Building Design Services
Tips on comparing service models

For a residential design and building project, there are 3 common service models to choose from which are listed below.

This article is an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of using each structure.  It is up to you to choose the one that best suits your situation.

Service Model 1 : The Project Builder

Description : Project builders work at the lower to middle end of the market where budget is the driving factor. Essentially there will be a range of homes already designed and ready to build. Some minor changes can be made to the design but generally these homes are better value for money when bought "off-the-shelf".


  • There are no extra design fees as the range of homes on offer has already been designed.
  • Uniformity of design and large numbers of homes mean the builders have good economies of scale when buying materials. For homes up to say $600k this is usually a cost-effective option.


  • Limited range of designs. Designs are generally simple and include only basic specifications.
  • These are big companies and in almost every case you will be dealing with a number of different people in different departments, not a single contact who is accountable to you.
  • Variations. These homes are designed and are ready to be built off-the-shelf so changes to the design can incur large fees. If you go beyond the number of variations provided for in the contract you may lose the cost advantages of this model. You often don’t get the space you wanted – designed to suit your lifestyle.

Summary :
A good option if you’re happy to have the same design as others. This system better suits a flexible and easy-going person/couple with a limited budget. If you have very specific tastes and are inclined to change your mind, the variations can take you well over your budget.

Service Model 2 : The Architect or Building Designer

Description : Most people are familiar with this model and is one offered by DCF Design Group. It is an established option at the middle to top end of the market. The owner contracts the architect or building designer directly to design a home and supply the working drawings. Most architects or building designers then also like to oversee the contract administration, essentially overseeing the builder. 


  • If you have an architect or building designer whose work you know and love, this can be a good option, for at least the design phase, to achieve the look you desire.
  • A competitive tender for the building.
  • Most architects or building designers work with builders they have used before.


  • In some instances, these professionals do not have a thorough understanding of current building costs and trends. If you have a strict budget, this can be a significant risk. It’s unnervingly common for people to receive initial tenders/quotes 'way over budget'. Check the architect or designer is aware of your budget and ensure you get a builder or quantity surveyor to look at pricing during the design phase
  • In our experience, savings derived by competitive tenders can often be outweighed by impractical design elements and numerous variations during construction.
  • The communication process during the building stage can often be a weak point.
  • Some architects or designers work in isolation and may have less stake in the completion of the project. Their principal interest is the design, not the quality of the finish, the cost or completion time. There is no incentive for the architect or designer to reduce the number of minor or major changes to the design prior to or during the construction stage. Cost increases and time delays are more likely to occur and can create problems between the owner, architect and builder.  Once again, it is best to get an idea of likely build costs during the design phase to avoid frustration and disappointment.

Summary :
This can be a good option if you like their style, but make sure you get a builder or quantity surveyor involved early (during the design phase) to monitor and assess potential costs in line with your budget.

Service Model 3 : The Custom Designer / Builder

Description : This is the DCF Design Group preferred model. The custom designer will control the process all the way through, from design of your space to completion. If you’re building in the price range at or above $800,000 you should at least consider this option


  • You will get a custom designed home, as per the architect/designer model. Depending on the project and your preferred style, DCF Design Group will choose one of our preferred builders who is most appropriate for that particular style. Homes on our website include a vast range of builders, chosen specifically to meet our clients' requirements.
  • You have a designer and builder as your points of contact during the whole project (ie design stage and building stage). This leads to closer supervision compared to the architect/designer approach and professional supervision is what delivers a quality finish. It's not as simple as concept, plans and build; someone needs to manage the interior designer, the kitchen consultant, the data consultant, the air-conditioning consultant, the landscape designer, the lighting designer and all the trades' people who will be affected by these consultants.
  • A higher probability of more reliable budgeting and cost control than with an architect/designer only.
  • A higher probability of meeting timelines and the final completion date. It is clearly in the designer and builder's interest to ensure all designs and documentation are as thorough and accurate as possible prior to commencing on site, as any changes or delays during construction will not only affect our client's budget but also the builder's own profitability and time lines.


  • You lose the ability to competitively tender. A competitive tender can sometimes result in lower initial quotes but there are two things you need to understand about this.
  • Firstly, a competitive tender will often lead to less accurate budgeting. If you're one of four builders asked to tender for a job, how much time are you going to put into researching the precise costs of the project? You only stand a 25% chance of getting the job! With the custom builder model, the builder knows he will be doing the construction so he can invest the time in accurately costing the design. At DCF Design Group, clients are kept informed about costs during the design stage and comprehensive estimates are done before anyone commits to a building contract.
  • Secondly, a competitive tender often places the successful builder in the situation where he is locked into a price and a profit margin. This may lead to pressure to lower the quality of finish or focus on other jobs to the detriment of your job.

: This business model gives the designer and the builder certainty so they can invest the time in managing the design, build, budget, plans, specifications, quality of construction and customer service all the way through from the first phone call to handing over the keys. Better management means more accurate budgeting and a higher quality finish without sacrificing the quality of design.

If your concerns are construction quality and accurate budgeting, we recommend placing the custom builder at the beginning of the process.

You're welcome to call DCF Design Group to discuss any issues this article may have triggered; our number is 03 9571 0000.

Darren Comber
Director/Founding Principal

"Within an industry full of numerous horror stories and varying relayed experiences from family, friends and colleagues, we have found that people are seeking clarity around the service models being offered currently in the marketplace - what are the differences and how can I get what I want for the price I want.
No service model is necessarily 'better than' the other - it simply comes down to which model suits you better.  This article explains some of the advantages and disadvantages of each."