Owner builder process

3 December

The owner builder process: what you need to know

SteelTalk webinar series: Episode 4
The owner-builder model is a great way to maintain control over your commercial shed project, but it’s not for everyone.

We often get asked whether being an owner builder is the right choice: it can be, but it requires some experience in the industry. Having a robust, well thought out framework and experience in the construction industry will set you up for success.

The 4 parts of the owner builder experience

1. When to be an owner builder
2. How does it work?
3. Pros and cons of an owner builder project
4. How Steelcorp can help

1. When can I be an owner builder?

Firstly there aren’t too many restrictions when it comes to being an owner builder. It’s often a viable option for small to medium-sized commercial shed projects, offering ultimate control over your project, timeline and cash flow.

However, even with smaller projects, it’s a good idea to speak to a building surveyor or certifier to ensure you understand the official guidelines and regulations you need to adhere to.

There are certain projects that are quite straightforward: smaller farm sheds and smaller commercial warehouses for example – but when your projects start getting more complex involving offices and multi-unit complexes, you’ll need to start involving architects and planners.

As an example, we had a client who was building a straightforward 4,000sqm warehouse. He had existing strong relationships with professionals, knew the area and had prior experience in building a factory. Additionally, he had an established business that he was working on, not in, meaning he had the time to devote to the shed building project.

Key takeaway: be smart with what you’re willing to take on. If your project is small and simple, being an owner builder is often a good choice. For larger, more complex projects, it can be better to leave it to the professionals.

2. How does the owner builder process work?

When you decide to become an owner builder, responsibility for the entire project rests with you.

You need to be the title holder, maintain a safe environment compliant with workplace health and safety regulations, look after insurance and oversee quality assurance. Owner builders need to find and manage their own architects, engineers and tradies (and when you’re choosing your team, always check you’re using licensed trades and contractors).

You’ll also need to coordinate inspections with certifiers and be responsible for standard site requirements like temporary fencing.

This sounds like a lot of responsibility, however, the upside is that there is more transparency as everyone reports directly to you rather than to a commercial builder. You also have the ability to manage your own timeline and cash flow, in contrast to the fixed approach of a commercial builder who will have set timelines and payment plans you need to adhere to.

Key takeaway: there’s a lot of responsibility in being an owner builder, but the reward for taking ownership of everything is absolute transparency and building the shed on your own terms.

3. Pros and cons of being an owner builder

As we’ve discussed, being an owner builder isn’t for everyone, however some clients can have great success with this approach.

For example, we recently had a client building a storage shed. He was a repeat client, meaning he has prior building experience, uses trades that he’s comfortable with, and he was also very clear on the purpose of the shed before the project started.

This is important from a council approval point of view, as what you put on the application will affect how long it takes for the paperwork to pass through Council. This is due to the level of amenities such as toilets etc that add an extra layer of complexity to the project.

In contrast, we’ve had clients who were not as successful with their owner builder experience for various reasons.

An example of this was a client who didn’t really know what his shed would be used for, he just wanted to make use of some available land. He also didn’t understand the high level of involvement that would be required, and he ended up getting hit with extra costs for permits when the project became too overwhelming to manage and he passed the management back onto Steelcorp.

Key takeaway: know the pros and cons and be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to take on.


  • You oversee and control the project at your own pace
  • Scope creep is reduced
  • You can pick and choose your trades and support whoever you want
  • Commercial builder fees are removed which can often be 15-20% on top of your trades
  • The project timeline is more relaxed
  • Cash flow is easier to manage


  • Overall liability rests with you
  • The opportunity cost is higher and you need the time to invest in managing the project (is this likely to take you away from your day job?)
  • You can come up against hidden costs in compliance, admin, design and planning
  • The bank may view you as a higher risk (for lending purposes) opposed to a commercial builder

4. How Steelcorp can help

No matter how you’d like to approach your commercial shed project, Steelcorp is here to give you a hand. If you’ve got this far and you’re still keen to be an owner builder, it’s good to know that the Steelcorp team is here to support you through the process.

We like to get involved in our client’s projects as much as we can, offering advice and knowledge from the early design stages through to practical completion.

By partnering with Steelcorp, you can take advantage of our existing great relationships with professionals such as architects, engineers, town planners and certifiers.

We can help you break down industry jargon and interpret complex information, helping with the heavy lifting of communicating with councils and professionals. We also have an extensive network of trades including installers, plumbing, civil, concreters and more that we know and trust, and can recommend to you. If you need it we can include some of these trades in our scope as well.

Above all, we love getting involved in the initial design process, guiding clients through the process of working with the land you’ve got, working with your budget, and getting the perfect shed that provides good ROI.

Another way to work with Steelcorp is utilising with us as a project manager, combining a lot of the complex processes under one umbrella. You’re still the owner builder, but we’re here to support you in the background.

However, if you’ve decided that being an owner builder is not for you, we can suggest trusted commercial builders that we’ve worked with and can vouch for their quality and communication.

This is a summary of Episode 4 of our SteelTalk webinar series. You can learn more about episode 3 where we share the The 4 steps to managing the approval process.

Keen to see all episodes in the series? Visit our SteelTalk page to access all episodes.

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