JobKeeper, HomeBuilder & going solo

Jennifer Crawford , 3 August 2020

Jennifer Crawford highlights the eligibility issues of JobKeeper and HomeBuilder, and describes her recent move back to the life of a sole practitioner.

Is your practice registered for JobKeeper? If so, what have been the implications for your practice?

My practice is registered for JobKeeper. I am currently a sole practitioner and received a JobKeeper payment for May.  However, due to my particular circumstances I am not eligible for any further payments. So, while my income has dropped significantly since the end of April, I do not receive any further government financial support.

The reason for this is from May 2019 to April 2020 I was employed full time by a home building company. During this time I put my business to sleep so that I could focus on my day job. This meant my business made no income between June 2019 and April 2020. As a result I cannot prove a loss of income and therefore am ineligible. My full time salary that I have lost does not come into the equation unfortunately.

What are your impressions of the government stimulus announced so far? What do you believe needs to happen to support our profession and the wider building industry?

The current HomeBuilder scheme has been designed in such a way that the eligibility criteria are extremely tough to meet. It also goes to those who already have money and were proposing to do the work anyway given the required time frames. My view of the scheme is that the only beneficiaries may be those building with project home builders in regional areas. I would be very interested in seeing how many grants are actually issued.

Government stimulus in terms of providing greater social housing would be far more beneficial than the current scheme. If governments, both state and federal, were interested in constructing thousands of new homes of a multitude of types, this could assist not only workers associated with the construction industry (including architects) but also assist with the ever-growing public housing waiting lists and housing affordability generally. This would also provide an opportunity to build higher performance housing in terms of energy usage and sustainability, assisting in improving the standard of residential construction generally.

How has the pandemic affected workflow and productivity within your office? What strategies do you have for dealing with these challenges? 

I was made redundant from my full-time job at the end of April. Since I reopened my doors at the beginning of May, I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of enquiry I have received. So far I have had about 35 enquiries and have seen 15 new clients for sessions. I may end up with four ongoing projects. Hopefully this is the start of something that will be more sustainable. My current challenge is the same as it has always been, and that is for enough people to understand the service that I offer and how I can help them. I use social media a lot for this and get many of my enquiries through social media. I am also upskilling to improve both my processes and deliverables for my clients.

Has your practice returned to the office, in part or whole? How are you ensuring a COVID Safe workplace? 

I work from home or visit my clients at their homes. I did this pre-COVID and still do this now. I offer Zoom sessions although most people still like to see me in their homes. I offer to wear a mask when visiting clients and carry hand sanitiser. Apart from working, I am generally staying at home to help stay healthy.

Has your practice returned to ‘business as usual’ or have you incorporated additional flexibility in your employment arrangements? (work from home, staggered starts, etc) How is this working?

My practice needs to be flexible by its very nature – working around my schedule and the schedules of my clients. This hasn’t changed.

What measures have you put in place to support your employees’ mental wellbeing? How is this going?

While I am a sole practitioner, I do keep in contact with a network of other professionals from related disciplines, such as other architects, interior designers and landscape designers. Often these folk are sole practitioners as well and appreciate the contact. In these strange times it can feel rather lonely when you are working by yourself. I utilise social media a lot in this regard, being quite active in many groups that like to share knowledge and experience. Knowing that you are not alone in this current situation and that people support you and are looking out for you certainly helps with one’s mental health.

Jennifer Crawford is  is a registered architect and founder of Our New Home Coach, a business that helps people build the right house.