Do you have a creative vision for your future dream home? If you’re the type of person who loves to coordinate a complex project, or you’d prefer to control every single cost of the build yourself, there are several options out there for hands-on owners to get involved. You may have also heard on the grapevine that you can build a new home cheaper without using a third-party building contractor. Whatever your reason, you may be interested in becoming an owner builder.
Whether owner builders actually save money over the life of the project depends on the individual scenario, so it’s important you understand what being an owner builder involves well before you commit. It may look easy on TV, but building a home yourself is a very challenging prospect.
To become an owner builder in Western Australia, you’ll need to obtain the following approvals and certifications:
- Complete a White Card course
- Complete an Owner Builder course relevant to Western Australia
- Apply for and receive owner builder approval
- Apply for and receive a building permit
- Obtain owner builder finance
- Take out appropriate owner builder insurance
As an owner builder, you also have full responsibility for all contractors on the worksite and are liable for the safety and integrity of the finished property. You’ll need to interpret technical reports, coordinate the timeline of your build and take out the necessary insurance.
The process of becoming an approved owner builder does take time, and there are costs associated with each stage in the process. Some prospective owner-builders find it worth the hassle, while others choose alternatives such as building to lockup stage or working closely with a custom home builder. However you approach it, having more control in your home’s construction can prove to be a personally rewarding experience.
In this article, we’ll tackle all the details you need to know about applying to become an owner builder in Western Australia.
What Can I Build as an Owner Builder?
You’ll need to ensure that the asset you’re planning to build is one of the permitted options. There are three types of structures you can construct as an owner builder:
- A detached house – Class 1a (i) under law. This includes any singular building considered as habitable – including your typical residential home.
- A Class 10 building – other buildings on the same land as a primary house but not considered habitable. These include garages, sheds, carports, or workshops. Incidental structures such as fences or swimming pools also fall under Class 10. Granny flats are considered habitable and belong to the previous category.
- You can also build a small commercial building as an owner builder. They are limited to two storeys, with a floor area less than 500 square meters.
Technically, you only need owner builder approval if what you’re building costs more than $20,000 in total. But given that most homes and similar structures cost well over six digits, you’ll most likely need owner builder approval to build a house in WA.
You must also actually use the property once the construction of the building is finished. This typically means actually living in it if the asset is residential in nature. The structure can also be used for business since owner-builders can also build small commercial properties. However, this doesn’t include renting out the asset while you live somewhere else, for example.
You also need to prove that you own – or have an interest in buying – the land on which you are planning to build. You can also owner-build on land that you are leasing, but you need the owner’s signed consent.
Remember that owner builder approval is only applicable to the indicated construction project during application. The approval or building permit does not cover anything outside the scope of the original application. You can only be an owner builder once every six years unless you’re building another structure on the same property or there are extenuating circumstances.
Can Anyone Be an Owner Builder? What Qualifications Do I Need?
Who can apply to become owner builders? Any private individual or a group of private individuals such as families can apply to become owner builders. It cannot be a corporate group, even if you’re building a small commercial property. The building must also be intended for personal use,
At least one of the applicants—in the case of a group—must possess the necessary knowledge of the responsibilities and obligations of being an owner builder. In practical terms, this means you must complete a valid safety course and an accepted owner builder course relevant to Western Australia. Of course, if you’re a registered builder yourself, you can skip these steps.
Along with your application, you’re required to submit proof of your White Card course or other evidence that demonstrates you’ve completed “CPCCOHS1001A – Prepare to work safely in the construction industry”.
The Process of Becoming an Owner Builder in WA
To become an owner builder in Perth or greater Western Australia, you’ll need to complete a White Card course and owner builder course. You’ll also need to apply for owner builder approval and obtain a building permit before starting construction.
Read on to find out what’s involved in each of these steps.
White Card Course
What Is the White Card Course?
The White Card Course is a construction induction course teaching people to work safely on a job site. Technically, the course is “CPCCOHS1001A – Prepare to work safely in the construction industry”, and the WA White Card signifies you’ve completed it.
Construction is physically demanding and potentially dangerous work, so safety is of top priority. Anyone working in the construction industry is required to hold a White Card; and if you plan to become an owner builder, that includes you.
Even if you aren’t participating in the hands-on construction yourself, as an owner builder, you have full responsibility for managing the worksite and maintaining safety standards. This means a White Card course is obligatory for all owner-builders, though if you already hold a valid White Card based on your regular occupation, you won’t need to repeat the course.
Many Registered Training Organizations (RTOs) in Western Australia offer the WA White Card course for owner builders. You can choose between traditional face-to-face classes or opt for an online White Card course.
After you complete the course, you’ll receive your WA White Card as well as a Statement of Attainment from the organisation. With these two documents, you can now demonstrate you understand what occupational health and safety requirements must be met on a construction site.
How Long Does the WA White Card Course Take?
You can generally complete a White Card course within a day, as it’s typically no longer than 6 hours. It may be even shorter if you already possess some prior knowledge of the industry. Many, if not all, of the RTOs who offer the course do so online.
However, if you learn best through face-to-face classes, it’s worth choosing the option that ensures you’ll really understand the material. Remember that nothing is more important than safety, and as an owner builder you take on responsibility for the worksite, so it’s best to absorb everything the course has to teach you.
How Much Does the WA White Card Course Cost?
The cost of getting a White Card will depend on which training organisation you choose. In Western Australia, a White Card course typically costs around $55 to $80.
Owner Builder Course
Now that you’ve finished your White Card course and are hopefully up-to-date with all the mandatory safety practices. Next, it’s time to learn the practical project management skills you’ll need to coordinate your home’s construction from start to finish. The best source of information is an owner builder course – in fact, taking one of these courses is mandatory before applying to owner build in Western Australia.
Taking an owner builder course is an excellent idea, even if you’re unsure whether you’ll ultimately choose to build your home yourself. By the end of the course, you’ll definitely understand whether this is the right option for you.
What is the Owner Builder Course?
An owner builder course teaches you all the essential skills you’ll need to manage your home’s construction. This includes managing a construction timeline, addressing legal issues around owner builder construction, discussing real life examples of owner-built homes, and weighing up the pros and cons of this construction method. Overall, the course aims to equip you to be a successful owner builder – but as cirriculums and indoividual skill levels differ, it doesn’t guarantee the process won’t be difficult. In fact, that’s a given!
Although it is common to take the White Card course first before moving on to the owner builder course, some RTOs offer bundled courses where both courses are combined. This can potentially save you some time and money, should you opt for it.
How Long Does an Owner Builder Course Take in WA?
This highly depends on where you take an owner builder course. Some courses can be finished in one full day, some go for several weeks, and others involve ongoing study over a few months. Usually, the longer the course is, the more comprehensive it is, and the more time you’ll have to master the details. Given the enormous task ahead of you, the more knowledge you can equip yourself with, the better – this isn’t something to rush, especially if you have no construction experience.
However, if you have a fair bit of industry experience, shorter courses can speed up your timeline and ensure you aren’t held back by ‘added extras’. As with White Card courses, some RTOs offer online owner builder courses, while others require in-person classes.
How Much Does an Owner Builder Course Cost in WA?
The cost of an owner builder course in Western Australia also depends on which organisation you choose. Typically, the price of an owner builder course falls around the $200 range – often between $180 and $250.
Do your own research and pick a high-quality course that gives you the most bang for your buck. Managing an entire construction project is going to be the challenge of a lifetime! It’s vital to be as educated and prepared as possible before you begin construction.
Even after taking these courses, it is still highly recommended that you work with experts throughout the construction process. In fact, unless you’re personally an expert in everything from architecture to plumbing, you’ll inevitably need to bring contractors on board. You’ll need to ensure you meet the same building standards as a registered builder, and the same safety requirements also apply. The difference is that you’ll personally be managing the entire project rather than having a builder take care of the details.
Applying For Owner Builder Approval in WA
Ready to prepare your owner builder application? The best point of reference is the owner builder application form on the DMIRS website. However, we’ve prepared a summary here of what you need to include on an owner builder application and how to maximise your chances of approval.
Owner Builder Application Checklist
Before submitting your application, you’ll need to ensure that:
- The asset you’re building is one that’s permitted: a detached house, another non-habitable building on the same property as a home, or a small commercial building.
- The property is constructed for personal use (i.e. to live in, if the building is residential)
- You have not received owner-builder approval in the previous six years (unless applying for an exemption)
With your application, you’ll need to submit proof of:
- White Card course completion
- Owner Builder course completion
- Land ownership (i.e. title for the property or proof of legal interest)
- Description of the proposed construction project
- Site, floor and elevation plans (one A4 page)
You can submit the completed form with all the necessary documents attached to it via post or in-person to either of the DMIRS office branches.
How Much Is the Owner Builder Application Fee in WA?
If you plan to build residential structures – such as Class 1a (i) or Class 10 buildings – the application fee is typically $174.00. If you’re building a commercial use property, the application fee is normally $467.00.
You must pay the application fee when you submit your application. It’s also not refundable if your owner builder application is denied, so it’s a good idea to ensure everything is in order before submission.
How Long Does It Take to Get Owner Builder Approval in WA?
Expect a waiting period of approximately five weeks after submitting an owner builder application to the DMIRS. After processing, the DMIRS will notify you about whether you’re approved and can proceed with a building permit application.
Make sure you complete your application form n full and provide all supporting documents, or else your application can’t be assessed. If this is the case, a licensing officer will contact you and let you know what documents to submit within a given timeframe. If you are unable to submit these on time, your application is forfeited.
Note that this only refers to the processing time for the DMIRS to assess your application. It does not include the time it takes to go through the required courses or prepare the application.
Applying for an Owner Builder Building Permit
Once you receive owner builder approval, it’s a good idea to obtain a local building permit for your project as soon as possible. Your owner builder license is only valid for six months, and you need to get a building permit within that time frame.
If you receive a building permit, your owner builder license will expire when you finish construction. If you are refused a building permit for your construction project, then your owner-builder license expires as well. You can view the building permit applications forms on the DMIRS website to give you an understanding of the information you’ll need to provide. Remember, as an owner builder, you’re personally responsible for obtaining the correct building permits and filling out all the necessary details.
Before you submit your application for a building permit, you need to decide whether or not to get a registered building surveyor to review your construction plans. This includes all plans, drawings, technical specifications, and other related documents. Doing so is a wise choice, as a building surveyor can ensure that your construction plans are fully compliant with local building standards.
If your plans are up to scratch, then get your surveyor to sign a Certificate of Design Compliance (CDC). With a CDC, you can apply for a certified building permit, and assessment takes around ten days.
If you choose not to have a surveyor evaluate the plans, your application will be considered uncertified, and the permit authorities themselves will assess if your construction plans meet building standards. The assessment process for uncertified building permit applications takes longer to process – around 25 days.
We highly recommend consulting with a building surveyor first and submitting a certified building permit application. This allows you to make any changes ahead of time if the surveyor finds your construction plans are non-compliant. Remember that if you submit an uncertified application, the city government will assess the construction plans themselves. If they do not reach the building standards, your building permit application will be refused, rendering your owner builder license invalid.
However, submitting a certified building permit application still doesn’t guarantee your building permit will be approved. There are many reasons why a building permit could be denied, so it’s worth taking the time to ensure your plans are thorough.
There is an associated application fee of $105.00 when applying for a building permit.
Getting Owner Builder Finance in WA (Construction Loans)
Applying to be an owner builder and obtaining a building permit can present plenty of challenges in themselves. But in reality, one of the biggest challenges in becoming an owner builder is all about the money. Unless you have incredibly generous savings to work with, you most likely need a construction loan to finance your new home.
Either way, it is prudent to investigate your finance options well before you decide to go ahead with building your home. Doing so sets a firm budget for your project, ensuring that your money is well spent and you won’t run out before the project is complete. It’s always a good idea to consult a qualified estimator for the entire cost of the project. Having a quantifiable picture of how much the construction will cost helps you in the long run.
When you work with a registered builder to construct your home – to completion or lock-up stage – estimating is one of the key skills they can offer. Owner-builders will need to be very careful about their budget and ensure the breakdown of costs is accurately priced.
Is It Hard to Get an Owner Builder Construction Loan?
It’s notoriously difficult to get a loan from a bank if you’re an owner builder. This is the biggest stumbling block that prospective home builders come up against time and time again.
Lenders are far more likely to grant home or construction loans if a registered builder is handling the project. The reality is that banks are simply more confident in an asset constructed by registered builders. Banks and other finance providers have learned that, historically, there is always a chance of owner builders altering the construction plans, exceeding their budget, or not finishing the project at all. This naturally makes the loan more financially risky from a bank’s point of view, particularly when mistakes or ommissions could compromise the quality and value of the finished asset.
This has led most Australian lenders to a conservative approach when it comes to granting owner builder construction loans and the amount they are willing to lend. Banks in Western Australia are often only willing to shell out 60% or less of the construction costs, leaving owners to make up the difference. Some banks, however, allow for higher loans with the presence of a guarantor.
If you can’t get finance as an owner builder, there are several other options to consider – we’ll talk more about those below.
How Much Deposit Do I Need for an Owner Builder Loan?
Most banks will require around 20% of the total land price and construction costs as a deposit when borrowing as an owner builder. This will differ slightly from lender to lender, so ensure you make enquiries well ahead of schedule to ensure you have access to sufficient funds.
Government Grants for Owner Builders in WA
Many new homeowners in Australia are eligible for government grants, including those who opt to build themselves. But what government grants are available to owner builders in Western Australia?
Owner builders in Western Australia are eligible for the First Home Owner Grant (FHOG) to the value of $10,000. You must meet certain criteria, but the grant isn’t means-tested, so it doesn’t depend on your income.
First-time homeowners can also access a stamp duty concession on land purchase if a home is constructed there within five years. You can read more about the First Home Owner Rate of Duty on the Department of Communities & Housing website.
Taking Out Owner Builder Insurance
You never know when an accident may happen, and as an owner builder, you’re fully responsible for safety on the worksite. Therefore, it is wise to get insurance – and it’s also a legal requirement.
As an owner builder, you’re taking on all the responsibilities (and all the liability) of a registered builder. For that reason, there are several kinds of insurance you’ll need to cover yourself and anyone else on site during construction.
We highly recommend you consult with a financial advisor to get all the information about insurance coverage for owner builders. This piece is intended only as a general introduction to the types of insurance that can apply to an owner builder.
Generally speaking, the price of owner builder insurance starts at around $600 a year for small construction projects under $100,000. From there, insurance costs increase depending on the value of construction and how much you’re insured for – of course, you’ll only be covered for the amount specified in your policy.
What Insurance Do I Need as an Owner Builder?
Public Liability Insurance (Legal Liability Insurance)
The most important kind of insurance you need is Public Liability Insurance. This insurance covers you should any personal injury or property damage occur during the construction process. As construction is potentially hazardous work, this should be your top priority.
Contract Work Insurance (Full Material Cover)
Another relevant type of insurance is Contract Works insurance. This policy is all about your raw materials and other supplies you use for building. It covers you should your materials be stolen or damaged from natural causes such as earthquakes or fires. It is also sometimes known as Full Material Cover insurance.
Public Liability Insurance and Contract Works insurance are typically covered under a single policy.
Home Indemnity Insurance
This type of insurance is only required if you sell your home within seven years of building permit approval. This policy must cover the new owner for the remainder of the seven-year period.
Other Owner Builder Insurance Policies
If other people are helping you build, you may also want to get insurance to cover their safety and wellbeing. If you’re hiring contractors to assist you, you may need Workers Compensation Insurance. This can depend on the scope of the job, so you should consult an expert about whether you need Workers Compensation Insurance or not.
If friends or families volunteer to help with the building process, you may also want to get them Group Income Protection insurance (or Voluntary Worker’s Insurance).
It is highly recommended to get these insurance policies in place before construction starts. This is even more essential if you’re taking out a loan to finance the project, as lenders are more confident when the project is insured. This is particularly true for Contract Works Insurance which helps avoid significant financial losses if a disaster strikes.
What if I Can’t Get Owner Builder Approval in WA?
If your owner builder application is rejected, or if you’re unable to get finance as an owner builder – both of which are sadly not uncommon – you may be wondering what the best alternative to owner building is. On the other hand, you may have researched and decided that owner-building is too time-consuming and risky to take on.
That’s always a valid choice – deciding whether to owner-build is a very personal decision, and the experience isn’t for everyone. If you’d prefer to avoid it, but still want to maintain control of your build, you may want to consider engaging a registered builder for a built-to-lockup home.
At lockup stage, a dwelling is a ‘bare bones’ home that only has the essential structures and linings to make it safely habitable. This means that there isn’t much to the house besides the frame, walls, doors, and windows. You can then take care of all the finishings yourself, engage your contractors of choice, and use your preferred materials.
Building to lock up stage can offer the best of both worlds: a registered builder handles the major structural components of the house, so you know they’re done to the highest standard. You also avoid taking on the legal liability for your home’s basic structural elements, simplifying the process significantly.
However, you still have the freedom of choice when managing the fixing and finishing stage of the construction yourself. From internal cladding and cabinetry to the bathrooms, plumbing and electricity, you’re able to approach these crucial stages however you’d like. This is the most popular option for budding homeowners unable to owner build. Especially when working with a collaborative custom builder, you don’t have to compromise on your vision for the home.
What Work Can an Owner Builder Do Themselves in WA?
As an owner builder, you’d naturally like to DIY and save some money on construction costs. While you may be a handyman or have some skills in minor repair work, certain tasks must be completed by qualified or licensed professionals. These include any project involving:
- Pest proofing
If you happen to be a licensed professional in one of these areas, though, you may be able to apply your expertise to the build to cut costs.
You can also work on any of the tasks below if you’re an owner builder. Unless you have sufficient skill, experience, or qualifications, it may not be a good idea, as you must ensure the dwelling meets building and safety standards. However, if you’re an owner builder, you can personally assist with:
- Internal lining and rendering
How Many Times Can You Be an Owner Builder in WA?
You can only be an owner builder every six years in Western Australia. This is because you are also legally responsible for the safety of the building for at least six years after it is finished.
There are some exceptions to the six-year rule. You can apply to be an owner builder again if you’re building on the same land you have built on before. Another possible reason is if major changes in circumstances arise after obtaining the building permit for the original project. Under these circumstances, you may be able to get approval sooner – but there are certainly no guarantees.
This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. It does not take into consideration your individual circumstances and does not constitute an estimate for any specific project. Central Avenue Homes does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information. Construction costs and other financial details vary and you should always seek a specific quote.