This is a question I never get asked. All the same, I thought it would be good to share some industry background with you.
A builder is a project manager bringing together hundreds of activities and materials together on a strict timeline and budget. Project Management is extremely difficult without the correct tools which is why we have two very distinct groups of builders in residential construction.
The Nail Bag Builder
The Nail Bag Builder is a carpenter who went on the tools after leaving school. After completing his apprenticeship the natural progression was to become a builder. These guys work extremely hard and generally deliver a very good product for the money they charge. Although they lack high level project management skills they more than compensate for this by using an established team of subcontractors that take on additional responsibilities. Paperwork is generally poor but the standard of work will be far higher than the large Project Builders who focus purely on turnover.
The building company will have a supervisor covering multiple sites. These companies are generally better organised as they have the staff to attend to the inordinate amount of paperwork that is generated from building a single house. They are far more likely to run into financial trouble due to overheads requiring a constant level of work to stay profitable. They normally obtain better pricing on materials as they have the manpower to pursue deals and the market presence to attract suppliers wanting their business.
Which is Best?
It depends what you are looking for. Personally, I would always steer clear of the volume builders as I have never heard a good building story from them. If you are looking to build a simple lowset home on budget a nail bag builder has to be the best option. If your project has been designed by an Architect you need to speak to a building company. They have the resources to price the job and organise the many exceptional items that are over and above a simple home. For everything in between you need to decide how far down the gauge you want to go. I always ask how would you rank these three, Budget – Time – Quality. The answer to this question will help you decide the route you need to take.