With property and renovation reality tv shows aplenty, it seems interest in being an owner-builder has never been higher.

Like all things in life, there are risks and rewards.

So what exactly is an owner-builder?

An Owner Builder is a person who is both the homeowner and the person responsible for managing and coordinating the building, renovation or construction work being done at their own residence. That is, as long as the value of the work is of a value over $10,000. The Owner Builder acts as a licensed builder and orders the building materials and holds an Owner Builder Permit. 


What are the benefits of being an owner-builder?

The main reasons people become Owner Builders are:


It is estimated that owner builders can save between 20 and 40% on construction costs. The amount varies widely, though, and the large savings depend on you having the ability to do some of the labour yourself.

Once you have completed an accredited course and taken out the appropriate insurances and permits, you are entitled to significant discounts on building materials. You can also pocket some or all of the margin (profit) a licensed builder would usually receive.

Another major cost-saving is on the Home Building Compensation Cover cost. In NSW, a licensed builder legally must purchase this insurance for every project worth over $20,000. The cost can be significant and will ultimately be passed onto you, the homeowner. If you are an Owner Builder, however,  you may need to take out your own Public Liability Insurance, and other insurances, but you don’t need to purchase Home Building Compensation Cover. Nor do your contractors. This can be a big saving. Each contractor, however, will need their own Contract Works Insurance, which covers you (you having your homeowner hat on now).

For your specific situation,  please be sure to contact your local council as this is general information only.


There is something deeply satisfying about being able to build your own home, or part thereof.

Yes, the buck stops with you in terms of defects, but the bragging rights go on for years. We have all seen enough Grand Designs to know the challenge and the majesty of turning a concept to reality.


How do you become an owner-builder?

There are five key elements in becoming an owner-builder in New South Wales.

  1. You need to have proven ownership of the land you want to build on or renovate.
  2. You complete the Owner Builders Course. This can be done online and includes elements such as work safety, drawings, estimations, cash flows, managing the work. There are a number of companies offering the course.
  3. You also complete a White Card safety course. This is a 6-hour face-to-face seminar. These are run all over Sydney and regional cities most days of the week.
  4. After completing the courses, you can get an Owner Builders Permit.
  5. Check Insurance requirements. It is recommended but might not be mandatory to take certain insurance cover. Public liability insurance is one. Workers Compensation may be required depending on your situation. More details are at NSW Fair Trading

What you aren’t allowed to do is any commercial or industrial building work. You also can’t do owner building work if you are in an apartment, townhouse or have a strata title.

Responsibilities of an owner-builder

As an owner-builder, you are responsible for:

  • Ordering building materials
  • Engaging contractors for construction work
  • Checking licenses are valid and current
  • Arranging insurances
  • Organising permits and inspections
  • Overseeing site work health and safety
  • Managing the whole project


Advice to our Owner-Builder Brothers and Sisters

If you’re on a mission to build your own house, you have a vision. We respect that. We want to help you turn your vision into a beautiful new home or renovation (or garage, or extension) of your dreams. How we do this is through our experience and meticulous design and drafting services.

You can save money on an architect by using the services of a building designer to help guide the logistics of your concepts, and an experienced draftsperson to draw the plans.

The building designer and draftsperson will help you turn that vision into precision building plans that get council approval. 

Be very organised. It can be d

ifficult to be an owner-builder if you are working full time. There are a lot of balls to keep in the air, so it may test your skills as a project manager. Keep your correspondence and receipts, orderly lists and notes of who you need to call. Most of all, keep a clear head.

Make a budget and do the calculations. The Owner Builders Course will help but plenty of before and after research will give you more confidence and understanding of the whole process. Get good advice from people who have done it already and people you trust. Read more about how to set a renovation budget.

Source your trades through referral, rather than ads. When you get quotes, and discuss them and get to know the tradie. Can you work with them? Check their communication skills while you are doing this and listen to your instinct

Lean on your local council. They get a bad rap, but your local council is there to help. They can give advice and recommendations.

Remember, you’re the boss. Do lots of research about the trades you need to hire and what you want them to do. Be confident. Don’t be rushed or bullied by anyone.

Resources for Owner Builders

Fair Trading has all the legalities and rules you need to think about.

Australian Owner Builders Network has loads of good advice from others in NSW.

The Builders Academy has courses and tips 

Watch the Beginners Guide to Becoming an Owner Builder 

The Owner BuildersC entre has excellent up-to-date information about all aspects of becoming an owner-builder.

The excellent team of engineers, architectural draftspeople, building and interior designers at Design Plus Drafting can help you turn your concept into reality, and get the plans through council.

Design Plus Drafting has a solid track record, amazing reviews, and offers fixed fee services. 


Happy building!