How to Tell if Your Builder is Hiding Things From You

How to Tell if Your Builder is Hiding Things From You

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How do you know if your builder is using his in-house knowledge of construction to massage your budget to suit his needs for a fast turnaround and higher margins, instead of focussing on your needs for the highest quality construction and finish within budget? Only those who have worked in the construction industry know the different ways in which builders can take advantage of their clients.

The truth can be hidden in both subtle and obvious ways. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, we are taking you behind the scenes to show you how to spot the tricks that can leave you out of pocket, out of time and out of patience. Keep reading to learn more.

The Quote

It is shocking just how many ways deception can be hidden in a quote.  At the core of it, the key thing to look for is what’s missing. It is through leaving things out entirely, or generalising terms and costs that enable builders to create numbers around the price that cannot be kept (but which serves them as a tool to appear cheaper than the competition).

Here is one example. Your builder cannot accurately quote the cost of your slab until a soil test has been done on your property. The soil test provides the information that’s needed to determine, in part, which grade of slab you must use, and the cost difference between slab grades can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. It is quite common for initial quotes to be written up before soil tests are complete and, therefore, for your slab price to rise significantly.

Other construction costs that are often guessed or left out of a quote include:

Driveway Window furnishings, Fencing Painting, Landscaping Site clean-up,  Flooring Water tank,  Final clean.

These are the not-so-obvious extras that you need to truly call a house complete. In addition, watch for vague, non-specific terms such as “kitchen included”. This doesn’t indicate whether you’re getting a laminate benchtop instead of the stone benchtop that you actually want or laminex or polyurethane cupboards. Essentially, the more detailed your quote is, the more fixed and secure the price. While it does cost more to get a fixed price quote from your builder because of the amount of work involved (soil tests, estimating, obtaining actual prices from tradies, for example), it is well worth the initial investment because it protects you from the builder being able to keep playing with the figures along the way. You can’t get a custom build, quality service and exceptional after sales support on a budget. If it looks too good to be true, then it is.


During the quoting phase, keep a discerning eye out for the transparency you receive from your builder. The quoting process is an opportunity to interview your builder through targeted questioning and careful observation. What you want to see is their willingness to be clear and open, which is a strong indicator of what you’re going to get once construction is underway. This will give you an idea about how they will manage unexpected challenges on site, how much you can trust they will take responsibility for the things they should and whether they are confident enough to own any mistakes.

Seek out full transparency around:

  • The quote (what’s included what’s not, and why).
  • The timeframe and what may hinder it.
  • Previous clients and their willingness to provide you with contact information to obtain direct references.
  •  Who is in their team, including staff and subcontractors?
  •  What warranties and post-build service & support they will put in writing.

Professional Presentation

Gone are the days of waving sandwich boards by the side of the road, but a lot of builders still operate on these old principles of marketing, in particular, word of mouth. While not bad in and of itself, construction industry professionals have come to understand that word of mouth is predominantly about the builder obtaining clients and sways little in the way of how it benefits homeowners, landowners, and developers. A professional online presence is not just about creating a slick shop front. This also gives you the opportunity to continue to dig deep into a thorough review of your proposed builder.

Look closely at their Google and Facebook reviews and recommendations. Be sure to take note of how they responded to any negative comments.  Look through their Instagram account. Often live and regularly updating, Instagram feeds show that the builder takes pride in his work and is excited to show you what they do every day. It’s also your inside glimpse into their onsite operations before you begin.

Review their Builder’s Licence online at NSW Fair Trading. This record will show you the status and duration of their licence and whether there have been any complaints, suspensions, penalties or conditions placed against them.

Review their website and all social media for project shots and watch for the following red flags:

Only one image of a project (there should be many and if there are not there will be a reason for this that you will want to find out about).

Only project work that is dated 2 or more years old.

Only images of shining completed projects (on site construction shots are an invaluable source of information)

Communication Style

The quote, transparency and willingness for a collaborative partnership are all ways in which you can assess the communication style of your prospective builder.

Keep your ears open from the very first phone call.  Check that everything is carefully documented along the way.

Do they return your calls in a timely manner?

Do they listen to you carefully before providing their own input?

Do they explain themselves thoroughly and patiently until you fully understand?

Do they speak to their team members respectfully?

The worst-case scenario for anyone is to end up part way through a construction project with a builder who then runs into a problem they cannot handle, starts passing the buck and stops answering the phone. The list above is a set of warning signs to be alert to during the quoting process that will help you identify if your builder is a potential flight risk.

After Care

At the high end of this service offering are the builders who will simply come back and fix something if it needs fixing. They do not run away or try to blame it on someone else. They know that at the end of the day, they hold the final responsibility for ensuring that what was promised has been delivered exactly.

At the other end of the spectrum are those builders who suddenly fall off the radar or, more typically, try to pass the responsibility onto someone else. One of the best ways to know which one you are looking at is to talk to their previous clients directly. They really are the only ones with the lived experience. However, be sure to get at least three of these references to make sure the stories stack up in the owner’s favour. Finally, be sure to get their commitments to after care and defects support in writing.

If you want to manage and keep track of your project costs, timeframes, photos, emails and payments then head to

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