What is an Owner-builder?

An owner-builder is a person who takes full responsibility for the development of a domestic building on their own land. Taking on this role can help you save money, and it allows you to have full control over your property.

However, if you’re looking to become an owner-builder in Australia, there are a number of factors that you need to consider. Before you commit yourself to the job, it’s important to understand the risks, costs and responsibilities associated with it.

By understanding what the owner-builder role entails, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about your building project.

Being an owner-builder

First, let’s discuss what exactly an owner-builder does.

Put simply, you take on the obligations and liabilities involved in all aspects of a domestic construction project. This includes the planning stages, the building phases as well as the post-construction period.

This role is associated with a whole list of legal, financial and personal responsibilities and it’s essential that you understand what they are.

As an owner-builder you are responsible for:

  • Acquiring all the legal permits necessary to conduct the construction project
  • Supervising/carrying out building works
  • Contracting registered tradespeople for certain jobs such as plumbing, electrical work, tiling and so on
  • Making sure that that the project complies with all building regulations and standards in your state or territory
  • Engaging a building surveyor to inspect the quality of the project
  • Acquiring all the relevant certificates that verifies the compliance of the project
  • Following occupational health and safety standards for all the workers involved

After the project has been completed, there are still a number of responsibilities that you need to take into account:

  • Fixing any defective work within the period of 10 years after completion
  • Giving buyers a detailed report on defects and providing them with warranties if you decide to sell the property
  • Ensuring that proper insurance policies are in place

In Victoria, you will also need to acquire a certificate of consent from the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) if the work that you’ll be conducting is worth over $16,000. This value includes the cost of the materials as well as the cost of labour. If this estimated cost increases during construction, you are responsible for notifying the VBA.

On the other hand, you don’t need a certificate if:

  • The estimated cost is less than $16,000
  • The project doesn’t relate to domestic building work
  • You have a registered builder who agreed to take on the project
  • You are builder with registered authorisation to carry out domestic building works
  • You are registered architect
  • You are the Director of Housing

If you need help with estimating project costs, a building surveyor, a licensed architect or a draftsperson can help you with the calculations.

What type of work can an owner-builder do?

Generally speaking, owner-builders are only allowed to oversee projects relating to single domestic dwellings. This can include renovations, extensions, additions, alterations or completely new homes. Ancillary structures like pools, fences, patios, pergolas, retaining walls, garages and sheds can also be overseen by an owner-builder.

However, there are a few jobs that an owner-builder cannot take on. This includes subflooring, demolitions and relocations.

If you’re unsure about the nature of your work, a qualified architect, draftsperson or building surveyor can provide you with a description of your building project.

Who is allowed to be an owner-builder?

Owner Builder Permit

In the state of Victoria, there are several eligibility criteria that you need to meet to be an owner-builder.

You can be an owner-builder if:

  • You own or co-own the land that the project will take place on
  • You live, or intend to live, in the completed domestic property
  • Another builder is not responsible for the entirety of the project
  • You are aware of all the legal responsibilities and liabilities associated with the role
  • You have completed the prescribed learning assessment (i.e., owner-builder eLearning assessment)
  • You have taken construction induction training if necessary
  • You have not been issued an owner-builder permit in the last five years for a separate project

If you have any concerns regarding eligibility, be sure to check your local government’s website or contact them directly.

Advantages and risks of being an owner-builder

One of the biggest advantages to being an owner builder is the amount of control that you have over your property. If you’re very particular about the design and functionality of your home, being an owner-builder gives you the opportunity to really focus on those details. In addition, doing the job yourself can also save you a considerable amount of money.

However, there are a few risks that you need to consider. Being an owner-builder means you are responsible for essentially everything associated the project. If something goes wrong, you will likely have to take on the legal and financial consequences.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the owner-builder role. Though it’s a taxing job with a lot of responsibilities, it comes with plenty of advantages that make it a worthwhile endeavour. If, after reading this, you’re still considering being an owner-builder, make sure you fully familiarise yourself with your state’s legal requirements.

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Mark Sanna

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