Question: Should I build with a small building company or one of the large project builders?

Question: Should I build with a small building company or one of the large project builders?


I have to answer this question, because I get asked about it more than any other.

Now before you read on, I am biased. My company, Coastline Homes, is the epitome of the term “small building company” so much of this article will reflect why I have actively decided to keep Coastline Homes small.

Most people have their own ideas about what constitutes the term ‘small’ in this context. For the sake of this article, a builder employing less than ten staff, with minimal or no advertising budget, building less than 50 homes a year.

For the sake of contrast, a large project building company in the Southwest of Western Australia will build as many as 400 homes a year and employ 40 to 50 staff.

So there are pros and cons to both structures. This won’t cover all of them, but below are the highlites;

  1. Price: It has always been considered more expensive to build with a small builder. This is a myth perpetuated by the large end of town, and couldn’t be more incorrect. Small building companies (such as Coastline) offset their buying power with much lower overheads. In fact we are regularly cheaper on comparable designs than our much larger counterparts.


  1. Access to Decision Maker: When you sit in front of your sales consultant, or your customer service representative, you are in front of people with very limited decision making capabilities. Ask one of them for something even slightly out of the ordinary, or query the price of something, and they will give you the “I have to ask my boss” response. When the answer comes back not to your liking, there is no negotiation, you just have to accept it as policy. Compare that to a small builder, where you are not only sitting with the registered builder, but you are also in front of the owner of the company. There’s nowhere to hide, you get direct feedback, and the opportunity to put your side of things.


  1. Continuity: One of the biggest complaints about the big end of town is the tendancy to be handed from person to person down the building process. Salesman to Customer Services to Client Liaison to your Building Supervisor, and none of them transferring information to the next. Having to explain the same thing 3 or 4 times to different people as they become involved. Chinese whispers, and the “he said/ she said” approach to damage control. It is terrible. With a small builder you get to maintain contact with one person from start to finish. It’s all about building that relationship.


  1. Relationship: Yep, leading on from the item above. With a small builder you won’t constantly feel like a number in a sea of other customers. The process is personal (we don’t even use job numbers), professional and concise. Most of our clients end up our friends, they really have to, because otherwise we don’t get future work.


  1. Flexibility: Try baking and frosting 100 cupcakes out of your kitchen at home in time for your local school bake sale. I would wager that within reason all of those cupcakes end up looking the same. If you are a budding Master Chef then maybe there are three or four slightly varied designs. Obviously the reason is, that in an effort to maintain quality control you have to production line the product. Project Homes aren’t called “Cookie Cutter” designs for nothing. In an effort to reduce complication, and maximise profits, repetitive processes and designs are the go. Small builders don’t have this problem. We have the time to dedicate to ensuring every design is right for that individual client. We can accommodate special requests along the way, and our flexibility extends from the house design to the building processes.


  1. Speed: Let’s take the same cupcake example as above. If your home is the first one into the oven you can expect to eat in a reasonable time, but what if your cupcake goes in last? It isn’t unusual for a large builder to sell between 30 and 40 homes in a month, and that is a long list to be at the end of. Small builders can work outside the realms of box ticking in order to process quicker, and get you into your home sooner.


  1. Guarantee of quality: There is no doubt project home builders can build a good quality home. The problem is that they can’t do it all the time, and the reasons are obvious. You can get one of any number of supervisors for your home, varying hugely in experience and commitment. You can get any number of tradesmen at critical times in the building of your home, again with varying experience and commitment to the quality of the product. The small builder will have hands on exposure to your houses construction, and the tradesmen will generally be tried and tested. The consistency is there, it isn’t a case of pot luck.

It is telling that most project home builders spend a lot of their time telling you how good they are at customer service, how flexible they are to your needs, and how they produce a quality product.

Most people take these for granted when they are considering a small builder, it makes sense, how else would a low numbers contractor ever survive, reputation and word of mouth are ciritical.


Kevin Blackwood

Director Coastline Building Group WA Pty Ltd