In case you missed it in the title, I’m not one of The Birds, I’m Amy and I’ve just finished my very own reno. Where we live, renovating is the new black. Everyone’s doing it. So, decent builders with any availability are a rare commodity. In fact, I’d heard that finding a builder who can start when you want is a bit like the show, Wheel of Fortune. Give the wheel a big spin and hope for the best. You get what you get, or you wait a while and have another spin. 

In our case, finding our builder was actually more like an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And I was in the Hot Seat. We were ready to submit our plans to Council for DA approval and the questions were coming thick and fast from my architect, engineers, council… and my husband. They all wanted to know who was actually going to build the dream home we’d been meticulously planning for the past year.  

Fresh out of the Three Birds Reno School, I was the (self-appointed) Project Manager for our job. Lucky for me, in this game the wannabe Millionaire gets three lifelines - and I used all of them!  

Here’s how they helped me find our builder:


Or several friends. I was lucky enough to know a few people that were mid-reno or had recently finished, who I could call on. They welcomed me into their homes, shared their experience, tips, highs and lows of the process. One raved about her builder. He was on time, on budget and generally great to work with (yes, I got his number!). The other wasn’t so forthcoming with praise. Hers seemed to spend more time away from the building site than on it and the project deadline kept extending (I didn’t add him to the shortlist). 

My key learning: people are passionate about their renovations. They’re willing to show you what they love, what they don’t and what they’d do differently next time (I madly jotted down notes for our own project!). Phoning a friend gave me real, honest feedback about tradies and their work – most complimentary, some not so! The beauty of personal recommendations is you get the real, insider scoop that you might not find in written reviews.


The beauty of social media is that there are many ‘audiences’ just waiting to be asked. We’ve got a local community Facebook group which is ripe for recommendations of any kind. So, I logged in and typed away… “Hi All, I’m looking for a reasonably-priced builder who can start in the next six months.” And threw in a “TIA” (thanks in advance) for good measure. Soon I was inundated with numbers of independent builders, building companies and project home companies. I picked five, somewhat randomly, and began calling. Two laughed out loud when I asked if they could start in the next six months, two never returned my call and the other one came ‘round for a look one day and I didn’t hear boo from him again. 

My key learning: be specific with your request. I should have asked for recommendations that the audience have personally used and preferably know they have availability soon. Some were just blatant plugs for friends’ businesses… or their own! It was certainly a good way to gather a list of local trades in a short time and, had I needed, I could have continued calling through the list to widen my shortlist.


Between recommendations from two friends and our architect, I came up with the shortlist of three builders to meet with my husband and I. Three quickly became two when one took another job and was then unavailable for the foreseeable future. So, it was down to our architect’s recommendation and the lovely, down-to-earth guy who a friend I phoned whole-heartedly recommended. Both submitted quotes – one double the price of the other! When the more expensive couldn’t explain the cost difference, our decision between the two became very straight forward. 

My key learning: They say don’t go for the cheapest quote, but when the cheapest quote happens to be from the guy who
1. comes with a glowing recommendation
2. seems like a good fit in the personality department AND
3. can start when you need – you’ve hit the JACKPOT!

 It turns out that the builder we chose at the end of the whole process was the first recommendation we had from a friend who, amazingly, was also the cheapest quote. And guess what? He came in on time and on budget, just like my friend said.



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