outdoor entertainment area and pool

The right advice

As an industry expert, you’re in a position to give your clients building advice, but you’ll strengthen your brand in the long run if that advice equals quality over quantity.


Sarah O'Donovan

When it comes to renovating, the risk of ‘overcapitalising’ may often be something that – realistically – only concerns a builder when they’re also wearing their homeowner hat. But HIA members are known for their integrity, meaning they understand the value of honesty in the client-builder relationship. After all, HIA’s motto ‘you’re in good hands’ extends beyond members and applies to all homeowners electing to work with a builder who is allied with the Association.

HIA members are more than just industry workers, they are business professionals who adopt a savvy and end-to-end approach to building. This is because not only do relationships built on transparency result in genuine referrals, but they can also lead to return work down the line. 

With house flipping and renovation reality shows taking our TVs by storm over the past few years, investing large sums of money into a home in the hopes of increasing its net worth has become an increasingly popular pursuit among Australian homeowners. While this usually translates to booming business opportunities for many builders, it’s important to be realistic with clients about their expectations. This includes being honest in offering your expert advice when having conversations about wants, needs and recuperated investments.
Renovation exterior Photo courtesy Sheilcon
bathroom freestanding bath Photo courtesy Giorgi
It’s reasonable to say that most customers will figure it out, once the dust settles, if they’ve been taken for a ride. Even if the customer simply got what they were after, they may feel duped when they later realise no one with the industry insight stepped in to warn them of the risks. And how many of them are likely to return for their next project, write a positive online review or refer you to others? 

On top of this, building long-term relationships with clients who return to you for modest upgrades every few years can prove much more profitable to you as a business than getting a lump sum and never hearing from them again. 

Remember, a client has chosen you for your professional experience and technical expertise, so their expectation will be that your services will guide their decision-making, especially if you suspect a gap in their understanding could result in them making a poor choice – financial or otherwise.

There are a number of ways to approach the topic of overcapitalising without scaring customers away, and they all begin with communication. If your client wants to pursue their original plans despite your advice, you can sleep well at night knowing you fulfilled your responsibility to educate and communicate. 
white kitchen Photo courtesy Arklen Builders
renovation outdoor decking Photo courtesy R & H Matthews
Kicking goals

Aim to get a good understanding of any goals and expectations a client has. This can be a benefit for both of you in the early stages because the client may not have thought much about what these are either – in which case they won’t realise their needs aren’t being met until it’s too late. 
This conversation should reveal their materialistic goals such as ‘renovate the outdoor alfresco area’ but it should also cover other tangibles, such as ‘weekly project updates’ or ‘barbeque pit ready to use on Christmas day’. This tells you that cooking lunch on Christmas is the top priority, meaning the decking can wait until January.

Bittersweet budgets

Understanding a client’s budget is crucial to offering the right advice. Knowing their financial limits better positions you to identify the most important elements of a project and the areas that can endure a budgetary trim. 
Questions to ask include: Is this an investment home or owner-occupier, and will that change in the future? Do you plan to sell in the near future? The answers to these can determine the products and materials you’ll source. 
For example, a client with an investment property who wants a trendy marble benchtop in the kitchen to attract tenants may not realise this look can be achieved with inexpensive imitations. Similarly, the carpet selected for an investment property with a young family and pets will likely be different to the carpet chosen for the home of an owner-occupier, semi-retired couple. 

Make a plan

If a client’s budget is too conservative, having this discussion gives you an immediate opportunity to identify and rectify potential payment issues before commencing any works. In addition, though, it also opens an opportunity for you to secure future work and avoid compromise on either side. 
Offering to create a long-term plan which will see some works being held back a year or two is a good alternative. This means the client doesn’t need to sacrifice on their vision, you don’t need to forgo the works entirely, and there’s time to source the high-quality products and materials the project deserves. 
living area Photo courtesy Giorgi Architects & Builders
Renovation timber decking Photo courtesy Ecoliv
Wants versus needs

There are a few luxury additions that clients will typically want to invest in, especially in the home they reside in. But even if they are planning to stay in the home long-term, the costs and maintenance could still be higher than the client expects. In these situations, what’s most important is that you offer expert advice and a wide range of options including any alternatives available. 

Theatre rooms

One of the popular features of modern homes is the theatre room, a trend that followed advances in technology and on-demand streaming capabilities. 

However, this trend isn’t on everyone’s wish list and future potential buyers might have preferred the space as another bedroom, study or playroom for the kids. Homeowners should especially think twice before installing fixed furniture or stepped floors.

Alternative: theatre functions and smart technology which can be installed in a convertible living room. 
energy efficient home outdoor fire pit Photo courtesy Skookom
outdoor living area Photo courtesy Todd Newman Builders
Pools and Spas

Adding a pool or spa to a home can either be an excellent investment or a white elephant. A key determinant to this will often be the climate in which the client lives. 
In tropical and subtropical climates a pool can be a valuable addition to a home that enhances the lifestyle of current and future owners. But in a cooler climate pools can be a costly, time-consuming burden that chews up energy and requires regular maintenance. 

Alternative: a mini pool, where space and budget imposes an ongoing constraint, or an indulgent spa or large bath tub installed either in the bathroom or in a covered outdoor area. 

Outside kitchen

Incorporating the kitchen with an outdoor living space such as a patio or small pool is becoming increasingly popular but, like a pool, the environment will play a big part in the success of this area. 

Encourage your clients to imagine the area in winter, not just summer, and remember to discuss the importance of longwearing materials and products which are capable of enduring the natural elements. This could certainly add to their anticipated cost. 

Alternative: decking or a landscaped barbeque and entertainment area, with optional covering which can be closed or covered during the cooler months.

As the industry expert your insight and advice are a valuable asset. Though it can be difficult from the outset to determine which opportunities of work will be worth your while, the best client relationships are formed when all parties are open and honest, and you can all sit back afterwards and say ‘job well done’.

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