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RSSArchive for October, 2008

Cutting the Right Corners

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “cutting corners”. For some people this means: “Save Money” but for others it means: “Poor Quality”. In the building and construction industry it is a term often used. And if you, as an Owner Builder, hear the term in any context, be cautious!

The fact is that experienced and successful people know how to cut corners – and just as importantly, they also know which corners to cut!

So the challenge becomes; if you are not an experienced builder how will you know which corners you can cut that will result in you saving money without reducing quality? Please forgive me for being blunt, but without the right advice you won’t know and if you become an Owner Builder it is highly likely that you will fall victim to many of the so-called professionals whose hidden philosophy is actually based on the good old Austrlalian premise of “She’ll be right mate!”

Here’s an overview of which corners you should never, ever even consider cutting during the prelimenary stages of the planning and preparation process. (I should mention that there are many others that you will need to know about during your entire project, but let’s start at the beginning.)

Let’s firstly focus on:

  1. Working Drawings
  2. Detailed Specifications
  3. Structural Engineering
  4. Council and Planning Approval Submissions

You may remember that we told you about the Syntax of Owner Building – that there is an optimum order to completing things for a successful outcome. Trying to cut corners in the planning and prelimenary stages is a recipe for disaster. But please don’t go out and spend a fortune either. Get good, value for money, professional expertise that will set up your project for a better chance of success. It will also help to move your project forward in a timely manner. Failure to meet time deadlines is an early sign of problems to come.

Don’t know where to find quality, professional services at value for money? Please forgive my shameless plug – but that’s easy… just give us a call and we can help arrange the right people right to assist you right from the start. Now to move on…

  1. Working Drawings
    In over 40 years in this industry I have seen it all. As a qualified carpenter and builder over that time I can still tell you that I come across sets of plans that I wouldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole. A set of working drawings are used throughout your entire project, from obtaining quotes, for your engineering to be specified, right through the construction process so that your trades and suppliers can deliver the project on time and within budget.For working drawings to be underdone is a recipe for disaster. Everything should be noted on your working plans. Even the minutest detail is never too much. 
  2. Detailed Specifications
    Too often these are done on the run. Big mistake. As an example we ask our customers to complete (sometimes with our assistance) a 21 page specification guide. Sounds indepth? You bet!How can you manage to a budget when the detail of your material and construction requirements are not specifically set out and priced at the outset? Did you know that 1000 bricks can range from $800 to $2000 depending on which you select? I have seen people spend $50 on a vanity basin at a clearance auction and I have also seen another customer spend $820 for an imported Italian glass basin. Here’s the facts: without a specifications guide that matches your working drawings your budget will not come in under your expectation. 
  3. Structural Engineering
    Not all engineers are the same. You must get your soil tests and your concept plans to a Structural Engineer to design the foundation and bracing system for the house. This can be simple or it can be extremely complex depending on a variety of factors. Get the help of an expert to talk and walk you through this process, else once again you will pay the price on site if it hasn’t been planned to detail. 
  4. Council and Planning Approval Submissions
    Too many people take this on themselves. If you have a standard, modest house on a simple block of land in a relatively new estate then you should be able to struggle through the process. If you have any challenges at all or have a desire to stretch the planning approval boundaries in any way then be sure to get an experienced private certifier to work with you.

The work and investment you make at these early stages will set your project up for success. By trying to cut these corners you will do your project a dis-service that will cause a domino effect. There are other, smarter ways to save time and money. In fact by doing this part right you will save time and money in the long run.

Happy Planning and remember to cut the right corners!

Renovation Tips

Sometimes when putting House Plan Designs together people tend to focus so much on the asthetics that they forget the practicalities and live-in-ness of their future property.

A very handy website, Universal Design Renovations was put together by Alex Cochran  and his partner, Desiree who share a hands-on account of the challenges associated to renovating a house for disability access.

Now, even if you don’t believe you need to consider catering for people with access challenges in your own house designs, Alex and Desiree’s website is still full of helpful hints to designing your surroundings for safety, comfort and a focus on sustainability.

They cover everything from automating your home to installing safety flooring in wet areas,  having photovoltaic solar panels for electricity to how to care for paint brushes, and tips for tiling a wall through to replacing floor boards.

I like the no-nonsense approach, the step-by-step description of the renovations made to the property now known as ‘Bimbadeen’, as well as Alex and Desiree’s personal journey adjusting to an access restricted lifestyle.

Make sure you check out the handy ‘How to… Secrets’ section as well as the ‘Project Design Aspects’ Articles for  honest opinions and advice on using the recommended products to their best advantage.

Owner Builder True Cost Savings

One of the most common questions we are asked by prospective Owner Builders is “How much am I going to save by Owner Building?”

That’s not a question that can be answered right on the spot – and it’s also not the only question they should be asking! You see, the key points influencing the decision to become an Owner Builder have to be more than just price!

However, let’s just focus on costings for the moment.

If you want the cheapest house then there is a very simple answer: Go to the nearest display home centre where all the project builders have their houses lined up with their price lists, and select the home that comes as close as possible to meeting your needs. Make no changes to the standard plan or specifications. Build it to the minimum stage and finish it yourself (ie. carpets, tiles, landscaping, driveway, etc.).

That is the cheapest way to build a house. No question about it. Even the best Owner Builder will struggle to match the pricing structure of the project home builders when compared on a square metre basis.

Here’s proof in a case study:

Ok, it’s mid October 2008. Let’s choose a builder from the top 10 volume builders in Queensland: Coral Homes. As the average size of a single storey house today is 250m2 let’s select something around that size from one of the designs from their website: The Brampton 251. It is 251 square metres, has 4 Bedrooms, a Double Garage, etc. The base price is $139,900. As we know the industry very, very well we can tell you that to finish the house, including initial site costs, retaining walls, internal floor coverings and landscaping, etc. you should add an additional 30% to the base price. This will give you a finished price of $181,870 for a modest, single storey home in South East Queensland. (Prices differ obviously on a regional basis, but let’s use this as a good base for the equation.)

This is equivalent to a finished house price of $724.58 per square metre.

Unless you are a qualified carpenter and you are going to do the majority of your own work you will not match this price as an Owner Builder. In particular when looking to build a contemporary home of quality materials, using professional tradesmen. 

So if you are doing price comparisons as an Owner Builder then forget comparing your prices to the Project Home Builders. Of course, if a project home is all you want, then go ahead and get a project home built.

But if you do not want a project home then you need to plan to spend from $900 per square metre up to $1200 per square metre as an Owner Builder. Then you need to compare that to the cost of a custom builder who is likely to charge you from $1100 per square metre to as much as $1500+ per square metre.

Why does the price differ so much? Well that’s a whole new article! (and something we can discuss later on Owner Builder Advice). Some hints about this topic pop up around this website and on our E-Course so keep reading and researching if you wish to learn more. 

In summary, you should be very clear about what it is you want to achieve and why. Then go and price your detailed plans with professional, custom builders. If you want to save money by becoming an Owner Builder you must first start with a realistic budget expectation of the cost of building your house, on your land, with your design and your specifications. We can then help you to work out the ‘true cost’ savings of Owner Building.

Following Building Systems

It still amazes me the number of times people commence a project totally unaware of what to do, when to do it, and in some cases, totally oblivious to the process.

It would be like me pulling a motor apart using just a shifting spanner and hammer.

For a start… I wouldn’t even know where to start! I wouldn’t know what tools to use, and more importantly, I wouldn’t know how to get the thing back together again! This is why we have people called ‘mechanics’. Of course it’s possible for me to one day successfully pull apart a motor and re-assemble it again so that it is in a workable order. But first I’d need to learn how by doing a course or by having a qualified person guide me.

The same goes for building a home. You need to learn how to do it successfully and get advice from someone who is not only qualified, but willing to help. There is also another important component to a successful Owner Builder Project: you being open to following the advice of that qualified helper.

In the early days of UBuild Homes we had a client who had a set of hand drawn plans for his building project. He had sent them to council and several months later still had no response. In a bout of frustration he came to UBuild Homes for help.

Once we identified his issues we understood why council was taking so long. This fellow had been challenging to deal with, and was totally clueless as to what to do, when to act, and so on. We also discovered he did not have his finance for the building project in order, and had alienated his banker. Because of all of these issues he decided to get UBuild Homes involved to clean up his mess. To be honest, if we had known what we know now, we would never have taken him onboard. And then despite our recommendations Mr X refused to have a professional plan drawn because his ‘builder mate’ had drawn up his project’s plans.

Once Mr X got started, issues continued to arise and problems kept popping up due to many reasons, including:

  1. The poor quality plans were causing suppliers issues – in particular the frames and truss company which caused cost blow outs in the thousands of $$$.
  2. Mr X would not use the steps, work orders, etc. of the UBuild system, and instead engaged trades verbally. When the variations due to his communication poured in, they again cost thousands of $$$.
  3. Construction slowed up due to rumours of site difficulties.
  4. Construction was halted by the bank because Mr X could not access any further funds.
  5. Mr X could not pay trades and more rumours circulated around town for trades not to touch this job as the money had run out.
  6. The Real Estate Agents then have had difficulty finding a buyer for this unfinished project.

The moral of this story is: if you don’t know how a motor works or you don’t know how to manage a building project, don’t! Learn how to, get advice from those who know, and most importantly – follow it!