Since leasing a plot of land in Bali, we have spent the past 5 months working with an architect to design our villa. We are finalizing our materials selection at the moment, and the technical drawings are nearly complete, so now we are focusing on selecting a builder.
When we were searching for a builder in San Francisco for this project, our realtor recommended one company, but we essential relied on Google, Yelp, and Thumbtack to thoroughly research our options. In the end we contacted 12 companies for tenders, 11 of whom we sourced online. Amazingly, six declined the job at the outset, and four came in with bids that way exceeded our budget. This left us with two. To make the final decision we called their references, met their teams and visited their warehouses, inspected the quality of their work on previous jobs, and discussed their proposed timelines for our project.
The process in Bali is similar, except that most building companies don't have much of an online presence. Even if they do have a website, you'll be unlikely to find any useful information online about the quality of their work. I imagine it's a bit like working on a construction project in the 80s or 90s, before we had access to the Internet. Without the benefit of online reviews, we are relying more heavily on personal recommendations, along with our own ability to assess the quality of each candidate... the old fashioned way!
While this is going on, we have simultaneously submitted our application for a building permit, known locally as an IMB. It's a lengthy administrative and bureaucratic ordeal that's particualrly challenging to navigate as a foreigner. All official contracts and documents are also written in Bahasa Indonesia, a language we don't speak, so we have hired a local lawyer to manage the process on our behalf.
As it stands, we are evaluating five companies for the job, three of whom are referrals - one from our architect, another from our realtor, and the last from a property developer we met while looking for land.
Unlike in San Francisco where builders are in such high demand, so much so that half of those we contacted were too busy to take on our project, all five of the Balinese companies have confirmed they want the job and can start immediately. In order to compare their work and help us with the process of elimination, we have been visiting both their completed projects and those currently under construction.
It’s been useful to see projects under construction as a way of evaluating whether or not the builders are keeping to their projected timelines. Quality workmanship is a top priority, but staying on schedule and within budget are equally important.
Another important consideration for us is how well each company communicates. We will be returning to our home in France in a few weeks to get started on that project, so we need to be confident that we can manage a lot of this build remotely.
Most of the construction workers in Bali come from Java, the largest island in Indonesia. They typically have an agent representing them, who will find them work with a local building company. Temporary accommodation is constructed on the building site for these workers, and they tend to be away from home for 3-6 months at time. It’s demanding work, especially for anyone with family back home. It was interesting to see a husband and wife working on a project together - I can imagine that makes being away much more manageable.
One of the greatest building challenges in Bali is creating a structure that withstands the tropical climate and doesn’t deteriorate too quickly. Temperatures here are a steady 86-91°F (29-33°C) during the day and 72-73°F (22-23°C) at night all year, with average humidity levels of 85-90%, and an intense rainy season. More often than not, buildings that are only a year old look as though they were built ten years ago. Things start looking old really quickly in Bali. Part of the issue is material selection and architectural design, but it also comes down to the quality of waterproofing and construction. Looking at buildings that were constructed 1-4 years ago is a good method of assessing our prospective builders.
One of the greatest challenges I have personally faced with this project has been selecting all of the materials for use in the build - from which stone to use on exterior walls, to what type of wood to use as floorboards, and what tiles to use for the pool and various bathrooms. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed last week, I wrote a list of every material I needed to finalize and it came to a whopping 58 decisions. We will certainly use the same material in more than one place, but it’s a lot to visualize at this conceptual stage.
An unexpected advantage to visiting all of these properties has been to see what materials other people have chosen, and how they have withstood the test of time. It’s really helped to inform our decisions.
We are going to narrow our choice of builders down to two and then hold a meeting with our architect to describe the project and present the plans. Armed with exactly the same information, the builders will then have a couple of weeks to submit their proposals and bids. We will make a final decision based on costs and an evaluation of the likelihood that their proposed timelines are realistic. We then hope to break ground on April 2nd. There are exciting times ahead. Watch this space!