Anecdotally, the builder-client relationship has long been a source of tension and stress for builders and clients. BRANZ has investigated whether there is any evidence to support this and, if so, what impact it is having on the wellbeing of each party.
BRANZ RECENTLY carried out two surveys – one for clients and another for builders – designed to gather quantitative information about their experiences of working with one another. Interviews with both builders and clients also helped researchers understand the findings of the survey.
Builders spending more of their time communicating with clients
BRANZ examined the amount of client communication that builders are engaged in, finding they use multiple communication channels and that an increasing amount of their time is dedicated to communication with clients.
Builders surveyed said that they prefer face-to-face communication. Some builders described the need to follow verbal agreements with written records, usually by email – a strategy used to protect against disagreements or misunderstandings with clients.
For the builder-client relationship to work well, verbal and written communication is vital.
Most builders (83%) reported working with clients outside of business hours and on weekends, acknowledging they had to work around the pressures of their client’s busy lifestyles. This leaves little time to put work aside and focus on personal interests or family.
40% of clients wanted more communication
When asked about the communication they received from their builder, 57% of clients thought they had received the right amount of communication. Only 3% felt that their builder had overcommunicated during the process, but 40% would have liked more communication from their builder.
The communication demand on builders is high, with clients needing multiple points of contact with their builders throughout the process.
Successful communication starts with clear expectations
The success of the working relationship with clients depends on the frequency and quality of builder communication. The main goal of frequent and clear communication should be to build trust and manage client expectations around potential tension points such as budgets, access to site and delivery timeframes.
Explaining what the client should expect right from the start was a way to prevent a mismatch between client expectations and what the builder could deliver.
Some builders said setting client expectations is becoming more difficult as clients are now in a better position to question and involve themselves in the build process. More knowledgeable clients are not necessarily a negative, but it appears they are asking for more engagement with their builders and the building process than in the past.
Poor communication brings tension
Poor communication between builders and clients was identified by clients who felt that they must chase their builder to find out what was going on during the build. For clients, the act of chasing up a builder is usually because their expectation about the level of communication was not met. Any perceived lack of communication would act as a red flag for clients and signal a need for them to become more involved with the build.
Clients were not interested in a handsoff approach to information on the build process. Hearing about what was happening on site was a key source of information for clients. BRANZ found that clients prefer regular up-to-date coverage, even when things are progressing as expected.
When clients experienced a hands-off approach to communication and were in a position where they had to chase their builder, they were more likely to go on site without supervision to track the progress of their build themselves.
Access to site and the information clients gather from the site was one of the major sources of tension for both builders and clients. Builders feel they are unable to provide context to unsupervised clients and help them understand ongoing site processes. Clients felt their involvement is necessary to ensure that the specifications they agreed on and signed the contract for are seen through until the completion of the build.
Key for good working relationship
The builder-client relationship is a source of tension and stress for both builders and clients. The key for a good working relationship between builders and clients is constant, highquality communication that clearly manages client expectations throughout the build process. However, the amount of communication required by clients appears to be increasing and can be a cause of stress for builders.
Builders need to establish manageable boundaries around their communication with clients. We live in a time where we are constantly contactable, and smartphones have increased our levels of responsiveness to communication.
Many are happy to dedicate some of their weekends and evenings to clients, but boundaries around this should be agreed at the beginning of the build. The limits of this flexibility should be clearly defined for both the builder and the client at the outset of the build.
See the companion article Relationships can impact mental health and two-part research report:
- SR461/1 Understanding the builder-client relationship - Part 1: Builders perspectives
- SR461/2 Understanding the builder - client relationship - Part 2: Client perspectives
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.