Episode 56 - Joel Stewart - Lime Building Group

December 01, 2021
Episode 56 - Joel Stewart - Lime Building Group

Aaron Kyle.

Hello, I'm Aaron Kyle, and welcome to another episode of Build Hatch. On this week's episode of Build Hatch I had the incredible opportunity to meet such a humbled builder and family man, Joel Stewart, from Lime Building Group. I'd been talking to Joel for a little while and I had the opportunity to travel down and visit Kiama in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Joel and Lime Building Group are building some of the most amazing homes I've ever seen. He took the time out of his day to take me through his Pheasant Point project, which is literally a masterpiece seven level home, right on the beach overlooking a cliff top, with the owners living upstairs on the top floor while Joel and his team are building the rest of the build below.

You'll get to see and hear us talk about this project. And I kid you not, just as I was there, the owner came out, had a chat with me, introduced himself and had nothing but kind words to say about Joel and his team. This was a truly amazing sit down, so let's get into it. Joel from Lime Building Group, welcome to Build Hatch.

Joel Stewart.

Thanks for having me, mate.

Aaron Kyle.

That's okay.

Joel Stewart.

Awesome to be here.

Aaron Kyle.

No, awesome spot. Now, we're recording this in Kiama, beautiful park, South Coast of New South Wales. First time here. Just amazing. And you're nice enough to show me through your Pheasant Point project, which is just absolutely amazing, and we'll hear more about that shortly. But like all our guests, we always like to take it back to the very beginning, hear about our guest history, what got them in the building. So, did you grow up in this beautiful part of the world?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, so I grew up in Foxground, which is just down the road on a 10 acre farm with mum, and I'm the oldest of five children.

Aaron Kyle.

Five kids.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, so pretty much run amuck growing up. And dad and mum got divorced when I was 12. So, pretty much the leader of the family growing up and it was pretty cool. It was a 10 acre farm five minutes to the beach, five minutes to Berry and life was good.

Aaron Kyle.

And would've been awesome growing up on the farm, like you said, running amuck and shoes off, or motorbikes, all those sorts of things?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, there was a lot of that and also hard work. We didn't have much growing up, so we're lucky we had a roof over our head in the farm, but we all learned how to grow veggies and work. And one of my youngest brothers, who's a stonemason now, he used to kill all the animals and grow pigs. It was pretty cool.

Aaron Kyle.

And what were you like as a kid going to school? Were you a practical kid, or looking at university? What were you looking at?

Joel Stewart.

100% practical. Definitely not a rocket scientist. Did Year 11 and wasn't really there. I went, but not. I learned how to surf in Year 11, so that really captured what I was doing mostly.

Aaron Kyle.

That was the real school.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah.

Aaron Kyle.

So, what did you do? Were you looking around for an apprenticeship, or how did you get into building?

Joel Stewart.

So, I did Year 11 and dad was still around, even though mum and dad weren't together. And near the end of Year 11, you start doing the Year 12, and I was doing a bit of laboring and dad was doing a bit of that stuff too, and got on a job site. And then over the Christmas break, mum and dad spoke to the builder that I was laboring with and organized me to have an apprenticeship. So, I come back from Christmas holidays and thought, "I'm going back to school." And they're like, "No, you're not."

Aaron Kyle.

Another year of surfing.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. They're like, "No, it's time. You got to get your shit sorted," which I was super grateful for and started an apprenticeship with a high-end builder in Jamberoo, and are still super good friends to today. And I always say, and I say that to my apprentices now, he turned me from a boy into a man.

And a bit of a funny story. So, I've worked with him before the holidays, had the holiday break, and then he's like, "Right, you're starting on Monday," sometime in January. And got all ready, made my lunch the night before, and then about nine o'clock the next morning he's rang mum and said, "Hey, where's Joel? Has he had an accident and what's he up to?"

And mum's yelled out to me and I'm like, "Yeah, mum, what's happening?" She's like, "It's nine o'clock. You meant to be at fucking work." And I was like, "Oh, shit, shit." And then my boss is like, "Man, this kid's not going to cut it." So, first day, rocked up at work about 10 o'clock. And then he made me work 12 months without a break. And I was like, "But I get four weeks holiday." And he's like, "No, you don't. You've got to work 12 months, and then you get your four weeks off."

Aaron Kyle.

And then you get your four weeks, son.

Joel Stewart.

And that just killed me.

Aaron Kyle.

That's a good punishment. For anyone listening to this, if there's any builders out there, that could be the rule. That if an apprentice sleeps in, that's it, holiday's canned for the year.

Joel Stewart.

But I remember doing the time with him and we'd become good mates. And I think it was in my third year, I'd never been overseas and he went on a surf trip to Samoa, and he's like, "You want to come?" And I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, for sure." So, he took me overseas. And so it was that whole turning boys into men. He's like, "If you work hard, you can go surfing, or you can do this."

Aaron Kyle.

You have to earn your stripes.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah.

Aaron Kyle.

That's what it comes down to, earning your keep.

Joel Stewart.

Totally. Yeah.

Aaron Kyle.

So, you did that apprenticeship, that carpentry apprenticeship. Did that take three years or four years?

Joel Stewart.

Four years in New South Wales. So, I think I was 21 or so when I finished, and dad was pretty stoked. He's like, "You got your ticket. Now what I think you should do is just save up, work really hard and live happily ever after." And then I said to dad, "Look, I decided to go buy a one-way ticket and go overseas."

He wasn't totally stoked. And so I bought a ticket to Indonesia, and I think I spent six or seven months in Bali, Indonesia, Lombok, Samoa.

Aaron Kyle.

Just surfing.

Joel Stewart.

Just surfing. And I could surf before then, but not that well. I remember getting my first barrel out G-land and I was like, "This is it. This is awesome."

Aaron Kyle.

I'm staying here for a bit.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. Got lucky in one regard, I flew home the night before the Bali bomb. So, that was pretty traumatic. I remember the flight from Bali's nine o'clock at night. Nine o'clock you get at the airport, 11 o'clock you leave. And then I landed seven o'clock in Sydney. And then mum's like, "Hey, look what happened last night."

Aaron Kyle.

Wow.

Joel Stewart.

And I was like, "Holy sh*t." So, that's pretty crazy.

Aaron Kyle.

Were you anywhere near there at the time?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, we were in Poppies, Poppies Two.

Aaron Kyle.

That's all close by?

Joel Stewart.

It's all there. All the boys that I was hanging out with that night, they were at the steps where we used to get drunk and someone bought a bottle of bourbon and everyone got on it. So, normally we'd be at the club by then, but they were all hanging out on the steps drinking. So, they were all safe, which was good. But yeah, pretty heavy.

Aaron Kyle.

So, came home from Bali.

Joel Stewart.

Came home from Bali.

Aaron Kyle.

Did you have any plans lined up, or was it just a temporary return home?

Joel Stewart.

So, I came home and then just started subbing. So, subbied with my old boss, subbied for other people. Bounced around and then realistically spent the next five or six years traveling. So, I'd come back, work a bit, go back to Indonesia, then went to Sri Lanka. Then I went and bought a motor home in Africa with a group of three mates. I think we spent seven or eight months traveling around Africa. So, started in Cape Town, traveled all the way up, turned around, traveled all the way back. Surf in Jeffreys Bay. So, really spent a fair whack of my twenties doing nothing.

Aaron Kyle.

Well, living a bachelor life, of course.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. No, life was good.

Aaron Kyle.

Some people would call it nothing, but there's plenty of things going on during those times.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. So, just went to lots of different places. And so will travel, come home, travel, come home and it was cool.

Aaron Kyle.

And how did you start Lime Building Group? Where does the name Lime come from?

Joel Stewart.

So, one of the builders I was working for when I was coming home, a local builder, he was branded as his name. And then as he grew, I was doing controlling job sites and controlling things. And I remember the owners kept always asking for him saying, "Where is he? Where is he?" Because the business was named his name. And I'm like, "Well, he's in the office. He's managing the job from there."

And I just always had that thing in my mind, thinking, "I think if I start a business, I don't think I want to call it my personal name for that reason." And so then when we're looking for names, I was looking for something green, sustainable. I didn't want to call myself Greenbuild or something like that. And then Lime just clicked. It was short, something to remember, had the sustainable background.

And we do architectural sustainable homes, but not always. Some clients really want that, and other clients want that, but it's not the main driving force. And that was where the name started.

Aaron Kyle.

Like you said, I think it has connotations of it's clean, healthy, it's not too sharp. It's just a neutral healthy sounding name.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, and it's worked as a name. Everyone knows us locally and it's been a good decision.

Aaron Kyle.

So, once you made the decision to, I guess, "grow up" and come back and work your way back into the construction industry full time, how did that actually happen?

Joel Stewart.

So, in my late twenties, I was working with a builder doing lots of project management. I was still going to Indonesia and still traveling a fair bit, but in shorter bursts. And then it got to a point where he was like, "Look, I'd like to offer you a percentage of my business, or for you to be more involved."

And that was the trigger for me, and I thought about it, but it was for that builder that it was his name. And I thought, "Well, it's always going to be his, and always going to be his name." And there was even talk of changing the name and I just went, "This must be my point. This must be the time to make that leap."

So, at the initial point of Lime Building Group when we started, it was actually a partnership. So, there was another friend of mine who was a builder, and we'd sort of worked out that we're going to be each other's competition. So, originally when we kicked off, there was two of us and that was a great partnership, and that went on for about seven years.

And what happened, we started and we'd do one job together and we'd do a deck or a pergola or a renovation. And then we started growing. I think it was 2012 we did a major heritage restoration, a couple million dollars in the Southern Highlands. And then we won the Master Builder Best Heritage Renovation for the year for the New South Wales. And it was an open category, so we're up against $10 million heritage restorations.

And so it was pretty major. It was a 13 bedroom, two kitchen restoration. So, a big deal. And then as the business started growing, we grew into two teams. So, my old business partner and myself, and with grew and we grew. And then we hit a point where realistically it was two businesses. So, we were running about 20 carpenters, five supervisors. And we're all like, "Look, okay, I think we're at a point now where it needs to become two businesses," which was about three years ago now.

Which in any business, when you're starting out doing decks and pergolas and building up, and then all of a sudden you're running crews and you're running things, at that point our systems were starting to fail as well. So, I think every business, maybe every five years or 10 years, needs a revamp, and our business was definitely at that point. Not with carpentry skills or having guys that can hang doors or do amazing fix out, but just in the systems of the business.

So, the last three years has been a really big system change for the business. So, we now use project management software and have an app and have all this background technology. And we all laugh, not laugh, but we all talk about it so strongly now to say, "Wow, could you imagine running a business without that?" And then I think, "Well, we did for seven years."

And I think that's just where the building game goes. And for me, I remember at school the only thing I ever learned about computers was Save As. You type something and you Save As, and now it's like crazy, everything is technology.

Aaron Kyle.

It is.

Joel Stewart.

I spend all day on the computer.

Aaron Kyle.

Now, for the people listening to this, and this is my first time to Kiama, which is, as I said earlier on, on the beautiful South Coast of New South Wales. Now, the Southern Highlands, which is only an hour up the road. For the people that aren't familiar with the relationship, I guess, of the Southern Highlands of say Sydney siders, or just what's the relationship really of the Southern Highlands for building?

Joel Stewart.

So, they're both basically an hour and a half from Sydney, depending what part of Sydney you're at. So, I'd say 10 years ago is where people went for a holiday house. Now they're working from there, and even more now with how the world has been changing. So, lots of beautiful farms and-

Aaron Kyle.

And you could say it's quite an affluent area. There's a lot of old money in the Southern Highlands with large country states and big, beautiful homesteads.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, definitely. It's premium real estate accessible via Sydney, and most people are building their dream. So, they've lived in Sydney most of their lives, and then they're coming down and going, "Right." And then a lot of them have built a lot of homes. So, they've built a lot over their time, but they're going, "Right. We're going to retire here, sell the house in Sydney, and buy unit in Sydney."

So, still keep that connection to Sydney, but then making the switch to the Southern Highlands. So, we've been in the Southern Highlands for 10 years, as well as the South Coast and been super fortunate to have an amazing supervisor who's been up there the whole time. So, we run three to four projects at any one time in the Southern Highlands, and we've made great connections with two or three architects out there, and they just keep us consistently going.

We don't want to be more than one team in the Highlands. It's just a nice thing to have, as well as the South Coast.

Aaron Kyle.

And then the other thing too about the Highlands, the reason it's attractive also is because of in summer, it's quite a reasonably cool place. A day over 26 degrees Celsius is a scorcher in the Highlands, I think. So, it's one of those places, beautiful fresh air, nice scenery, and excellent greenery as well.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. It's not much fun in winter. We're just doing a new order of all the flannos and the hoodies and the beanies, and the boys want double insulated beanies and gloves.

Aaron Kyle.

Does it snow in Bowral?

Joel Stewart.

Just.

Aaron Kyle.

Just, yeah. Maybe a couple of times a year sort of thing.

Joel Stewart.

I think maybe once a year, and it's just that annoying sleety... not my favorite spot in winter.

Aaron Kyle.

No snowboarding snow.

Joel Stewart.

No.

Aaron Kyle.

And well known for premier beach side houses and amazing coastal homes. How do you get to that point? You mentioned decks and pergolas, is that it? For the people listening to this, you start off doing those and then you get bigger and bigger and bigger and suddenly seven years into the business and you're doing this, how do you get to that point?

Joel Stewart.

It's definitely a journey. I think the journey is a lot to do with relationships and you don't always make money on an architectural home. But really being there, and that's probably something we're really proud of now. Every time we finish a home, we have a handover party and all the trades come.

And now all the owners are expecting that, they want the journey, because this is their home. They don't want it to feel like, "You're just coming here to just to bang it out." They're like, "The carpenters have been on here for day one. They're really passionate." And in Gerroa, we might do two or three houses in the one street at the one time.

So, each owner has their own team and their own supervisor and their own crew. And they come down and they feel that each tradesmen and each person on the job's putting everything into it. And then at the handover party, everyone's like, "Oh, wow, we love it." And then when they see the brick layer at the coffee shop, they're like, "Thanks, mate. We really appreciate the bricks that you laid."

And that's where they're going to be. So, forming that relationship with the clients, and then it turns into word of mouth. And then the same with the architect. The architect wants that journey. They don't want someone that's going to be a hassle and not deliver on time and not put the passion into their project. So, then everyone just keeps talking and talking. But there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes, getting the right tradesmen and making sure the job is profitable.

Aaron Kyle.

Are you blessed for trades in this area being in such a beautiful coastal location, accessible from Sydney? Are you blessed for trades? Or are you like every other builder around the country at the moment, it's very difficult to find good trades?

Joel Stewart.

It's definitely not easy, but you've got to do the right thing by your trades. So, we pay seven days. So, when you've got a problem and you say, "Hey, we need you here now." Then they-

Aaron Kyle.

It's reciprocated.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. They want that to happen. And then also other trades start talking. They say, "If you work for them, you get paid. This happens, blah, blah, blah." And it's also the vibe. They're like, "If you go on that job, it's organized, people know what's happening. It's just a good place to be." And you want your tradesmen to make money. That's what they're there for. And if they're not making money, then they're not going to be there in the future.

So, if you're not organized and not delivering, and the plumber goes, "Hey, are the tap's going to be there on Tuesday?" You say, "Yeah, they are." And he turns up and they are, he's like, "These guys are great. I've turned up. It's all set out. It's ready to go. I'll work for you next time." And they'll actually then want to fight for your work. They'll be like, "I'll go in a bit tighter on this one, because I want their work, because last time I made-

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah, you're building up, like you mentioned. And I talk about it every week, building up those relationships and that's building up rapport, it's equally providing respect to the subbie, but you're also able to command that returned respect back to you, to say, "Well, listen, when it's on, it's on. We've paid you, we do the right thing by you. I don't need a no, I need a how can I help?" Or if I can't, maybe it's not I can't get there exactly at 7:00 AM next Thursday, but give me some time, give me some breathing space, I'll juggle a few things around and then I'll see what I can do for you. That's the difference.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, definitely. And that's where I'll say to trades, I won't ask for a favor on every job, but when we ask for one, can we have in return... especially at the moment, trying to get your hands on timber. It's interesting. And I had to trust some frame guys this week. Say, "Look, I can deliver. I can deliver." Then he rings me on Monday and says, "Look, I can't." So, then I rang the other guys we worked with and they said, "No worries. We'll fit you in, all good." So without that, I don't know what you'd do at the moment.

Aaron Kyle.

Now you're well known for building architectural projects and we were talking about it early about the Highlands. So, I had Luke Fry on the show a while ago, and he's a leading architect in Melbourne doing some amazing things in similar locations, but on the Victorian coastal peninsulas. And we were having this conversation about the difference between being an architectural builder versus a non architectural builder, if he could work in that sort of scenario. So, what are the major differences when you're working? What are the things behind the scenes? Is it the effort, the time, the detail? What goes on behind the scenes with those amazing projects that you're working on?

Joel Stewart.

I think a lot of it is vision. You've got to be able to see what's coming up. So, you can't just go, "I'm on this level and I'm not looking up at the other levels." It's very hard to run an architectural business without full-time employees. So, if you're trying to do the project home model of just bringing subbie, subbie, subbie, you just won't do it.

So, as a builder and as the business grows, you can't be everywhere at one time. So, you need guys out there looking going, "Look, I think this is going to be an issue. This is going to move ahead." I mean we just finished a job for Ian Moore, it was 254 pages of plans and about the same specifications. And I think through all of those plans, we found two mistakes. So, the whole time he's like, "It's all there. What are you ringing me? It's all there. All the information is there. You're just not looking."

There's sections and sections and details, and similarly, we just did one for William Smart and that was the same. So, you need the guys that understand that.

Aaron Kyle.

You need to have an important understanding of how architectural plans work. And we're not just talking about elevations and sections and floor plans. We're talking about specific sections on certain levels of the building.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. Well, the bathroom we did for William Smart, I think there was two carpenters in there for three months setting it out, setting at all the details, all the tiles. And you go in there and you can't see the detail. And that's probably the big thing. And the same with the Ian Moore job, they're just total minimalist. No skirtings, no architraves, but if something's not done right, you can see it a mile away.

Aaron Kyle.

So, everything needs to be set out. Everything needs to be level.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. Everything's got to be. There's just no tolerance.

Aaron Kyle.

What about the costing of these projects? When you're going to be on site for sometimes more than two years building these amazing projects, how do you cost projects like those?

Joel Stewart.

Sometimes you get lucky and you get to go cost plus, but on the same token, I don't think any client goes cost plus and says, "Look, just pick a number and we just go for it." So, we treat both fixed price and cost plus projects the same. We run about a 35 bucket system. So, each trade, each clouding, waterproofing, all gets broken down. You can get to know some square meter rates on products, which do help.

And then you've got to keep breaking down the bucket. So, there's no such thing just picking a square meter rate on the whole build. You've really just got to do the time. And I always say, it's one part of the business I can never give away. I can never just go, "I'm going to get an estimator in." Because I think the day you do that is the day you're probably going to go broke.

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah, if there's any risk to a builder's business, it's that estimating and costing, isn't it?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. So, we're lucky now, each day the boys log in, they log what tasks they're doing. And sometimes they might be doing three tasks in a day. So, when they do their time, they log in, "The morning I did Costco this and it was framing. Then I did Costco that." And it is pretty scary once you start breaking it down and go, "Holy shit, they spent that long on framing and that long on that." But that's the reality, and that's the beauty of having those sort of systems now.

And you don't win on every bucket, but then you start to see where it is. But it also then gives you confidence when you're going in to price with an architect or an owner and they're like, "It's not going to cost that. There's no way." And you go, "Well, it is. Here's the last job. We just did the cladding, and it was this type of cladding, and it took that long. And there it is." And they go, "I can't argue with that."

Aaron Kyle.

You're actually able to use that data to apply to your business moving forward.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And say, "Look, this is what that cladding cost. So look, if you can't afford it, that's fine." And some claddings might be cheap. You say, "Okay. The purchase price is X, but look how expensive the install is. But if we change it to this product, then you're going to save this amount of money." And I mean 90% of our projects, we don't tender many jobs, most clients come to us at the initial point.

"I've just bought a block of land. Can you help find me an architect?" Or, "I've found an architect, can you work through the pricing with us?" And we call it the triangle. So, the owner, the architect and the builder, when the triangle's balanced, the project moves forward and goes ahead. When the triangle is not balanced, it's just never going to work.

Aaron Kyle.

Look, that's a pretty simple and useful analogy, because there are multiple parties involved in these relationships involved in building. It only takes one of those to fall down and it just impacts the whole project in a bad way, doesn't it?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And the triangle can change as well. So, the architect might be stepping aside for a moment while the engineer comes in.

Aaron Kyle.

So, he might be at on the top of the triangle to start off with, and then it's just constantly evolving.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. But 90% of the time it's always the owner and the builder, and then the interior designers coming in now. And the reality is that you've got to keep... the owner's got a budget, no matter how big it is. And people go, "Wow, that house is amazing." You go, "They had a budget." Different to the project home budget.

Aaron Kyle.

Look, I see it regularly. And I say it doesn't matter if the project costs $6 million or $600,000, the same stresses are equally there, just on a different level.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. So, when you go through the triangle and go through the process, you go, "Okay, let's change that cladding. Okay. Now the project can move forward. Like everyone wants standing seam cladding. But okay, it costs a fortune. So, let's use smaller amounts of it. Let's do that." And when the triangle is working really well, then the architect goes, "Oh, good idea."

But if the architect's being pigheaded and just going, "We're having this, we're having this, we're having this." And we see it a lot where they just keep pushing and pushing, and we're like, "This thing's not going to work, because it's just over their budget." And then unfortunately you drive back past six or 12 months later, and there's a project homes there and then you'll run into the owner in Woolies and say, "Hey, what happened?" And they said, "Look, we just got over it. It was a million dollars over our budget. So, then we just went and got that."

And you're like, "Fu*k, that's rubbish." So, if there was some compromise from the architect to say, "Look, they can't afford standing seam cladding. Let's just use a fiber cement cladding. That's going to be half the price." But the house still was getting the natural light in, it's still going to be a great house. It might not be the best architect house you've done, but it's still going to be much better than what they've ended up with.

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah. And look, I was involved recently on a project where we did that comparison. And you mentioned standing seam, and I've had the guys from Archclad on the show before. And it wasn't until talking to those guys in the factory, and I don't mean picking up the phone or writing an email. It was literally going into the factory, having a look, talking to the guys there. And they equally, being a premier provider of an architectural type cladding, and these guys had the same proactive, practical approach of sitting down saying, "What are your problems? What are your restrictions? We have this product."

Or it might be, "We have this product on sale at the moment," or it might be a case of, "Well, look, you could use this product," like you said, "This part of the project and use the cheaper product around the rest." And that's the difference between seeing that project come to fruition, versus like you said, replacing that with a project home.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And a lot of clients don't know, which is not their fault. So, it's an education process. So, they go, "I want it to look like that on Pinterest," or whatever it is. And you go, "Well, for that budget, it's not going to happen, but we can make it look similar for that." So, that's what we do a lot of, is just be involved at the start through the journey. And it also works both ways for us, because we get to know the client and sometimes the personalities just don't come together. And other times you're like, "Yeah, we're on the same page. Let's go." And that's a great journey to have with a client.

Aaron Kyle.

Now, speaking with clients, you took the time out of your day to give me a personalized tour of your Pheasant Point project, which if I could explain this to the people listening is literally like right there on the beach, this beautiful outlook facing north out to nothing but ocean in front. And it was a seven story home. And just by pure coincidence, your client was out there and saw us walking around and he came and said good day.

And one thing that stood out from the get-go was how stoked he was. And this is a project that isn't complete yet, but you're able to get these clients into living up the top in this amazing home while you're still juggling that, building the other six or so levels underneath. And he just came out, shook your hand, said hello. He introduced himself to me. He was stoked. And he's living there. This is a guy that's living in an architectural project whilst all the work's going on. So, that speaks volumes in my mind.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. I mean, look, it's a journey project. So, we know the clients really well. And we started it before the world sort of went crazy and took the project on. And it's got a huge amount of fall. If you would have seen it before we started, it was just like building off a cliff face. So, we started down the very bottom. We did a water tank under the swimming pool. Then we did the swimming pool on top. Then we did the barbecue area. Then we did the basement level, and just kept working our way up the hill.

And the clients have been fantastic, but then obviously last year everything went north, south, up, down, and the clients were like, "Look, we're just a bit worried what the world's going to do, but because the project's so big, the very top level, which has got, I think, two or three levels just inside, it is pretty much a house. So, it's got a kitchen, it's got some bedrooms, got some bathrooms, got the garage, living area, dining.

So, they were like, "Look, just because we don't know what's going to happen with the world, can we just finish the top level and get in and have a breather?" And we were like, "Yeah, let's do it." So, we pretty well spoke to the private certifier. He said, "Yep, that's fine."

Aaron Kyle.

We'll make it work.

Joel Stewart.

We'll make it work. So, we shut the bottom level down. It was at lockup anyways. It had windows and all that in, but they hadn't spent the money on the joinery or the fit out. Went upstairs, put all focus in on the top level, completed it. From the street it's 100% done. Certifier come in and said, "Yeah, mate, that's all good. There's no risk here." Lock all the bottom up, and the clients were just so grateful. And that's what you got to see on the job, because we got them in. They could do a stock take on their finances. This was their dream house, and they just wanted to have Christmas in the house.

Come February, they're like, "Right, the world's okay now. We know where we're at. Sold a little bit more real estate, and then we're going now in to finish it off." And it's so good for both parties, because on big projects like that, people get tired and they were starting to cut some corners and try to save some money, but it wasn't doing the project justice. The house really doesn't have any Gyprock in it. It's got all pine lining boards and stone, and the whole house is built out of concrete, all the levels.

Aaron Kyle.

So, with that, and there was pretty standout features that I noticed straight away when you were giving me that tour. Why are you using those internal linings instead of Gyprock?

Joel Stewart.

It's really just for the finish and the texture and the feel. So, there's no skirtings on it. So, like I showed you, we've lasered all the floor level and all the timber floor will slide under the finished lining boards. All the lining boards are mitered on the corners, the doors slide into pockets. So it's just endless carpentry. And for us, it'll look amazing on our website and you've got to be so grateful for the client to want to take that journey and want to go to that level.

We had stonemasons on that job for six months and the client was like, "I don't want any small bits of stone. I want every piece crafted together, pushed together." There was pallets of small bits of stone left over and we're like, "Look, if that's the journey you want to go, we can deliver it." And so it's just been grateful for that client that wants to go that far.

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah. Look, it must be amazing. And to have that relationship where you can push, not so much boundaries in terms of financial boundaries, or personal boundaries, it's more about thinking outside the box and thinking, "Well, why can't we try this and try this different product, or use this different material in this area to make it be a standout project for everyone?"

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And we've finished another two down in Gerroa, but one of them, or both of them, but one's just got an amazing set of stairs. And I said to the boys, "Well, let's build those stairs three levels, all American Oak, all joined together." And the carpenters love it. They're like normally you just sub it out to a staircase mob, or whatever. And because all the boys are full-time employees, we're like, "Okay, we can build those stairs."

We did the numbers and said, "Yeah, we can deliver it for that." And the carpenters spent three weeks building the stairs and they're so proud of it. The owners come in and say, "The boys did the stairs. It looks great." And so it's a real... and the same on that job at Pheasant Point where we're doing all the cladding and all the lining, and then that's real carpentry, it's not project home.

Aaron Kyle.

Well, what about the gutters as well? One of the first things I noticed was the house didn't have any gutters looking from the outside.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. They're all box gutters. But it's not a flat roof, it's a pitching roof. So, we've hidden all the gutters, there's box gutters, hidden all the down pipes. And then the fascia wraps around, and we ended up drawing every fascia, flat drawing it, then got them laser cut out, and then we folded them. So, none of them got put on with tin snips. And the fascia is white, but the roof is black. So, there's a tricky little fold on the roof where they match over.

Aaron Kyle.

And I mean these are the differences that distinguish, I guess, what you have to step up to, to take on these projects. It's very much thinking outside the box.

Joel Stewart.

And a lot of it's relationships as well with the client. So, even with those fascia where like, "We can do it, we can do it." Then we go back to the budget. So, you got to be careful not to go, "Yeah, we can do everything," and it's a thousand dollars a square meter. You're going to come unstuck. So, we were like, "Look, it's going to cost more. This is the detail. This is where we're at."

Go back, even so it's a cost plus job, we go back to the bucket and say, "We allowed this much for fascia. Now it's going to cost this much. That's going to be a variation. Yes. We agree. Let's move forward." And that's all the stuff that happens in the background. So, anyone can hang an amazing door and be an amazing carpenter. And that's probably the thing that goes against my grain. I'm a carpenter, not a computer based guy, but we're like, "Right, we've got to get this stuff, because if we don't, we're going to be in the gutter."

Aaron Kyle.

So, do you have a fairly comprehensive costing database, or you use software for that?

Joel Stewart.

So, we do all the takeoffs, but everything then comes back to the one system. And so as each job evolves and we're getting more and more information, so you're trying to tender out what you can. So, if you can find a roofing contract that'll give you a fixed price, or a standing seam contractor and things like that. But then when it comes back, I think every builder says they never make any money on carpentry on a job.

Aaron Kyle.

Everyone says it every week.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And I mean I run two businesses in my head. I run a carpentry business, which doesn't pay the bills. And then I run a building company that hopefully picks up the slack.

Aaron Kyle.

Pay the carpentry bills.

Joel Stewart.

but, we love our carpenters. I mean we've got a great group of apprentices that are now carpenters. And I mean I've got a soft spot for apprentices. I think back to when I was a boy turning into a man and-

Aaron Kyle.

And you had to go 12 months without a holiday.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. I think of where I could have ended up and around and around we go. So, I had my 40th birthday a couple of months ago and all the boys were here and we all got on it and had a massive night, and we're all mates.

Aaron Kyle.

It's so important. And I think you're also blessed to live and work in this part of the world too.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah.

Aaron Kyle.

Not only building these amazing homes, but having clients that recognize what a great part of the world to live in, still be accessible to Sydney. And if they're not relocating here permanently to work and then commute back to Sydney, they're wanting holiday houses in these areas.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. Definitely. And I mean the other thing, as I was saying, we have another thing you've got to understand as well. It's a small town, so everyone loves a bad story. So, you're only as good as your last house. So, that's what we say to the boys every day. We've got to keep being nice to the neighbors, keep pushing, doing the right thing. Because everyone wants to hear, "That the house didn't go so well," or whatever.

Aaron Kyle.

They're waiting for that moment.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, it's a small town.

Aaron Kyle.

Outside of work, what do you like to do?

Joel Stewart.

So, obviously surfing, obviously family. I'm grateful that my wife has a business as well. So, two businesses in the one house is always a juggle. Sol who's picking the kids up today? Who's dropping them off? So, the youngest is in preschool, the oldest is in Year One. So, soccer training yesterday.

But it's just having that balance. And I was grateful with my wife where she's at, it's her time in the spotlight. So, try not to over push the business. So, take on beautiful clients, build beautiful homes so that I can be there and enjoy the kids. And we're lucky, we leave, five minutes and you're at the job site. Come home, pick the girls up. So, really trying to get that work-life balance.

But if I've got a spare 30 seconds, I'm surfing. I had the MBA training day yesterday with other local builders in Woolongong and it was lunchtime and the boys were like, "Where's Joel?" And I went for surf for 45 minutes and come in and everyone was laughing. And the main with surfing for me is just mental, just like being out there. If you're not catching heaps of waves, just having that small amount of time for myself.

Aaron Kyle.

It's the one thing I've worked out from surfing, it forces you to actually... you can't take your phone with you. It's as simple as that. There's no, "I'll just..." you never do. It's with you all the time. So, it forces you to take that time out and reset.

Joel Stewart.

I mean I won't surf forever, but I'll always try to get four waves. And I always think I'll go out and be like, "Got to get nails, screws, gyprock, get a wave." And then by the end of it I'm like, "What did I have to get? I don't know." So, for me it's meditation. It just gets all that busy crap out of your head.

Aaron Kyle.

What's on for the future with yourself and your team and the rest of Lime Building Group?

Joel Stewart.

Next year is looking good. So, really we got a year and a half of pipeline work coming in, which is an amazing-

Aaron Kyle.

It's a great position to be in.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And just some really cool clients coming up and return clients. So, one of the houses we just finished at Gerroa, that was the second house we've done for that client. Another one we're doing at Gerroa now is a second house for that client as well. So, that makes life easier, because you don't have to sell yourself. And it's not so much selling yourself, but selling the process. So, those clients are like, "Oh, we want the same supervisors, same journey."

Aaron Kyle.

Well, they know what to expect, and you know what to expect as well.

Joel Stewart.

We're just there.

Aaron Kyle.

I mean at the end of the day, some of these building relationships go longer than other relationships.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, definitely.

Aaron Kyle.

Someone starts going out with someone, these building relationships are longer than some marriages.

Joel Stewart.

Totally. And that's what we always say about the journey. It's like we're going to meet, and then we're going to talk about the most expensive investment you'll make of your life for the next 12 months. I don't know you, you don't know me. And then we're just like deep in on that level. So, having clients that you've done that with before, it makes it so much easier, because then you can say, "Well, you know how we did this, we did that. And this is how we do variations and changes, and this is how we move in the process."

And then the beauty of it is you can just build. And a lot of clients will say if you can get a good builder, they'll do the interiors, or they'll do the fit out. When you get to that level, it just gets really complicated. And I'll say to a client, "Would you let your husband choose the color of your house?" And they're like, "No way." I'm like, "Well, what are you asking us for? We're here to build, do the process, go through the journey. And if everything's sorted out, we can just build, we can schedule, we can program."

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah. I think that's probably a key difference to you and your business too, in that you're almost politely commanding that we need that information. You guys are building architectural masterpieces, very detailed, amazing homes. You don't do that without a high level of detail. You can have a higher attention to detail, but you really need that detail provided to you in order for you to build that product.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah, definitely. And so moving forward, we just want to keep doing that. There's no quick pot of gold in the building game. It's just consistency, consistently building beautiful homes, consistently having great journeys with clients and then them telling their friends, and just being constantly consistent. And then it gives you time to spend time with your family and spend time surfing, spend time with your mates and do all that. But I think if you're chasing and chasing and chasing, it's not going to work.

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah, you almost need to accept that it's a constant revolving battle really, isn't it? Like there's no end goal. It just keeps changing, doesn't it?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And I think if you keep delivering, then you'll keep being surprised by the projects you get and the clients that turn up. And we've got a client at the moment, we just did stage one, which is a whole heap of landscaping. And then she was like, "Oh, let's have a party. Let's have this." "Well, we haven't built the house yet." And she goes, "Oh, but it'd be really nice. I'd have everyone out."

And the boys are like, "Oh, she wants to have the party." And it was really cool. We just went and did a lot of big landscaping and moving and setting up on this project, and the house is just going to be awesome. And the boys are like, "Oh, it's so good. We've got the relationship with the clients now. We're good. The journey is going to be good." And that's just so exciting, because everyone's on the level.

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah, and the parties in every state.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And it's so awesome when you go, normally we wait about a month after the client's moved in and then we'll all come around on a Friday arvo and it's so good to see a house, especially at the end, it's just a massive to do list. Got to do that, silicon this, do this. And then you move in and all that's gone and the dogs are running around, and then you can just enjoy, "Oh, look at the view and look at that." And you're on these amazing locations, you don't even look at it. You're just like, "What have I got to get done?" So, it's great to see-

Aaron Kyle.

Yeah, it's a different perspective, isn't it?

Joel Stewart.

Yeah.

Aaron Kyle.

I think that's important, and investing that time by taking your workers or employees to go celebrate that, not in the party level of course, but just in the essence of everyday use of the finished product.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. And it's awesome to hear the owners go, "Oh, we just love waking up here and seeing the light come in. And we liked that suggestion you guys made about the curtains, and we like this and it's so good." And the clients say thank you do the brick layer, because he's done a great job on the concrete. And at the end of the job, the owners would be like, "Oh, thanks. Okay, give me the keys, moving in." And they're all excited. But then a month later they're like, "Oh, this is so nice. We're in here, we're relaxed," and you get a proper thanks. And you also get to thank them for the work, and have a laugh and have a beer.

Aaron Kyle.

Working in these locations and backing it up with repeat clientele, that means you're on the right track and doing some amazing things. So, I take my hat off to you doing that. And for those listening to this who want to get into contact with you and reach out, what's the best way to go about it?

Joel Stewart.

Instagram, we're pretty active on that. We try to do a story or two every day. Facebook, we're active there, and then also website and email.

Aaron Kyle.

All right. Well, Joel from Lime Building Group, it's been really nice to sit down with you. And shout out to your lovely wife too, who allowed us to take over her workspace for the day. It's an impressive setup. So, I appreciate you taking the time out to show me through that Pheasant Point project as well. So, I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished result on that one.

Joel Stewart.

Yeah. Thanks Aaron for coming down and it's been awesome to just hang out today and hear about your journey as well.

Aaron Kyle.

All right, thanks again, Joel.

Joel Stewart.

Thanks mate, cheers.

Aaron Kyle.

Well, that was another Build Hatch episode with Joel Stewart from Lime Building Group, what a champion. And I certainly encourage everyone to jump onboard, check out his Instagram account and you'll see some of the most impressive architectural builds going around. Like every week, I'm constantly inundated with messages of support and also the latest on emerging issues going on in the construction industry right now.

So, don't be afraid to reach out like a lot of people do. If you know of someone in the industry that has an interesting story to tell, feel free to nominate them or put them forward. There are certainly some emerging issues going on in the construction industry right now, especially around supply shortages. Now I have a mixed view on this and I can tell you, there's certainly some cartel like behavior going on right now.

And if people don't stand up and pay attention, these types of trends will hurt our industry. So, I'm going to take charge on some of these issues and fight for both the clients and the industry. And I'm very passionate about this, so stay tuned for some big announcements coming soon on Build Hatch. As usual, please check out our Instagram page and other socials including our YouTube channel, where you'll be able to learn more about our guests and the features of the work that we talk about.

Have a great week, and you'll hear me again on the airwaves next week. Thanks for listening to another episode of Build Hatch.