So we’ve signed the building contract, but not without a minor hiccup.
The builder presented us with a form to sign to appoint a specific building surveyor, and then a separate form, appointing them to act on our behalf with the surveyor.
The building surveyor issues the building permit that allows you to start building. They check the design and inspect the build at key points to ensure it complies with all regulations and issue the certificate of occupancy at the end of the build. While some councils employ building surveyors, typically they are private, licenced surveyors. By law, the builder can not appoint the building surveyor.
We were surprised to be given the form to appoint the builder’s preferred surveyor. While this is legal, because we were appointing them, we felt uncomfortable with this.
The building surveyor gives you a level of protection that things are being done correctly. They are licenced, so its unlikely that they would let the builder get away with too much, since it is possible for them to lose their licence to practice if it all goes horribly wrong. However, we felt that we would rather have a building surveyor who was truly independent and not reliant on the builder for their next job. No potential conflict of interest.
After initially expressing surprise that we wanted to appoint our own surveyor, the builders were happy for us to do this. In fact, they had allowed for the cost of the building permit in the contract, and so they took this money out of the contract before we signed.
We selected the building surveyor from our closest town. It will like cost an extra $1-2k for a “boutique” surveyor, rather than the large company that the builder had proposed, but we feel the insurance policy on independence is worth it.
The building surveyor subsequently told us that many of the large volume builders actually charge you more to appoint your own. eg rather than refunding money, they can charge up to an additional $5k for the privilege of using your own. You wonder what the independent surveyor might be making them do? He told us it was a very good sign that our builder had refunded the cost of the building permit and surveyor fees. Phew.
When we applied for the building permit with the information applied by the builder, the surveyor requested a lot of additional documentation to demonstrate how various codes would be complied with. Maybe a surveyor who was familiar with the company would know how they “normally” did this, but personally, I’d like to have it documented, to make sure “normally” was actually done.
One thing they picked up was that the slab would be done in two pours, and they queried this. I’m so glad they did – the engineers doing the slab design wanted the two pours because the house is long and has a narrow section at the entrance separating the master bedroom from the bulk of the house. I can see how this section of the slab might be under stress with one side settling more than the other, and could potentially lead to cracking at the narrow point. So two slabs with an expansion joint seams reasonable. But I hadn’t noticed it, or thought about what it would mean.
It means that we would also need an expansion joint in our wooden floor – not a good look. They had put the joint between the entrance and the living room – so every time anyone went into the house they’d walk over it. It will likely be a metal or wooden strip running across the floor, potentially raised. We preferred it running between the entrance and the bedroom – the other side of the narrow section. Much less noticeable, and more a demarcation of a private space. From an engineering point of view, it shouldn’t make a difference to the slab design, so we asked for the expansion joint to be moved to the other side of the entrance. The builders changed it immediately.
Even if that’s the only difference our surveyor makes, its been worth it. Having said that, the builder’s surveyor might also have picked it up, but since we were also asked to sign a form appointing them to work with the surveyor, we likely wouldn’t have been aware of the questions. By appointing our own surveyor, we are involved in all of the discussions.