Written by Jake Brady

The Importance of Involving a Builder & Architect Early

Building your dream home is no easy feat. It requires plenty of pre-planning, big decision-making, and aligning of your future family and financial goals. You also must make sure you’re working with the right team for your specific project – people you are confident will be able to realize your vision through high-quality design and construction.

While these parts of building a new home are inevitable, you can ensure that the building process is as simple and seamless as possible by organizing yourself early and engaging both your builder and architect from the earliest possible point.

Find out why working with a builder and architect early is in your best interest by reading on.

Collaboration is key

An exceptional building project is always the product of collaboration. When a functional and productive partnership is achieved between everyone involved in the project – including builders, designers, subcontractors, and tradespeople – a home shines, with every element fitting neatly into place.

Great collaboration is achieved when everyone is working towards a unified goal and understands your desires and wants. By engaging with both your builder and architect from the get-go, you’re more likely to achieve this outcome with little to no stress, as they can manage the project to ensure everyone is on the same page.

How builders can help during the design stage

Another key reason to get both your builder and architect on board as soon as possible is to enable your builder to play a role in the design stage. While an architect is obviously the best person to craft a home design that suits your needs and wants, your builder will be able to offer expertise on material and labour costs that will help shape your design. By engaging with both at the earliest possible stage, you’re more likely to create a design that ticks all your boxes while remaining within your budget.

What happens if you don’t engage with a builder and architect early?

It’s not essential to work with both parties from the get-go, but it’s definitely in your best interest. If not, you might see complications arise over the cost and timeframe. Builders have on-ground knowledge about suppliers, materials and subcontractors, unlike architects who aren’t involved with working with these products and people every day. Builders and architects have different, but complementary sets of knowledge and experience, so it’s advisable to have everyone working together from the start to achieve the desired outcome: a beautiful custom home that fulfils your brief.

It’s also important to establish the relationship early, so your builder and architect can work together to devise both design and construction solutions to problems that may arise on site. For instance, a site survey could reveal stubborn rock that may be difficult to remove. This will require an inventive and creative solution that is best achieved by working together.

Looking to build a beautiful architectural home? Get in touch with Smartbuild today.

Written by Jake Brady

How To Accurately Compare Building Quotes

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and launch into a custom building project. You’ve been speaking to a few builders and now it’s time to gather some quotes, determine how much your project will cost to build and decide on a builder.

Quotes will undoubtedly vary between each builder, but how do you determine who is the best builder for the job and who will provide the best value for money? Keep reading to find out our tips and tricks for comparing building quotes. 

Compare apples with apples

You may come across a builder offering a lower price than others, which they’ve outlined in a free one- or two-page quote. This is a red flag! An accurate quote – which includes a bill of quantities itemising each trade and item included in your quote, and a category breakdown of cost in your build – cannot be compiled for free. It takes time, money and resources to produce an accurate cost estimate, which is why many builders charge for this service.

Generally, a free quote will be based on a square metre rate and won’t factor any of your unique requirements into the cost breakdown. While this can be useful in the early stages of a build when trying to plan your budget, it’s not something you should base your entire build on.

We recommend paying for quotes from your builder. This means the builder is serious about your project and has taken the time to be thorough and accurate about the cost of your build. Likewise, you should compare apples with apples – for example, paid quotes with paid quotes and free quote with free quotes.

Know what to look for 

When comparing quotes, you need to carefully consider all inclusions and allowances. Perhaps Builder 1 has included timber flooring as standard, while Builder 2 uses vinyl or tiles. If you’re looking to include timber floors throughout your home, this will be an additional cost on top of the quote should you engage builder 2. 

Similarly, Builder 1 may allocate $1000 for kitchen appliances, while Builder 2 may allocate $2000 if you’ve made it clear that you’re looking for a luxury kitchen design. Alternatively, a third builder may not allocate any spend to kitchen appliances, which would mean you are responsible from purchasing this direct from the store (and allocating additional funds for this purchase). These are all considerations you’ll need to take into account before proceeding with a particular builder. 

Do your research and speak to past clients  

Before you proceed with a builder, make sure you’re working with someone you trust, someone who has the experience and knowledge required to build your dream home. This can easily be determined by simply researching the builders online and via social media. 

Visit the builder’s website to view past projects, get a sense for their experience and values, and read client testimonials. You’ll also get a sense for what they specialise in, which is important for custom home projects. You want to work with a builder who has knowledge in the service you are looking to hire. If they are experienced in a particular service, you can also be assured that their quote will be more accurate, and they’ll have a good grasp on costs associated with this type of build and how to keep them down. 


Looking for a builder to create an accurate and thorough quote for your custom home build? Our experienced team can help. Get in touch with Jake and the team at Smartbuild South Coast today

Written by Jake Brady

The Importance of Communication in Construction

Communication is the foundation of any successful build – without it, any project is set to crumble. From the very initial stages of a residential build, it’s essential that the builder, client and building designer/architect establish open lines of communication to avoid issues down the line. 

Here are some of the key ways to enable and encourage communication throughout your build, resulting in a seamless and stress-free project. 

Early involvement 

There’s no point hosting a meeting without a key decision maker, so why would you start on a building project without a builder? Builders should be involved from the initial design stages of a project, so they can advise on practical and functional design features. They can also run probable cost estimates to ensure the design is within budget, reducing the risk of any financial surprises down the line. 

Clear expectations

It’s essential that you, as the client, are clear on your budget from the very outset. Designers/architects and builders will work to the number we’ve been given, so if suddenly, figures change, this can cause delays, re-designs and may result in your new home being compromised. As builders, we allow for flexibility and can always make small adjustments, but it’s important that we know what we’re working with from the outset. 


The designer or architect’s work is not done with the submission of plans. As the builder gets to work bringing them to life, it’s essential that they are on hand to discuss any elements that may have worked in the plans but need tweaking during construction. When choosing your design partner, make sure to establish this expectation from the outset – that way, they’ll know they need to be available throughout the entire build and not just the initial stages. 

Establish your preferred methods

It’s not just verbal communication that’s important during a build – pictures, emails or an online client portal are equally as necessary to ensure all parties are kept up to date. However, to avoid crossed wires, make sure you chat to your builder about creating a central database where all records will be held – whether this be a Google Drive, Dropbox or an online portal. Establish what your preferred first-point-of-call communication method will be (for example, email, texting or calling) and how often you’ll be expecting updates. This way, every party knows what to expect from the very beginning. 


Having a clear record of all paperwork is essential to any successful build, providing the basis for all other communication. Make sure your builder and architect supplies copies of the contract documents (including drawings, specifications and certificates) and that any variations are discussed and noted in writing. Having everything in one place will also make it easier to hand over at the end of the project. 


If you’re ready to build an architectural custom home with a collaborative and transparent builder on the South Coast, get in touch with Smartbuild South Coast today.

Written by Jake Brady

Where to Spend the Dollars in a Custom Home Build

(and Where You Can Afford to Spend Less) 

Building your dream custom home is such an exciting prospect. Once you’ve made the decision to build, you’ll need to start considering your ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ so you can establish a realistic budget. 

Your budget should be largely based on your essentials, with a few desirable add-ons (or ‘wants’) included where possible. To make the most of this sum, it’s a good idea to engage a builder early in the process so you can discuss your options. An experienced builder can provide cost-effective alternatives and design suggestions so you can cut costs and spend more on the things you want. 

In addition to these tips, a builder can advise on elements you’ll need to invest in – like high-quality materials, flooring and insulation – and those that you can afford to spend less on – like storage spaces and non-permanent features. Read on to find out more. 

Invest in High Quality Materials 

You should never skimp on price when choosing materials for your new home. High-quality internal and external materials may cost more in the short term, but they will pay off in the long run. 

Higher quality timber, cladding and roofing for example, will elevate the design of your new home, while also lasting longer than lower quality materials. Cheaper materials often result in faster wear and tear, which means paying maintenance and repair costs sooner rather than later. Investing in high-quality materials upfront means your home will last many years before requiring maintenance work.

Save with Storage Spaces 

Built-in storage spaces are a great way to organise your new home, but they don’t need to cost the earth. Opt for simple, yet functional cupboards, drawers and hanging spaces and fill these with low cost containers, baskets and shelving to help keep your belongings neat and tidy.

Great storage doesn’t need to cost the earth and there are many ways to achieve organisation without investing in bespoke joinery and high-end finishes. Of course, should this be important to you or appear on your ‘wants’ list, there’s no reason you can’t include this in your new home – it’s your custom space after all. 

Invest in High Quality Insulation 

You need to be comfortable in your home and one way of ensuring this is by investing in high-quality insulation. While a quality builder knows this and should communicate this to you, it’s important to understand why. Insulation helps regulate the temperature of your home and will ensure your spaces are kept warm during winter and cool during summer. 

While insulation may seem like an expensive aspect of your build, it’s non-negotiable. Plus, by investing in high-quality insulation, you’ll be saving money on energy bills in the long run, as you’ll have less need for air conditioning, heaters and fires. 

Save with Non-Permanent Features 

One of the best places to save money in your home build is in non-permanent features. From furniture and appliances, to wall art, light fixtures and linen, these are elements that won’t require a major renovation should your tastes change in a few years’ time.

That being said, given you’re building a brand new custom home, we recommend investing in a few high-end pieces that bring you joy. Whether it’s a large timber dining table or a plush throw for the bedroom, these items are likely to provide regular doses of dopamine – a worthwhile investment in our opinion.

Invest in High Quality Flooring 

High-quality flooring is another non-negotiable in your home. Whether you’re opting for polished timber throughout, carpet in the bedrooms or a statement polished concrete, your floor is not the time to save money.

As the most high-traffic part of your home, your floor needs to be crafted from high-quality, durable and long-lasting materials. Flooring also sets the tone for your space, creating style and establishing your unique personality – something that can add value should you decide to sell in the future.

Are you looking to achieve a custom build that fits your budget and ticks all your boxes? Get in touch with the friendly team at Smartbuild South Coast today!

Written by Jake Brady

What Insurances Does a Builder Need?

With all the excitement and decision making involved in building a new custom home, insurance might be the last thing on your mind. But it shouldn’t be – insurance is crucial. It ensures that you’re covered in the case of complications or damages and guarantees that those working on-site are safe and protected. This is essential in the building trade, where on-site works come with a high risk of injury and/ or material damages. 

It’s crucial to make sure that the builder you choose for your home building project is covered by a number of insurances. Here are the key ones to look for:

Home Building Compensation Cover 

Across Australia, Home Building Compensation (HBC) cover, previously Home Warranty Insurance, is compulsory for most residential works. These policies are determined and managed by individual states, and the stipulations vary from each state government. What this means is that if a claim arises, the government pays out the insurance claim to the homeowner. HBC cover must be taken out prior to construction commencing and a builder must provide proof of the insurance before starting work or asking for any payment or deposit.

HBC cover protects homeowners against, “non completion of the building contract” and “failure of the builder to correct faults”. It helps homeowners in the case that their builder is unable to complete or fix works because they have become insolvent, died, disappeared or had their license suspended for failing to comply with a money order. In NSW, HBC cover is required on all building works above $20,000. 

Construction Works and Public and Product Liability Insurance 

Construction Works and Public and Product Liability Insurance (also known as Contract Works Insurance) covers builders, contractors and tradespeople against damages or losses to a residential building project. It also covers these parties in relation to legal and contractual obligations involved in the build. 

Largely, this cover helps protect builders in the case of accidental or malicious material damage. Accidental damage could mean an environmental calamity such as fire, earthquake or flood; while malicious damage could mean a break-in or vandalism. 

The Public and Product Liability Insurance part of this coverage helps protect builders against third-party injury or property damage caused by negligence. 

It’s important to check your builder has this coverage, as it will protect your new home during and after construction. 

Workers Compensation 

Workers Compensation is a legal requirement for all workers in NSW, not just builders and construction workers. It helps employees receive compensation for lost wages, covers the cost of medical treatments, supports workers re-entering the workforce and sometimes provides compensation for non-economic loss.

If you’re looking to build a South Coast custom home with a reputable and insured builder, get in touch with the team at Smartbuild South Coast today. We’d love to hear more about your home building project.

Written by Jake Brady

What’s the Difference Between Prime Cost and Provisional Sum?

When it comes to building a new home, construction jargon can be confusing and intimidating for many clients – especially when it comes to the contract stage. While most building contracts are relatively simple and straightforward – especially the standard HIA contract we use here at Smartbuild South Coast – there are some key terms you may still be unsure of. 

Two of the most common phrases we hear clients asking for clarification on are prime cost and provisional sum. As these both have the potential to increase and even blow out your building budget, it’s vital that you understand what they mean before you sign on the dotted line.

If and when items have allowances assigned within the Detailed Cost Report, these allowances can be in two forms, as described below:

Prime Cost Allowance

A Prime Cost is an allowance allocated for the specifications and/or quantity of an item or product. Prime Cost allowances can be used to allow clients to choose the product to be included and its quantity at a later date in the design and development process, or as a price guide if there is insufficient information provided to facilitate calculation.

Provisional Sum Allowance

A Provisional Sum is an allowance allocated for the quantity and/or type of an item, including labour and material. Provisional Sum allowances can be used to allow clients to choose the material to be included and its quantity at a later date in the design and development process, or as a price guide if there is insufficient information to facilitate calculation at the time of generating the Detailed Cost Report.

If the material selections and/or works completed end up costing more than the allowance provided, you will be required to pay the difference on top of your contract price. For example, say your builder has allocated $1000 for a kitchen appliance but your selection comes in at $1500, you will be required to pay the additional $500. 

Should items allocated as prime cost or works included as provisional sums cost less than estimated in the Detailed Cost Report, the builder will only be paid for the actual cost, not the full allowance.

Do prime costs and provisional sums appear in fixed price contracts?

While both prime costs and provisional sums will often be present in a fixed price contract, their inclusion should be minimal. You should endeavour to make as many design decisions and selections as possible before it comes to contract signing, to minimise prime cost and provisional sum allowances. 

Similarly, your architectural builder should make every effort to minimise these items by providing estimates and obtaining quotes for materials and labour. Beware – a fixed price quote with an excessive number of prime cost or provisional sum allowances may be a sign of a lazy builder and add unnecessary risk to your project’s budget.


As one of Illawarra’s most reputable architectural builders, we’re passionate about upholding honesty and transparency throughout the building process – and this includes the pre-construction stage. 

If you’re interested in learning more about prime sums vs provisional costs or need help translating any other building jargon, get in touch with Smartbuild South Coast today.

Written by Jake Brady

Is Your New Home Eligible for a $35,000 Grant?

Have you heard of the Australian Government’s new economic stimulus package? Announced in early June, HomeBuilder will see State Governments offer $25,000 tax-free cash grants to homeowners looking to build a new home or “substantially renovate” an existing one.

For those looking to build in 2020 or early 2021, this is an exciting announcement. It’s particularly helpful for those who are eligible for additional building grants like the NSW First Home Owners Grant. Of course, to be eligible for these grants, there are a number of criteria you’ll need to meet. 

Keep reading to learn how you can access $35,000 for your new home build.

Is your project eligible?

To be eligible for a HomeBuilder grant for a new build, your home must be valued below $750,000, including land. For those looking to renovate an existing home, works must be valued between $150,000 and $750,000 and the property cannot be valued at more than $1.5 million. 

Renovations can only be undertaken to the principle structure of residence, which means outdoor living spaces, swimming pools and freestanding garages are not eligible. Interestingly, a knockdown rebuild project is classified as a “substantial renovation” under the HomeBuilder scheme.

In addition to these requirements, your building contract must be signed before December 31 and construction will need to commence within 3 months of the contract date. Unfortunately, if you were hoping to use HomeBuilder to build or renovate an investment property, your project is not eligible.

You’ll also need to be eligible…

Once you’ve determined if your project is eligible for the HomeBuilder grant, you’ll also need to make sure you, personally, are eligible. This means you’ll need to be an Australian citizen aged over 18 years old and with an annual income below $125,000, or below $200,000 if you’re applying as a couple. This income assessment will be based on your tax return from the 2018/2019 financial year.

Are there restrictions on the builder I can engage?

Yes. You will need to engage a licensed building contractor to undertake construction of your project and this cannot be a relative (even if they are a builder). Owner builders are also ineligible for using the HomeBuilder grant for personal projects.

How can I access an extra $10,000?

The great thing about HomeBuilder is that it can be used in conjunction with the First Home Owners Grant and First Home Buyers Assistance Scheme. Provided you meet the criteria for both schemes, you could receive a total of $35,000 to put towards your new home build. As with HomeBuilder, there are restrictions that apply to the First Home Owners grant – you can learn more about this here.

If you want to make the most of the HomeBuilder grant, you’ll need to act fast. You only have until December 31 to sign a contract and you need to ensure your builder is available to begin construction within 3 months of your contract date.

The design, planning and approvals processes can take quite a few months to work through, so we recommend getting started now. If you’re looking for a South Coast builder to help with your new custom home build, get in touch with the team at Smartbuild South Coast today!

Written by Jake Brady

Why Choose Quality Over Price?

Let’s be honest, no one wants to build a house that’s going to take the rest of their life to pay off. In saying that, we all have specific wants and needs that can increase the cost of any home. 

You may find yourself fighting an internal battle to find a happy medium that caters to both your needs and your budget. However, you should never sacrifice quality over the price of your Illawarra home or seek a “simple” quick fix. 

It takes a lot of hard work, time and effort to build a quality home, so why would you risk jeopardising the design and integrity of your space just to lower the cost? When you begin building a home, it’s crucial that you undertake the research necessary to find a trustworthy Illawarra home builder. 

Should I pay for a quote?

It’s generally a good idea to choose an Illawarra builder who charges for a quote, rather than someone who is willing to give this away for free. Builders who take the time and effort to put together a comprehensive quote will take all aspects of your build into consideration in order to deliver a price that will closely align with the overall cost. In comparison, a free estimate will only give you a very rough, ballpark figure.

Do I need a building contract?

If you’re looking to be smart and save, you must ensure that you’re effectively going through all of the building stages. For instance, if the total cost of your building project is over $5,000, then the builder must create a contract. This applies even if they split the contract into several smaller amounts. 

To avoid disputes about cost down the track you should also avoid Prime Cost and Provisional Sum items wherever possible (this includes fixtures, fittings and technical processes such as excavation and soil testing reports). This will help your builder gain a more accurate estimate of the total cost of your project. It’s also worth consulting your Illawarra home builder during the design phase to ensure all your selections are suitable for your budget.

Should my builder have building insurance?

If the total cost of your building project exceeds $20,000, your Illawarra home builder must invest in domestic building insurance and provide you with a copy of the policy and a certificate of insurance which covers your property. This must be purchased and presented to you before you pay a deposit or any other fee.

The main reason it’s so essential to find a trustworthy builder is because building insurance only covers so much. While it protects clients in the event that their builder cannot finish the project due to death, becoming insolvent or, in rare cases, disappearing, claims on the policy may be limited to only 20% of the contract price if the project is not complete. Whereas, in all other cases, your home builder is required to fix or complete works in accordance with the contract. Domestic building insurance also covers costs up to $300,000 to fix structural defects for six years and non-structural defects for two years.

By choosing to build, you’re automatically committing to your project for the long haul. Building is not something that can or should be rushed if you’re wanting a quality home. Sourcing high-quality materials and tradespeople takes time, as does the construction of a quality home.

If you’re in the market for a high-quality Illawarra home builder who has your best interests at heart, get in touch with the friendly team at Smartbuild South Coast today

Written by Jake Brady

Less is More. How to Design an Architectural Home on a Narrow Block

Building on a narrow site can be challenging – you can’t just approach any Illawarra builder to construct a stock standard home and expect everything to be fine. It takes time, research and an experienced South Coast builder to create a functional and stylish home on site like this. While this is true, it’s important to note that a narrow block doesn’t have to mean compromising on space or design; in fact, there are many ways you can implement an architectural design onto a narrow block. 

At Smartbuild South Coast we’ve got years of experience working on a range of sites across the Illawarra region – we’ve built on blocks of all shapes and sizes. We work closely with both our clients and our team of trusted architects to create a design that suits both our clients’ needs and their site requirements. Our preferred designers are the best in the business, meaning they can design a practical home that fits within your budget. 

Here are 5 ways you can achieve an architectural home design on a narrow block:

High Ceilings

This is a huge trend in architectural design at the moment and is a great way of making your South Coast home feel more spacious. When building on a narrow block, you’ll want to bring as much space as possible into the home to avoid feeling cramped or crowded. High ceilings are a perfect way to do this. 

If possible, opt for ceilings of at least 2.7m or higher, which will bring an immediate sense of air, space and light. High ceilings are also an interesting design feature and add a feeling of elegance to any space. This can also be an energy efficient solution when it comes to cooling your home in the warmer months.

Make Use of Space

When designing a home on a narrow block, you should work closely with your Illawarra builder and their trusted architect to create a floorplan that makes the best use of space. Selecting open plan living areas over separate spaces can be a great way to maximise the area and add a greater sense of space. 

Interior walls can make a home feel dark and cramped so by removing these and combining kitchen, living and dining areas, you’ll instantly feel like you have more space. It’s also important to implement clever storage solutions in a narrow home, to ensure all of your belongings have a place, and thereby reducing clutter. 


When considering a narrow home design, materials are important to think about as some take up more room than others. This is why it can pay to engage an Illawarra builder early on in your build as they can work with their trusted team of architects to achieve a design that maximises space in every way possible, while also reducing cost. 

For example, steel is a far more slender material than masonry and other materials and can provide larger openings for windows and doors that brick walls cannot. Concrete and glass can also be good options for walls and windows as they are relatively thin materials. Of course, you’re not expected to know the ins and outs of every building material and nor is your architect – to achieve the ultimate architectural home design on a narrow block, you need to work closely with both your South Coast builder and their architectural team. 


Due to their close proximity to fences and interior walls, narrow homes have a tendency to feel dark and gloomy. A light-filled design will counteract this, making your home feel bright, spacious and open. Be sure to include plenty of windows, skylights and sliding doors that open onto your garden or outdoor area. A light and bright colour palette will complement this nicely, allowing light to bounce and reflect off interior walls and fill your home. 

Build Up

While there are many ways to make a narrow block feel more spacious, the reality is you only have so much space to work with. Sometimes to create a functional design, you will actually need to create extra space. Building an additional storey allows you to add extra bedrooms, bathrooms and living areas, without encroaching on your front or back yard space – this area will be very precious on a small block, especially if you have pets. 

In some cases, you could also consider a 3-storey project, even within the R2 Low Density Housing Zone, which is possible to get through council with the right planning and designer. At Smartbuild South Coast we have overseen a number of these projects and have experience with council and planning requirements, giving your project the best possible chance of success. Split levels or mezzanines are also a great design feature that’ll give you a feeling of more space without intruding on what’s already there. 


To find out more about how you can achieve an architectural home on a narrow block, get in touch with the South Coast builders of choice – call Jake and the team at Smartbuild South Coast now!

Written by Jake Brady

Should Your New Home Be Single or Double Storey?

When it comes to designing your dream home, there are plenty of decisions to make. Which way will it face? How many living spaces will you need? What aesthetic will you go for? 

One of the most important initial decisions you will face is whether to build up or out – in other words, whether to create a single or double-storey home. As one of the South Coast’s leading residential builders, we’ve guided dozens of clients through this same question. Here’s what we’ve learnt. 

1. Work with what you’ve got 

The first element to consider when approaching the question of single or double-storey is to examine your existing block. If it’s narrow, going up may be the better option, but should there be plenty of space, sticking with the one floor may be suitable. There’s also the issue of approvals – some councils will have restrictions on how high, or how far out you can build, influencing what you can and can’t do on your land. 

2. Consider your needs

Every homeowner is different, which means your needs are too. For example, will stairs present an accessibility or mobility issues in the near future? Do you have a young family that would benefit from a larger garden space? Perhaps your children are older and would appreciate separate living spaces that an upstairs area would afford? 

Thinking about how your family will use your home will be the best guide for its eventual design. Another element to consider is the potential to introduce views of the wider environment. Depending on where your home is situated, this could result in additional value later down the line. 

3. Can you afford it?

Your budgets can play a huge part in your decision between a single or double-storey home. As a general rule, it is more expensive to build up rather than out, as more equipment, such as scaffolding, is required. It can also extend the length of the build, so if you’re on a limited timeline, opting for a single storey may be a better option. 

That said, while building up is more expensive, this cost may be offset in land price, as you can build a double-storey home on a smaller plot. 


Should you be thinking about building your new home in 2019, get in touch with Smartbuild South Coast today. We can assist with all types of custom homes, including single and double-storey designs. 

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