo says it is a priority for him and his brothers to establish a good relationship with clients from the outset. “We acknowledge that our clients are the most important aspect of our business,” he says. “We are always transparent with our clients and, as part of our service, we ensure that our clients can deal directly with Gremmo throughout the project.”

Business comes to Gremmo Homes in a number of ways. “We are involved in various awards programs, we undertake marketing and people come to us through word of mouth,” says Gremmo. “The best way to see our portfolio is to have a look at our website ( and to visit our display home in Bella Vista Waters, which is open from Thursday through to Monday.”

To avoid any unpleasant surprises when building or renovating your home, Caulfield says it is imperative that you understand the process from design to completion is necessarily long and all parties involved must have a clear understanding of each other’s position.

“For starters, the client and architect or builder must have a clear brief and a fee agreement in place. During the building phase you need to have concise and accurate working drawings and a contract that is sufficiently detailed, includes start and finish dates and fees, and states that there are unlikely to be any variations,” Caulfield explains. “That way you can proceed with confidence.”

It’s essential that any architect or builder you hire is registered — this guarantees you are hiring a professional. All architects in Australia, as well as being fully qualified with a university degree and around two years of practical experience, must be registered with the Architect Registration Board, or equivalent body, in their state. Builders are licensed in most states and should also be registered, which guarantees they are qualified to do the job.

To find an expert to assist with your building project or home renovations, contact the following organisations:
• Archicentre — the building advisory service of the Royal Institute of Architects. For helpful advice you can ‘Ask an Architect’ on the website. Visit or call 1300 134 513.
• The Building Design Profession provides an Environmental Design Guide which is written by independent experts and gives up-to-date environmental knowledge across the building industry. Visit
• The Design Institute of Australia offers an online referral service that can match interior designers to your specific project needs. Visit and click on ‘DIA Referral Service’, or call 1300 888 056.
• The ECOdirectory is an online resource that will help you find eco-conscious architects, builders and designers. Visit
• The Master Builders Association of Australia has an online facility that helps you to ‘Find a Master Builder in your area’. Visit

Before any building or major renovation can take place, you are required to apply to your local council for a development application (DA). If approved, the DA will give you consent to proceed. Most local councils produce a DA Guide, which explains how to prepare each component of a development application. Your builder or architect should also be able to help you with the application and will know how far in advance applications should be made.

You must make a development application (DA) if you are planning to do any of the following:
• Erect a new building or structure.
• Erect an outbuilding, swimming pool or retaining wall that does not comply with the standards in your council’s Local Approvals Policy.
• Add to or alter an existing building.
• Demolish a building.
• Demolish, damage or alter a building or place that is a heritage item.
• Change the use of a building or premises.
• Subdivide land or strata subdivide a building.
• Carry out earthworks, excavation or filling.

Archicentre recommends the following 10 tips to help ensure your project runs smoothly:
1. Specify exactly what you want.
2. Use the right contract.
3. Make sure you have start and finish dates outlined on your contract.
4. Get all necessary permits.
5. Make sure your builder and subcontractors are registered.
6. Make sure the work is insured.
7. Make sure all inspections are undertaken.
8. Use a Building Schedule.
9. Don’t be an ‘inadvertent owner-builder’.
10. Make sure you have final sign-off on each aspect of the job.