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186 posts

Master Geek

# 119012 17-May-2013 08:03
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I need your advice or recommendations.

We are thinking about building a home in the Auckland area. Sigh, I know: Huge cost, terrible market.

There are a couple of options from different building companies that are offering land+house packages in the areas we are interested in. Of course, these companies have nothing good to say about each other, and love to hint more of less subtly at how terrible their competitors are. The competing builders are:

- G.J. Gardner
- Signature Homes
- Universal Homes
- Sentinel Homes

The latter one ('Sentinel') seems to be a little less well known.

At any rate, does anyone out there have any opinion on these companies? Is there a site where we could compare them or read ratings about them? Try as I might, I didn't find any. Did you build homes with them? What are your experiences? In all honesty, could you recommend them? What are the gotchas? 

Just to point out: Land+house packages aren't always the best option, but that's what we currently look at. So your well meaning advice not to consider those packages sadly won't help. Also, the list of builders is what it is. If you know other, better building companies, that's great, but it wouldn't be very helpful in our situation either.

Anyway, I'm already thanking you ahead of time for your feedback in this important question: Which building company can you trust with something as big and important as your family's home?

Thank you very much...

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3267 posts

Uber Geek


  # 821241 17-May-2013 15:55
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They all depends on the contractors they get in, the brand just project manage and have slightly different contracts but these days they are all essentially the same. It is hard to find good contractors, most have moved to AU where you do not have to deal with the rain and politics of NZ. The price shows you if it is budget, middle, or top quality.

I prefer the Signature plans, but we went with GJ as they had a plan that worked for our narrow section with minor changes. If you want quality, probably go for Lockwood or some of the others that will charge $3k per sqm, not $1.5k. The biggest issue we had was with tradesmen not caring about what they are not responsible for, e.g. gib stoppers messing over and scratching exterior door frames, kitchen installer don't care about timber flooring installation requirements, etc. And the project manager does not care much about deadlines other than when you need to pay.

Watch out for progress payments, the banks will release only enough money to cover an independent valuation of work done (or cost to complete valuation) and then you need to fork out the difference yourself. And you pay for each of those valuations.

You can never have enough Volvos!

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Uber Geek

  # 821268 17-May-2013 16:40
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I have no experience with any of the companies so can't comment on that side of things.

However I would suggest getting some professional advice from a builder or architect. Hiring a designer or an architect, and a builder yourself, you may end up with a house at around the same cost, but more special and a higher resale value. It sounds like you are trying to get a good deal, and buying everything from one signle company may not achieve that for you.
People want to buy an architecturally designed home over just a standard 'house', as they are often nicer to live in, and many standard houses that are being built are just plain ugly. Otherwise you are likely to just end up with a run of the mill house built to the minimum building code specs. To upgrade to higher spec, is where some may make their money. Also recommend overspec on insulation, as it will save in heating costs, and possibly use thermally insulated double glazed window framing. To get a super insulated house, you may need to move up to a large framing type.


3214 posts

Uber Geek

  # 821270 17-May-2013 16:47
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G J are frequently in the news with issues and the failure of the parent company to stand behind their product. Chap I work with had no end if problems with their place. It was enough to turn me off the brand forever. Other than that they all build to a price point and as mentioned it depends on the actual builder contracted to your job.

Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman, then always be the Batman

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Uber Geek

  # 821278 17-May-2013 17:11
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scuwp: G J are frequently in the news with issues and the failure of the parent company to stand behind their product. Chap I work with had no end if problems with their place. It was enough to turn me off the brand forever. Other than that they all build to a price point and as mentioned it depends on the actual builder contracted to your job.

Don't know anything about that company, but I believe many of these branded comapnies are just franchises, so the head office wouldn't have any direct contract with the house purchaser. The house purchaser enters into a contract with the local franchisee. This is one reason I would suggest they try a local independent builder, possibly who is a member of the master builders federation. We built our last house with one, and had problems with the builder, ( their subbies, who subcontracted out themselves) but the problems were sorted out with help of the MBF and had to come to a compromise.

But if you do go for one of these brand name building companies, perhaps find one where their head office will fully stand behind their franchisee in case of problems or the franchisee goes under.

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  # 821773 18-May-2013 22:23
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As the others said, they are all franchises and the quality depends on the actual "labour only" teams they hire. You have no say in who these people they hire are. Some are good, others terrible Generally, there are fewer problems if you accept their standard materials and plans. As soon as you make changes or want special finishes, the price starts to skyrocket.

I think you will find that most of the firms you named do belong to the Master Builders Assoc, but that really means little.  Virtually any firm who pays the MBF fees can call themselves a master builder. I prefer builders who are Certified Builders. They require their members to have come through the building trade and be qualified. They are usually smaller companies and the business owner usually actually builds the house himself, or is at least more involved in it.

If you have an idea of the plan you want, materials and finishes then getting an architectural designer would be worth looking into. They often can suggest builders they know, and you will end up with something that suits you rather than just a standard design. They can offer different options, such as documentation up to Building consent (and hopefully lodge the consent on your behalf), or even supervise the construction and arrange progress payments. Of course the more they do, the more they charge!

One suggestion - once you have decided on the final design, DON'T change anything unless there is a very good reason. Alterations are where huge extra costs can arise, especially after building consent is lodged.  Make sure that any alterations are in writing and signed by both yourself and the builder, and where possible have the price of the alteration included in the letter.

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  # 821799 18-May-2013 23:50
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GJ charge you (retail) cost plus 20% for anything different from the basics they supply, but you do not have to get them to finish all of the house (will be the same with all brands) as long as it would not affect code of compliance. We for example supplied all appliances and got the timber floor installed ourselves. Also supplied a few fittings.

There are meetings for selecting colours, bricks, kitchen design, etc. If you change your mind after the meetings, there is a charge of I think $500 per change.

Watch out for those progress payments. You have something like 10 days to organize a progress valuation, pass it on to your bank, and wait for the bank to release hopefully enough funds so you can pay the builders or pay them interest for late payment. Highly recommend using a good mortgage broker to manage your loan, I can recommend one in Auckland and it does not cost you anything. It is more efficient for the bank not dealing with end customers, so they pay him a cut of the loan size which also means he tries his best as he does not get paid if there is no loan approved.

Your contract will include insurance if the builder goes under, and a 10 year structural guarantee. Those things need to be registered when the project starts. Make sure you get proof it is done (your contract will state what they insure, just ask for proof). Our builder discovered a "documentation error" a few weeks before completion, and the project was never insured.

The contract says the diggers are not responsible when damaging services. Make sure you get a map of your services. We added to the contract that they are responsible to damage to pipes which location is known (and there was only one). And they did damage the pipe...

You can never have enough Volvos!

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  # 821802 19-May-2013 00:01
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Our family house was with Jalcon and they made huge amendments to their standard plans for us. Took about 6 months longer than anticpated also (was a good experience to live in a sh!tty old state house while we waited)! They tried to break the contract though around the final price and we ended up winning tens of thousands against them in court.

Speedtest 2019-10-14


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Uber Geek


  # 821833 19-May-2013 09:00
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I forgot to mention the final payment. Our contract said final payment at practical completion, but out bank said when we get CoC which was 5 months later and some delays because our builders did not submit all the paperwork (can't believe they did not know what is needed). The franchise owner comes from a banking background and said he understands, so gave us a paper to sign that we will pay when we get CoC. Our contract also has the standard 12 months "maintenance" period where they fix anything that we find wrong (i.e. unfinished work). When we got CoC after 5 months, they had not done any "maintenance" and I've told them we have no confidence they will finish so we will pay when the job is done. All communication I've put in e-mail as record, including meeting minutes as they do not send out any minutes (so they do not commit to anything). It is now over 17 months since we've moved, and now they will (apparently) do the last item which is an acid wash to clean up brickwork. I do not mind too much for the delay, we are still holding on to $32k we owe them and they never objected so they can't make a claim until the work is done. But I thought they would be more interested in doing a few hours of work and get paid...

You can never have enough Volvos!

186 posts

Master Geek

  # 822859 21-May-2013 11:01
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Thank you every one for your feedback. We won't be able to take all of your advice (these are land+house packages, so we can't really choose our builder freely), but your comments certainly give us plenty to think about and to keep in our minds during the upcoming building process.

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