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Home Builder vs Contractor: Which One Is Better For Your House?

Your guide to choosing the right construction option for your home renovation or new build project. 

Deciding to take a leap and tackle a major home build or renovation project is a big step. Deciding who to entrust with making it reality is an even bigger one. 

As you consider your options, you might find yourself a bit confused between what a home builder is and what a contractor does. 

“Don’t they all build things? Aren’t they the same?”

Actually, they’re not. 

Sure, they overlap a bit on a basic level since they can oversee a house build project. But it can make a big difference in your experience and the final product depending on which one you pick. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the key differences when comparing home builders vs. contractors and when one might be more appropriate for a job than another. 

What does a general contractor do?

It’s all in the name. 

Put simply: contractors contract out work to various trades to get a job done right. 

While many contractors have hands-on experience in at least one trade, most are more akin to project managers or coordinators. There’s no requirement that they actually be apprenticed in a particular trade. Instead, they know all of the moving parts of a home build, and they often leverage a vast network of tradies to meet the needs of different customers – via contracts. 

A contractor will take on a new build or renovation by gathering a customer’s requirements and then putting together a budget based on materials, time, and labour. They’ll also factor in the costs for the various subcontractors they’ll need to outsource aspects of the work to. This can include:

  • Architects
  • Carpenters
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers
  • Electricians
  • Concreters
  • Painters
  • HVAC Specialists
  • Bricklayers
  • Landscapers
  • Laborers
  • Sheet Metal Workers
  • Floor Layers
  • Welders

The list goes on. 

Every one of these tradies requires coordination when it comes to permits, scheduling, site access, material deliveries, and payments. Contractors are well versed in orchestrating these efforts and following pre-set plans to meet customer expectations for the home in question. 

Then, what does a home builder do differently?

If contractors oversee having a home built, what is it about a home builder that makes them unique?

Home builders are typically an all-in-one service provider. 

They cover the same bulleted list of tradies (and then some) but usually with on-staff or on-call support. This reduces delays and enhances communication for a more seamless approach. Of course, any work in a specialised trade that requires a specific license is appropriately outsourced if there’s no one on the team who can cover this. (A great example here could be solar panel installation, which requires a CEC-accredited installer.) 

Home builders are also often designers. While they can certainly work with existing plans, they tend to collaborate with a customer one-on-one to design a bespoke home that fits their exact needs. This covers everything from the floorplan and physical footprint of the home on a property right down to the finishes on the doorknobs. 

You’ll also find that home builders are more consultative than contractors. A contractor is great for taking orders or direction and delivering results. A home builder will help a homeowner explore new options and make recommendations based on customer interests (i.e. design aesthetic, sustainability needs). 

A closer look: Home builders vs. contractors

A pattern is starting to emerge here. Both contractors and home builders are able to erect a quality home to order. But while a contractor takes direction, home builders provide direction for teams and homeowners. This can make a big difference when it comes to issues like timelines, budgets, and expectations. 

Time to go into more detail and see home builders vs contractors in action. 

#1: Design

Home builders like to get creative. They often have architects on their team, if they aren’t one themselves. They may pull from a bank of designs that can be fully adapted to customer needs, or they can start with a blank piece of paper. 

Home builders inspire creativity beyond what a homeowner may even dream is possible, sharing portfolio work of their own or solving how to incorporate three different Pinterest designs into a home with a cohesive look without breaking the bank.

Contractors, by contrast, usually work with whatever plans they are given. They’re great at reading and implementing blueprints, and they’ll have a network of architects to call on if a structural change to the plan is needed. They use the plans as a way to budget and order materials, often not questioning the design or offering feedback on areas that could be optimised. This seems harmless, but architects have a habit of designing for design’s sake, leaving customers with less-than-efficient options that can waste materials or drive up build costs. 

Looking for design inspiration? Click here to explore our stunning project gallery

#2: Collaboration

We’ve seen this at work in the design phase: home builders are going to collaborate on build plans much more, on average, than contractors. But the collaboration goes beyond the initial design. Think of all of the different materials that need to be selected when it comes to building a home. That list gets overwhelming, and fast.

Contractors are likely to present a homeowner with deadlines and a few options. What’s selected doesn’t matter as long as it’s in stock.

Example: “We need to order roofing supplies. Here are two materials and three colourways to choose from. Please let me know by Friday.”

Home builders are more hands on. The final choice always belongs to the customer, but they’ll offer guidance into what might look or work best. 

Example: “We need to order roofing supplies. I think that metal roofing might look best with your modern design, and Colorbond comes in a few colours that might add visual interest. What do you think?”

#3: Outsourcing

Who does the work matters – a lot. 

After all, you’re hiring a company, but a company isn’t roughing out your structure or laying your flooring. Individuals are. Contractors rely on a network of subcontractors that will rotate in and out based on availability and schedules. This can create gaps in communication as well as introduce new variables, like warranties and workmanship, that could create headaches. 

Home builders almost always have in-house teams that can address nearly the full scope of the construction process. In the event they need to call in experts (i.e. the solar panels we mentioned earlier), they’ll likely have a chosen specialist they trust to do the job right. 

#4: Communication

With a robust project plan on hand, contractors are generally able to judge the progress of new construction or renovation work. But the actual timelines are up to the subcontractors, and if they don’t communicate properly, things can get behind schedule – or at least very frustrating – quickly. When a subcontractor does the work, the contractor has to wait for a response or completion.

Since home builders play host to the specialists doing the actual work, they’re more in touch with headway when it comes to individual aspects. They also have more leverage for moving things along, identifying roadblocks, and coming up with alternatives. In turn, they’re more likely to keep in communication with the customer, alerting them of potential delays and working with them (there’s that collaboration again) to decide the best course of action. 

#5: Flexibility

Plans are important for a home build – especially a custom home build project – but change happens. Whether an item is out of stock or a homeowner decides they want a completely different bathroom layout, it’s rare that a final build 100% matches the original plans. 

That said, home builders tend to be much more flexible and accommodating when it comes to these changes. They do most of the work themselves and often order as they go along, so they can cater to homeowner whims more easily. Contractors, on the other hand, might pre-order or pre-book to save time and costs, leaving them more rigid in what can change (or what homeowners have to pay extra to change).

#6: Availability

Contractors are better able to take on more projects at a time since they are coordinating, rather than conducting, the actual work. This makes it easier to actually sign on with one in the first place. 

Compare this to a home builder that only takes on a handful of builds at once since they’re responsible for fulfilling the bulk of the project tasks. Homeowners can encounter a bit of a wait to book a popular builder, but the high level of involvement that comes with being one of only a few customers often outweighs the time it takes to get going.

Is a home builder or contractor better for your project?

The great news is that either a qualified, professional home builder or a contractor should be able to produce a final home you’ll love. But our close examination of the two shows that, overall, home builders are a better fit for anyone looking for a custom experience, high attention to detail and communication, and flexibility.

In sum: a home builder is a partner, and a contractor is a service provider.

Benefit or Concern Home Builder Contractor
Custom Design X
Interior Design Input X
Communication Management X
In-House Teams X
Subcontractor Network
Collaboration X
Flexible to Change X
Availability to Start X
Availability Throughout Build X
Rigidity with Material Orders X

Is working with a home builder actually worthwhile? 

Home builds, regardless of size and scope, require professionals to perform the work in line with Australia requirements for license and insurance.

Some trades, like plumbing and electrical work, require extra qualifications to perform key tasks. All that said, if you want to pursue a construction project, you’ll need to work with the pros. 

Home builders clearly take the lead when it comes to partnering with their clients. This is a great opportunity for you to share your ideas, magazine clippings, or even pantomime your dream home. A home builder will turn all of this into a custom home plan that you can refine together down to every last detail. They’ll do, or oversee, all of the work directly, so you’ll always have a clear idea on the progress for your project and can share feedback (or changes) along the way. 

Working with a home builder offers a creative outlet for new ideas you might not have thought of before. They may even be able to talk you out of a few not-so-economical ideas in exchange for something else that still gets the job done.

A home builder as a partner, collaborator, and sounding board who also keeps things on track and on budget? Clearly worthwhile. Perhaps a better question is where to find the best home builder in Western Australia today.

Compass Homes: Best home builder in Perth and WA

Your search for the best design-and-build contractor in the area is over: Compass Homes has been crafting custom homes across WA for over 28 years. We design for and alongside every customer to meet their creative preferences as well as their budget. There are no surprises in any of our projects. We communicate clearly along the way and stick to the plan you approve from the start (unless you request a change, of course).

With Compass Homes WA, you’ll have a dedicated team of in-house, licensed, registered, and insured builders at your service. We provide home extensions as well as new home builds and partial or full renovations. We prioritise trust and empower our clients through decision making with personalised service and expert advice geared toward informed choices. 

Call us today on 08 9583 4102 to chat about your dream home project, or send us a message to share ideas (Pinterest Boards accepted) and request a quote.

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