If you are thinking of hiring a contractor for building your new home, renovation of your existing home, or doing some changes before you sell, think carefully. Get to know your builder. Ask questions about their business, their work, and their terms.  We have compiled this checklist from NSW Fair Trading, a few blogs, and our own experience.Here are some questions to ask before hiring the building contractor you are looking to use.

1. What is your contractor licence number?

You should only deal with a contractor who is currently licensed by NSW Fair Trading:

  • go to our Home building online licence check and look up the contractors details yourself; or
  • call the NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20 and one of our customer service officers will search the public register for you.


2. Where can I see examples of your work?

Ask the contractor for the addresses of previous houses they have renovated or built and ask the owners if they were satisfied with the results.

Some questions you can ask:

  • Was the project finished on time?
  • Did they stay close to the quoted costs?
  • Was there proper supervision of the other tradespeople?
  • Did any defective work get fixed promptly?
  • Would they recommend the contractor?
  • And importantly, was there good communication with the contractor?


3. What other jobs have you got on at the moment?

A contractor with a lot of work on may not be able to properly manage your job as well.

4. Who will supervise the work?

A contractor doing a large job may get a supervisor to manage the project.

Make sure the supervisor has:

  • sufficient experience in the type of work you want done, and
  • a current Supervisor’s Certificate from NSW Fair Trading.


5. Do you have proper insurance?

It is important to check the contractor has all the necessary insurance cover to protect you and your home if something goes wrong.

  • Home Warranty Insurance
  • Builders All-Risk Insurance
  • Public Liability Insurance
  • Workers Compensation or WorkCover Insurance
  • Kit homes and Insurance
  • Contracts Insurance


6. How much deposit do you need?

The law specifies the maximum deposit you can be asked to pay:

  • if the contract price is up to $20,000, the maximum deposit is 10% of the contract price
  • if the contract price is over $20,000 you can’t be asked to pay more than 5% of the contract price.

But, if the work needs to be covered by home warranty insurance, it is illegal for the contractor to take a deposit or progress payment until a certificate of insurance has been given to you.

Important: It is highly recommended that you check the validity of the insurance certificate given to you by contacting the insurance company shown on the certificate.

7.  Will we need Council Approval?   Is it possible to get approval from a Private Certifier?

Approval may be required for renovations that involve changes to the structure or shape of your home. This includes new additions, reconfiguration of internal space by moving or removing walls, new window and door openings or installing structures such as carports and pergolas. Electrical and plumbing approvals may also have to be obtained.  It is also important to find out if you need approval to demolish an existing structure such as a garage, shed or porch, or to cut down a tree on your property.

8. When can you start the work and how long will it take?

  • What are your expected time frame on completing the job?
  • What are your current availabilities to work on the job?
  • How many staff will you involve?
  • What are your suggested trades and services that will be involved?

If you want the work done by a specific date, make sure the time frame provided in the contract:

  • is realistic
  • takes into account possible delays through bad weather or the late supply of materials
  • has a start date and completion date.

Make sure you and the contractor are clear on what they consider ‘complete’.

9. What sort of contract will be used?

If the cost of labour and materials is more than $1,000, the law requires a written contract to be used.

Contracts are not only legal requirements, they will protect you if anything goes wrong.

Fair Trading Contracts

NSW Fair Trading has produced a series of plain English contracts covering all types of building and renovating work. You can download these for free from the Fair Trading contracts page.

10. How much will it cost?

Make sure:

  • the contractor includes the total cost of the work in the contract
  • estimated costs are clearly stated in the contract and are realistic
  • you understand how and why costs may change and how the total cost can be affected (eg. some builders will specify the site cost in the contract as a ‘provisionary cost item’. This means that this cost may change depending on what the builder’s actual costs are in preparing the site. If the site is difficult to build on, or the builders hit solid rock, it will cost you more).


11. When are progress payments to be made?

Most building contracts have a fixed price and should provide for payments to be made for work done, not time on the job. Progress payments should be equal to the dollar value of work completed.

If you’ve borrowed to build or renovate, your bank or mortgage provider may want to inspect the work before each payment is made. You may want to have an architect or building consultant inspect the work at each stage to ensure it is being done properly and to contract specifications and drawings.

12. What happens if the work is defective?

This question will help you get a sense of how the builder is likely to deal with any complaints you may have about the work. You should know in advance what your options are if a dispute arises.

13. Who cleans the site?

Get this clear from the start so when work is completed, you are not left with a big mess, or a dangerous building site. Make sure an agreement about cleaning the site regularly is included in the contract.

14. What are your expectations of me on site?

Ask your builder what they expect  from you.  There’s little room for error or miscommunication if expectations were clearly stated from the start.

15. How often will we meet for a project update? How available will you be for questions and queries?

In the course of working on a project, there are some further decisions that need to be made.   You need to agree on how frequently you should meet in order to work successfully together. The contact needs to be frequent to maintain momentum, although exactly what this means depends on the scale and nature of the task.  Also, you need to determine what is the most effective means to communicate. While face-to-face meetings are generally the most productive, you are likely to find yourself using email, the telephone or other means to correspond.

16. What codes, standards and legislation do you abide by?

It is important to know what the builders abide by in terms of structural design, materials, energy conservation, fire safety, electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling, ventilation, indoor air quality, radon, accessibility, safety, acoustics, disaster mitigation, green building, and more.