Should you choose a volume or custom builder?

Should you choose a volume or custom builder?

Choosing the right builder is one of the biggest decisions in the home-building process, and the decision may be a little simpler than you think.

Builders can basically be divided into two main categories, Volume builder or Custom builder.

Volume or project home builders are large companies that may construct hundreds of homes per year from a set catalogue of designs. 

Custom builders are usually smaller companies that build homes specifically designed for the client, and might only complete a handful of projects in the same period. 

Volume builders can offer savings over custom builders by standardising designs and maximising efficiency with materials and trades.

Custom builders, with a one-off approach, generally will have a higher per square metre rate than an off-the-shelf design. There is good reason for this. More time and effort is put into a custom build. A custom builder takes on and completes significantly fewer builds per year and they take more pride in their work. A volume builder prioritises profit through efficiency, standardisation and turn over. A custom builder is more artisanal and generally, a lot more flexible.

For most people the decision between volume and custom comes down to price. Buyers usually choose from a set range of fixtures and finishes, and there may be limitations on floorplan modifications. Savings generally come at the expense of flexibility. It may be cost-effective, but it’s not designed to maximise the site and you can’t customise it to suit your needs.

Volume builders may also offer house and land packages to buyers who don’t already own a block of land, which streamlines the process but limits buyers to specific suburbs, usually on the outskirts of major cities or in regional areas.

For those who do own the land, the block of land usually dictates the type of builder, as most volume designs can’t be built on small, significantly sloping or odd shaped blocks.

It tends to be people that have blocks that are a little awkward or demand better quality and or flexibility that end up going with a custom builder.


Where to find a builder

If you are looking for a volume builder, there are numerous display villages, around Sydney, where you can go see/feel/touch the homes. It may be wise to note that display homes are generally built to a higher spec and finish than the typical home that they will build for you.

Whereas a custom builder constructs each home to their highest standards, as each home, if even briefly, becomes their display home. Word of mouth and recommendations are common ways people come across a builder for a custom home. If you are using your own architect, they may be able to recommend a reputable builder(s). If not, do some research. What have they built already, what experience to they have, are they generational builders, look at their social media.

How do you make an informed choice?

As previously mentioned, buyers should be wary when inspecting display homes, as they often feature optional extras that aren’t included in the base price, particularly expensive landscaping (See hidden costs of building) .The reality of what you get is generally far removed from what you see in most cases.

While you can browse the work of volume builders in person, this can be trickier with smaller companies/custom builders. Builders who rely on recommendations may not invest heavily in marketing, so a lack of online presence is common and shouldn’t necessarily be deal breaker. In these cases, a builder’s credentials can be checked on the website of the master builder’s association in each state.

Speak to your prospective builder and see if there are any recently completed jobs you could see or walk through. A company that is too scared to let you see their construction process and or use the OH&S excuse, should be indicative to poor workmanship and their fear of you seeing it. A wide berth may be advisable?

Choosing a builder you get along with is important too, as is making sure their communication style matches the level of involvement you expect to have throughout the project. The key to a good builder-client relationship is usually just simple clear communication.

And most importantly, be realistic with your aspirations and your budget. Please remember that old adage, “good things are not cheap and cheap things are not good”, generally.


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