How to protect yourself when building a home

Building a home will likely be the single biggest investment you ever make. To protect yourself from rogue building or plumbing practitioners, here are a few important steps

Building a home will likely be the single biggest investment you ever make. To protect yourself from rogue building or plumbing practitioners, here are a few important steps the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) recommends you take before and during construction.

Before your project starts

  1. Confirm your building practitioners are registered and that plumbing work is carried out by, or under the supervision of a licensed plumber via the VBA's online Find a Practitioner tool (available at top of this page). Ask to see their VBA ID card – which all practitioners should carry.
  2. Ask to see physical examples of their work and to speak with previous clients.
  3. Understand the role of the VBA and your building surveyor. Building surveyors provide independent oversight of building work during construction, issue the occupancy permit and can direct the builder to fix defective work. It is essential to select a building surveyor who is independent of your builder.
  4. Appoint either your council's municipal building surveyor or a private building surveyor of your choice. If you ask for quotes from multiple private building surveyors, ensure they know this is what you are doing so they do not wrongly assume you have engaged them.
  5. Read the information on Consumer Affairs Victoria's website before signing a contract with your builder, to ensure it meets legal requirements. A sample contract can be downloaded from Consumer Affairs Victoria's website.
  6. Ensure your builder gives you a domestic building insurance policy or a certificate of currency covering your property before construction starts. The builder's name on the contract should match the name on the insurance policy.

During construction

It is extremely important to develop good communication lines with your builder and building surveyor – seek regular updates from both practitioners.

Make sure any variations to your plans and associated changes in price are documented and agreed in writing by you and the builder to avoid disputes down the track.

Find out when the mandatory inspection stages are for your house and ask your builder and building surveyor how they went.

You can ask your building surveyor to undertake as many additional inspections as you require. While extra inspections will cost you more, they are worthwhile to ensure you are fully informed, and so potential issues can be discussed and resolved immediately.

Take regular photographs – this will ensure you and your builder have a record of the project's progress if you need to resolve issues.

If there is a dispute

  1. Try to resolve it by talking to your builder and building surveyor. For tips to help resolve your dispute, visit Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV)'s website.
  2. If this doesn't resolve the issue, consider approaching DBDRV directly. DBDRV provides free and impartial services to help resolve disputes concerning the construction, alterations, renovations and extensions to houses. It also deals with the construction of garages, driveways and swimming pools, demolition work and some home repairs.
  3. If there is a significant issue on the building site requiring immediate attention, contact your local council. The council's municipal building surveyor, unlike the VBA, has the power to issue an emergency order.
  4. For issues with contracts, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).
  5. For fencing or boundary disputes, contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria.
  6. For criminal matters such as fraud, violence or trespass, contact Victoria Police.
  7. For environmental matters such as noise from building work, pollution and debris, contact the Environmental Protection Authority.
  8. For other matters, including if you are seeking compensation, contractual disputes and the rectification of defective building work, contact DBDRV.

There are several matters outside the jurisdiction of the VBA. The VBA cannot:

  • Resolve disputes with your building or plumbing practitioners
  • Award financial compensation
  • Direct a building practitioner to provide financial compensation.

The VBA:

  • Registers building practitioners and registers and licenses plumbing practitioners.
  • Investigates the conduct of registered building practitioners and registered and licensed plumbing practitioners with a view to taking disciplinary action against them or, in extreme cases, prosecuting them.
  • Investigates breaches and offences of the building legislation.
  • Undertakes inspections, investigations and audits following a complaint or on its own initiative where deemed appropriate, to ensure builders and plumbers comply with their obligations.

Top seven warning signs of an unregistered builder

  1. Your builder is not a member of an industry body.
  2. They do not ask you to enter into a contract before the project starts.
  3. They ask for too much money up front or at each set payment stage. By law in Victoria, a deposit can be no more than five per cent of the total project cost (projects over $20,000).
  4. They aren't prepared to show you what homes they have recently built or to provide you with the opportunity to talk to some of their previous clients.
  5. They can not or will not show you their VBA ID card.
  6. No results are found when you type the builder's or plumber's name into the VBA's Find a Practitioner tool.
  7. You are not given a copy of your builder's domestic building insurance policy or a certificate of currency covering your property before construction.