House progress

How did you choose your builder?

I’m back tracking a bit today, by about 2 and a half years. To that compulsive moment when we decided to buy a block of land and build a house on it. I admit that it was a fairly emotional decision, with very little comparison of alternatives, in terms of land or building versus buying a house. In our favour, we knew the area very well, having already lived nearby and we knew the location was not one we would regret. To our demise was our complete naivety about the cost of building.

I’m thinking of these things again now, because one of my sisters, let’s call her The Sensible One, is considering buying land with the plan to build her family home.

Choosing land:

Aside from the obvious fact that land should be somewhere you want or need to live, here are my thoughts based of the luxury of hindsight and from reading many a saga on the HomeOne Forum.

  • Siteworks, site works, site works!!! $$$$. Site works costs are not included in the sticker price of an “off-the-shelf” (volume builder’s) house. Site works vary greatly depending on the contour of the land and the geology. A “site survey” before you purchase can help builders to estimate some of the costs to prepare the land for building, but there is still the possibility of hitting unexpected problems (rock!) once site works start.
  • Location can limit your choice of builders.
  • Location can dictate some of your building choices, especially in a developer’s estate.  You’ll need to comply with their guidelines in addition to council regulations.
  • Orientation.  If you are aiming for a solar passive house, this factor might be critical, but let’s face it, not everyone in suburbia can choose the perfect North-facing block.  Volume builders will easily “flip” a house plan to improve a home’s thermal performance, while trees, screens and blinds (interior and exterior) are all simple solutions to reducing the impact of that pesky sun as it sets.

    Our land

    Don’t be fooled by a relatively innocent looking piece of land. The “provisional sum” for earth works on our 747 sqm block is $20 000, not including retaining walls.

Choosing a builder:

We chose our builders, Webb and Brown-Neaves, from a fairly limited pack.  The field was narrowed by our key requirements of the house, namely:

  • A footprint small enough to leave us with lots of outdoor space.
  • A house plan with rear living areas to make the most of a rear view.
  • Four bedrooms.

My shortlist of “off-the-shelf” (pre-designed) houses that fitted these requirements was very small. In the end, we were wooed by a floor plan with a void space above the living area.  It seemed to us to take a house from ordinary to amazing.  Although we didn’t know any one who had built with Webb and Brown-Neaves, they had a good reputation, having built houses on the Mandurah canals for a long time.  Of course, I looked for online reviews for WBN and found a mixed bag.   With only 22 reviews over 7 years, I didn’t really trust this source.  It seemed to me that the minority of customers that couldn’t resolve problems with their build had headed there to seek revenge.  And a few blissfully happy customers had been encouraged to submit a review to balance the ratings.  Every one had either rated Excellent or Bad/Terrible.  There was no in-between.

I’ve noticed that many of the mega building companies, particularly in the East of Australia, have many more reviews.  Take Metricon, for example.  They have 400+ reviews.  Perhaps you can give it some credence but I wouldn’t use these reviews alone.  In fact, one of Metricon’s competitors was accused of offering rewards for customers positive reviews.

My big-sisterly suggestions for selecting a “volume builder” are:

  • Stalk the area you plan to build in for new homes recently built by the companies that interest you.  (Or you could try asking the companies for references.)  Talk to the home owners and ask how they found the process and how satisfied they are with their home.
  • Stalk the area you plan to build in to see home building in progress.  If you go on weekends, you might get to chat with some customers.
  • Get acquainted with the HomeOne Forum.   Lots of Australians thinking about building, going through the process, recently built and even repeat-building customers hang out there.  There are some building professionals there too, adding their two-bobs worth from time to time.  Follow some threads from your area.  You’ll soon discover that very few builds are stress free and problems arise.  Most customers quickly forget the problems when they move into a new house that they are happy with, others stay unhappy.  For the larger building companies, in the low to medium price spectrum, there are enough people on the Forum to form a balanced idea about how the companies generally perform.   You can get an idea of pre-construction issues, build times, the range of costs that are added on to sticker prices, customer service and how companies deal with problems.
  • Last, but definitely not least, read some independent blogs written by builder’s customers.   (Duh!!!)  There are plenty out there.  Some are tricky to find, but once you find one addressing a particular company, it will often lead you to many more.  Ask the blogger questions.  Bloggers are friendly people!

So, readers, since I’m no expert here;

What advice would you give my sister for selecting land and a builder?

The Sensible One, all the answers are just for you.  Feel free to pipe in with questions. xxx

Building to schedule.

Construction schedule

Screen shot of our construction schedule.

I’m taking our construction schedule with a grain of salt.  Obviously it’s a standard schedule.  10 days have been allocated to paving, and we are not having any paving by the builder.  We are 2-3 weeks off schedule already, but that’s nothing that can’t be explained away by “the non-availability of trades, inclement weather, shortage of materials or the like.” In any case, I’m using it to plan the timing of purchase of “owner supplied items”.  Since we aren’t living locally during the build we really tried to minimise owner-supplied items, but some items such as our fireplace, air conditioning and the integrated dishwasher weren’t offered by Webb and Brown Neaves.  In the case of our feature pendant lights, I didn’t like any we saw at our builder’s supplier. Between a variable construction schedule, variable lead times on items we need to supply and nowhere to store purchased items, the whole situation is a bit tricky.  I already made the mistake of purchasing the fireplace early to avoid 2015 price rises, and then was tripped up by a $250 delivery fee to a friend’s garage because the supplier wouldn’t hold it.  I’ve been creating lists and charts over the past week, trying to get better organised for costs, supplying items and the post-handover activities.

Owner-supplied items.

Owner-supplied items.

You can see I’m having some commitment problems with a couple of items.  For the kitchen pendants, my taste is expensive, but I can’t be sure that what I want is the right thing.  So I’m leaning towards buying cheaper alternatives, until I’m in the house and able to weigh all the other factors up.

 

Sources:  1.  Beacon.  2.  Weylandts.  3.  Dunlin.  4.  Cocoflip.

For the alfresco area, I have grand plans for an oversized cray pot pendant, DIY.  So all I need is a bare bulb hanging on a cord at least 2 metres long, but I am struggling to find something that won’t quickly rust in our outdoor environment.  Outdoor lighting options are rather lacking!  The only item I’ve seen that fits the bill so far is $600.  No!  Not when it’s going to be covered up anyway.

Build update

The brickies have made a start on the second storey of House By The Water.  Imagine my excitement to receive this picture on Sunday, the first news of any brick laying activities:

Extra brownie points for our building inspector who took this unsolicited photo on his long weekend!

Extra brownie points for our independent building inspector who took this photo on his long weekend!

And special thanks to house-building blogger, Trixee, who popped by our house on the weekend and took the photos shown below.  Trixee is building a glamorous solar-passive house in Perth.  Trixee’s slab has just been poured so the excitement is mounting over on her blog:  The SP Chronicles.

All set up for second storey bricks.

All set up for second storey bricks.

Scaffolding jungle for the alfresco void area.

Scaffolding jungle for the alfresco void area.

Garage

Garage with concrete beams and pipes that will be invisible before long.

Stairs.  And the terrible realisation that I should have had that changed to include a storage area.

Stairs. And the terrible realisation that I should have had that changed to include a storage area.

As they say,  it’s coming along!

House plans

At last, we can reveal our house plans.  Our “house by the water” will be based on the “Rubix” plan by builders Webb and Brown-Neaves.  Last week we signed a PPA (preliminary plans agreement) to build the “Rubix” – making a commitment with our signatures and a payment equal to 3% of the build price.  We’ve been playing with the standard plan for a few months, making adjustments to suit our site, taste and family size.  The most obvious change we made is to the roof line.  We’ve selected a “coastal elevation” which softens the look of the house.  Other changes include increasing the size of the dining room window, changing sliding doors to stacking doors, changing the design of the kitchen bench to accommodate 5 stools and turning the study into a 4th bedroom.  We also added a laundry chute, an external door to the powder room (for poolside access), a 900mm freestanding oven, space for a chest freezer, and provision for future gas fireplace, gas to the alfresco dining area and water for an outdoor shower.

Ground floor.

Ground floor.

Upper floor

Upper floor

What we love about this plan:

  • The void space above the living area.
  • Open, rear living.
  • Plenty of windows to the canal view.
  • An indulgent kitchen space, including the scullery.
  • Plenty of space to add storage/cabinetry to rooms later.
  • Plenty of room left on the block to enjoy the outdoors.
Site plan showing plenty of room to entertain and play outdoors.  There is even room for a veggie patch.

Site plan showing plenty of room to entertain and play outdoors.   I’ve cut the plan short, but there is even room in the front yard for a veggie patch.

The oven(s).

I think I’d better issue all my lovely blog followers with a measuring tape.  This time I want your oven measurements, especially the width.  How much width does a macaron-baking Mama and pizza-throwing Papa need?

I’ve been going through potential house plans with a fine tooth comb and there is a chance we’ll be having two wall ovens.  Is 600mm enough?  Would you sacrifice 2 small wall ovens (included) for one 900mm oven?

And does any one have one of those new-fandangled steam ovens?  What do you think?

A small oven could stifle the Nice Wolf's culinary creativity.  This lovely oven was surely 900mm wide.

A small oven could stifle the Nice Wolf’s culinary creativity.

P.S.  It’s now 9 days later.  Thank you for the comments and emails about your ovens.  We are leaning towards one 600mm oven, plus one 900mm oven.  (His and hers!)   In the interim, I’ve found the perfect oven:

4a59b5267073d64f79e6834483589805

True love. This is the kind of oven I’d give a name to. And possibly kiss it.
(Available for the price of a small car at: http://www.plessers.com/Thermador/prd486edg.htm)

 

Enough dreaming…

In this blog, I’m going to shock you with money talk.  I’m going to tell you what building costs.  It will save my Dad asking.

For a new, two story home, large enough to comfortably accommodate a family of five, and with the potential to gaze at the canals from rear living areas, we are talking in the order of $600K.  Oooh…  A very nice single story house could be built for closer to $400K.  Probably we are only going to do this once, and if we are going to spend any money at all, we want to spend it on something we like.  For now, let’s start with an “off-the-plan” house with a $600K price tag.  We’ve read that an extra 10-20% should be anticipated for the extras such as heating/cooling, flooring, sometimes painting and minor changes to the plan.  Silly me thought this would also include the stuff that needs to be done to the block before a house can be built on it.  Nope, it turns out that is another 20% all of its own.

After Igor’s recent meeting with a building company rep, the first thing he had to say to me, predictably, was “You need to get a job”.

So (just skip this bit if numbers and details make your eyes glaze over):

  • siteworks $17000
  • retaining wall $25000
  • extra requirements to meet 6 star energy rating $4000
  • coastal requirements $25000
  • storm water disposal $7500
  • site survey $500
  • council planning $2000
  • council cross over $2500
  • additional lighting and power points $10000
  • extra footing detail to match council requirements $25000
  • underground power connection $1500
  • roof frame upgrade $1000

Yup, that’s any extra $121000 before you even think about an extra garage space, a different roof line or an extra window.

Time for a browse through the job classifieds.

Luckily, the very next day, on my way home from the Trickeye museum, I happened to come across a truck load of cash.

Luckily, the very next day, on my way home from the Trickeye museum, I happened to come across a truck load of cash.