Building a house involves lots of money, you should definitely do your homework properly before making any commitment.
Some of the methods been used:
1. Ask friends/relatives/colleagues for opinion
2. Visit their display homes if available
3. Ask builder to provide contacts of existing customers who have built with them
4. Do some search on Internet for information related to the builder, try Google, Yahoo, or bestbuilder.com.au, ...etc.
5. Join some forums, one of the best one I have seen so far in Australia is homeone.com.au. I learned a lot from them, have a look and guaranteed you will find it very helpful as well.
6. Spend $600 (some asked for more) for an initial soil test, tender and drawing. After you look at the tender, went through a presentation, you might have a different idea about what's to be expected.
7. Shop around, as the designs are all different, it's difficult to compare apple to apple. But you can have a better idea of what each builder can provide with similar amount of money. Compare the size, number of rooms, interiors, kitchen, ...etc
Before we decided to go with our builder, we did lots of research. We visited at least 5 of their clients, some of the good things about them:
1. For similar amount of money, you can get bigger house, that is, cost per square meter is lower when compared to D*****, C****** and a few others.
2. It's a personal thing, we love bay windows, and some of their models (Princeton and Palace Regent) have a few bay windows included as standard. With Allworth, they don't do bay windows at all. With D***** and C****** you have to pay a lot extra for that.
3. They included lots of things as standard: hobs for all shower, granite benchtop for kitchen, all external walls are in brick (E*****, D***** used lots of timber on 1st floor), obscure glazing window for all bathrooms, the section above garage door are all in brick (D**** and C***** use timber)...etc.
4. They are quite flexible with changes. Some of the builders don't like to change their design. We have lots of difficulty with some builders in making changes, our builder is more flexible on that. But like all other builders, they all charge a lot for any changes.
5. They are willing to tack the skirting boards so that our timer floor installation won't cause major damage to our walls. D*****, C******* and A***** won't do that at all.
For the bad side:
1. I found this post from homeone.com.au where one of the client was very unhappy with them.
2. It's a family business, due to the size they can be quite slow. Specially with services after hand-over and dealing with council. For example, for council part, G*** is only person handling all documents. When it gets really busy there could be some delays. Luckily we have past that stage, our approval took 4 months, which we think it's not that bad.
We visited one Chinese family in North Epping, our builder still haven't install the air conditioning one month after hand-over.
3. We also visited a family who wasn't quite happy with them. I heard that during their construction, our builder was going through some restructure and changed 3 site managers/supervisor. Also, the client is not very happy about the tender price gone up $6000 in 6 months -- unfortunately that's the nature of the game, if you can't get council approval or still wouldn't sign the contract, it goes up every few months, not much you can do about that.
4. My colleague A*** at Hursville was also complaining about their slowness. He had to make lots of phone calls to get someone for post handover service. According to A*** the things that required service so far were: leaking laundry tube, a window that won't close properly and a door that won't shut properly.
So based on all above, after compared with all other builders, we still choose our builder.
To cover our back, we are also going to hire private inspector to check their work before we make any payment. G****, our landscaper also suggest us to buy some beers for the workers.
We will certainly keep a close eye on the construction work (we currently lived about 200M away from the place we are building) and hopefully everything turns out ok with not too many problems or surprises.