Ah Google. It’s a wonderful tool but it’s a bit like throwing your net into the waters; you have to have a good look at what comes up and decide what to keep and what to toss back. So when you have a sloping block, or a block with significant fall, and you do a Google search for sloping block builders in Melbourne, it’s going to pull up some Specialist Custom builders but it’s also going to pull up Volume Builders with no expertise in sloping blocks except knowing how to dig a hole and bury a house in it. And it will pull up everything in between.
As we all know, with a bit of extra payment for advertising, anyone can come up on Google as experts in whatever they please. So make sure that you go through your search results and, for starters, seek out the builders that are actually Custom Builders. By a Custom Builder, I refer to a builder who will custom design your home based on your block of land, its aspect and unique attributes, your family requirements and (most of all) your budget. These builders will start the process with a blank sheet of paper, not a preconceived design where the block of land is modified to suit the house rather than the other way around, with no care for optimising the view. Because any sloping block is likely to have some aspect worth taking advantage of, even if it’s just a view of tree tops (which definitely beats looking out of your front windows into someone else’s front windows.)
So rule out the cookie-cutter Volume Builders who build anywhere from 350 – 2000 homes a year, because their building methods are not conducive to good solutions for sloping blocks (more on this below). Your other possible builders will fall into a range of possibilities.
At one end of the spectrum, you’re going to find your very small Custom Builder who may only build a couple of homes a year. Because of limited staffing and high costs of building materials, you may get a beautiful tailor made result, however they are likely to be an expensive option. So you need to consider if this option suits your time frame (depending on where your project stand in the queue) and your budget.
The next classification might be the builder who builds around 10 to 12 homes a year, who is more than capable of building your home in timely manner, and whose standards are high. However, because of economies of scale, the costs will invariably be higher than builders who can access a greater buying power.
Then there’s the range of Custom Builder who builds 30plus houses a year; which gives them sufficient volume to buy their materials at the same prices as Volume Builders. So their ability to compete on price will be very good. What you will get in addition to a good price is a standard of quality, and care for the unique features of the block – and your individual needs – that is simply not part of the equation for the very large builders.
With a Custom Builder you will get great flexibility in design, and a situation where you’re dealing directly with builder. Your chances of a good experience are much greater when you’re dealing with the person who is actually building your house, rather than one of a dozen people in a hierarchy.
Once you’ve established a list of builders in this middle range, it’s important that you check references. Don’t rely on a glossy brochure or website, talk to individuals. Ask to see homes under construction. Take the time to make sure that the builder is someone who you can feel comfortable with, that you can build a relationship of trust with that person. If you don’t get that feeling of trust and honesty, don’t make excuses or try to invent it. There are people out there who don’t treat clients well. You will be spending a large amount of money on this endeavour. Not every builder is going to suit you; there’s no one builder out there who will build every house. Move on.
And of course, you need to be able to get a builder that will work within your budget. Price does vary, and so does quality. However, have a good solid think about the kind of result that you want, and what you want the actual building journey to be like before you make your decision on price alone. (For more on the topic of choosing a good custom builder for your needs, see our 5 Tips To Help You Choose The Right Custom Builder For Your Home)
A bit of the inside story on why you definitely want a Custom Builder for a Sloping Block. Up until the mid 1990s there were certainly Volume Builders around. However, at that time, most builders, including the big guys, built on timber sub-floors, so the foundations were on concrete stumps with timber bearers and floor joists. This was the norm at the time. It’s the method Europeans developed a couple hundred years ago when we first arrived here, and it hadn’t changed much. So if you had a block that sloped, it didn’t matter, because that form of construction lends itself to anything. Whether the lot is flat as a pancake or perched on a cliff, you simply vary the length of stumps.
The big thing that changed was that in the early 90s, concrete slab construction took off. This was primarily because timber became more expensive (for reasons I go into elsewhere) and so concrete began to outcompete price-wise. Like any change in methodology, it took a few years to filter through, so up until the early 2000s, many medium size volume Builders were still building houses on concrete stumps and timber floor joists. Now, however the difference in price between a concrete slab and a timber sub-floor could be as much as $35,000, and Volume Builders build exclusively on concrete slabs.
Because Volume Builders by definition build the majority of houses in Australia, they dictate the way the industry goes. Concrete is the cheapest building material man has ever known. It is also strong and smooth. Now that concrete slabs have become the norm, the expertise is in concrete slabs. So builders who can build a home on a timber sub-floors have become “specialists.” This is ironic, because 20 years ago this is how every house in Australia was built.
Am I implying that building on concrete slabs is bad? Far from it, concrete slabs have many advantages, but there are horses for courses, and a Custom Builder will look at your unique situation and discuss whether your best option is a timber sub-floor, or a split slab (often a good solution for a sloping block) and many other variables. And this is the key. When you seek out a builder, especially if you have a sloping or unusual block, you do not want to be limited to one big flat concrete slab that necessitates digging a big hole in your lovely land and inserting a house. You will achieve a much more satisfying outcome if you work through your searches until you locate a builder with more strings to his bow, who will work with all the variables of your situation to achieve the best, unique outcome, within your budget.