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Building the dream

Story: Bianca Ross 

Building the dream

Story: Bianca Ross 
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Inspired by builders in his area, Jake Brady of Smartbuild South Coast always knew he wanted to work in the industry. With HIA’s help, his growing business is making a mark on the hometown he loves.

Founder and director of Smartbuild South Coast, Jake Brady started out solo in 2012 working on small residential projects. Ten years on, his business has seen significant growth. He now employs talented, local trades and apprentices to deliver on his goal to produce high-quality custom builds and renovations for the Illawarra on the NSW South Coast.

Housing sat down with Jake to talk about his time in the industry so far, what he has learnt and the tools that have helped him to succeed.

Smartbuild South Coast team
Founder and director of Smartbuild South Coast, Jake Brady

Q: What inspired you to become a builder?

Since I was young, I loved to build things. Growing up on a farm in Gerringong, I lived outside and built quarter pipes and ramps for my mates and I to ride our skateboards and motorbikes. I enrolled in TAFE straight after my school certificate at 16 and completed a carpentry pre-apprenticeship. I then secured a carpentry apprenticeship with a local builder.

Living by the beach, I loved to surf. I’d run home, board under my arm, and see these older guys in their utes on local building sites. I couldn’t wait to be one of them. So, it was a proud moment when I completed my Certificate IV with HIA and applied for my builder’s licence. I started building decks and landed a [bathroom] renovation, and I knew I was in! I was lucky because I knew what I wanted to do – build the best homes I could. And that’s what I do now. It’s my passion that got me through those 4am starts and to where I am today.

Q: What do you love about working in the building industry

I love architectural builds and working through the technical process of making things happen. It’s always different which makes the experience both challenging and rewarding. It’s satisfying to focus on a task at hand, create a solution and get it done.

I’m proud of what Smartbuild South Coast achieves – bringing people’s crazy-big dreams to life. It’s a privilege to build for people who have worked hard and saved to create the home they’ve always wanted. When my clients are happy it means I’ve done a great job, and that’s what business is about.

I’m also proud to employ talented, local trades and support them and their families. I love building homes for people and giving people a livelihood – it’s the best feeling and I’m honoured to do it.

'I was lucky because I knew what I wanted to do – build the best homes' 
Jake produces high-quality custom builds and renovations for Illawarra

Q: What changes would you like to see to improve how the industry operates?

One of the ways we can improve the building industry is by addressing the lack of trades in certain geographical areas. Fortunately, high school building pathways, TAFE courses, including pre-apprenticeships, and government incentives to support employers putting on apprentices, is helping to address this. We also must ensure the industry entices young people to join – that they see it as an opportunity to forge a career where they can be self-sufficient. In doing this we will invest in the futures of both trades and our building industry.

It would also be great to see work boundaries respected. It’s improving – I used to take calls day and night, weekdays and weekends. But I learned it was important to set boundaries so I could spend time with my family. People in other industries do, and we need to as well.

Q: Do you have preferred products to build with on the coast?

For coastal environments, low-maintenance products are key. In my work, 75 per cent of the jobs are waterfront or within 200 metres of the ocean so we use marine-grade 316 fittings and fixtures. We frequently use treated materials such as timber and stone because they won’t deteriorate from sea salt. I’m always on the lookout for sustainable, durable materials that will withstand coastal conditions.

Q: What have you learnt that has changed the way you do things?

COVID restrictions have shown that being organised is essential. Booking trades and materials in advance and giving enough notice for people to plan their availability has been key to keep projects moving. It’s more difficult to arrange for everyone to be onsite now compared to 18 months ago. Verifying orders and thorough budget management is crucial, particularly at the backend of builds. Recent price rises call for advanced business management, and you need to be across looking after your trades in both up and down times.

How we market ourselves is another big change for us. Letterbox drops have been replaced with emails, and like other builders, digital advertising and social media has become hugely important to showcase our work and attract new clients. For the past five years, Smartbuild South Coast has worked with Sea Salt Marketing, which looks after all our digital marketing with socials, blogs and e-newsletters. We’ve seen our audience grow and enquiries soar.

For coastal environments, low-maintenance products are key.
'I’m always on the lookout for sustainable, durable materials,' says Jake

Q: As a business owner, how do you get the best out of your team?

For me, it’s about being a good human.For me, it’s about being a good human. It’s not hard to show mutual respect for all involved and acknowledge that two heads are better than one for solving problems. That way you collaborate for the best outcomes. I treat everyone at the same level and grab a broom to help the apprentices clean up. I’ll always remember that’s who I was, and when these young guys become builders, I want them to pass on the respect.

Q: What’s been the most valuable aspect of your HIA membership?

I’ve been a HIA member for eight years, and it’s been a life and business saver! The online contracts and legal representatives are the best in the industry, and their service helps me stay on track for my clients with respect to guarantees and requirements. Knowing I can pick up the phone and ask any question around legal matters, codes of respect, protocols, contractual matters, the Building Code and Australian Standards ensures I keep my business running smoothly.

I’ve found HIA’s team to be responsive professionals you can confidently outsource specialised matters to, and this allows me to do what I do best – build beautiful homes. The service is such great value for money for specialist resources that are otherwise hard to find. 

Q: Any final words?

It’s great to be celebrating 10 years of Smartbuild South Coast. Shout out to my beautiful wife, my team and the fabulous clients we build for! These are the people who keep me striving to be the best builder I can be.

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