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Designing a Home the Smart Way

It may shock you to know the high percentage of people who lose thousands of dollars during the home design process. The home design process meaning: concept idea through to final plans and engineering.

Smart House DesignDesigning a house is a project in itself and it takes skill and experience to do it successfully.

In just the last few months UBuild Homes have come across at least four different prospective Owner Builder/Kit Home customers who have had losses between $5,000 and $50,000 each on designing/creating house plans that they just cannot afford to build! Unfortunately, the drafting/architect service providers they dealt with did not properly assess their situation and took them down a misguided path that resulted in tragic outcomes. And that was before any ground was even broken!

It is important to complete some research before engaging a drafting, architectural or plan drawing service for your dream home.

Here are some tips that will point you in the right direction:

1. Don’t allow a drafting firm or an architect to be involved in estimating the cost of your home. Drafting people know how to draft plans. Only a very small percentage of these service providers can estimate the cost of a building accurately. The same goes for architects. An architect should only be engaged if you want an architecturally designed home with an open ended budget.

2. The first goal of any design is to meet your budget. You must be very clear from the outset what you are trying to achieve and ensure that your drafting service understands. Also be aware that during the design you will quite often focus on the things you “like” instead of the things you “need”. Always remember that the things you like may not be mainstream and as a result will cost more to construct – even if you are owner building.

3. Builders and trades generally do not like working with architects because they most often design something that is either very difficult or near impossible to build. Most builders and trades will describe architects as too creative and lacking in practicality. So unless you want a complex designed home and you have a hefty budget then stick with a reputable drafting firm. How do you find one? Ask UBuild Homes. You’ll have access to a panel of highly skilled, cost effective drafting professionals.

4. All costs associated with house plans, building reports, engineering plans, soil tests and energy reports must be fixed priced. Never engage any of these service providers without a fixed quote upfront.

5. The average home design process will need:

  • Budget and Finance to be pre-approved and fully advised to the drafting service. They must be under strict instructions that the cost of the home cannot exceed the budget provided. If they do not know what the design is going to cost then do not use them. 
  • Finance provision is a critical component. Do not get your design then go and talk to the bank. That is the wrong way around. If you are having challenges obtaining Owner Builder Finance then talk to us – we could have the solution you’re searching for. 
  • Before you decide on a house design service you will need a survey, contour plan and a soil test. If you need help finding a reputable service provider then let us know – we’d be delighted to help.

6. If you don’t understand the technical challenges of building a home then be wary of unique roof designs and roof lines. UBuild Homes recently had a set of plans presented to us (from an unkown third party drafting service)  that literally could not be built. These plans cost $5,000 and were useless. What a waste.

7. Try not to be too emotionally attached to the things that you “want”. These “wants” are sure to blow your budget. Unless you are not concerned about your budget stick to conventional rules in construction and the power of resale value. Sometimes a slightly smaller design with better use of space and design features will be a more valuable commodity than a giant box with a funny roof!

8. Consider energy, water, and the outside design of the total space being used. The first thing people see when they come to your home is the outside. They will also ask about water and energy efficient features of the home. Bear this in mind early on and you can design accordingly. Trying to fix this in hindsight is an expensive process.

By following some of these simple steps correctly you will have a more accurate and predictable outcome to your budget. Too many Owner Builders are unable to complete their homes due to poor quality up front planning. This is the main reason most lending institutions refuse finance to owner builders.

Trust No One!

Hi there, this is Barry from UBuild Homes and in case you didnt catch the title I’ll say it again: Trust No One!

If you are planning on building a home then you need to take extreme care. As an Owner Builder you must take precautionary steps to manage your risks.

Learn About the Building IndustryMy intent is not to bag the construction industry, and as someone who has operated in the insdustry for over 40 years as a licensed builder, I think I can talk with experience. Putting trust in unprofessional people in the residential construction industry can hurt. In addition, these are difficult times which puts added pressure on the builders and trades who are out there quoting for work – many doing so without systems or proper training.

The problem is: it is so difficult to differentiate between professional and unprofessional conduct.

I’m not talking about dishonest people. There are plenty of those types in every industry and we all need to guard against the sharks out there. What I’m talking now is dealing with trades and builders who simply don’t use good, professional systems to quote, and who then create a disastrous outcome for you as a result.

Unfortunately, this happens too many times. The general public puts their faith in so called industry experts only to find their hard earned cash vanish into thin air. Please allow me to share a recent example:

A couple that came to UBuild Homes recently were very distraught. From the outset this couple had no intention of Owner Building. They had engaged a builder to do a quote for them to build their home. They accepted the quote. Unfortunately, the quote lacked detail and was poorly put together. The couple trusted the builder and thought he knew what he was doing. Just prior to signing the contract the couple made some changes to the plan. Nothing too dramatic – but then the builder used this opportunity as an excuse to lift the contract amount by as much as 100k. In other words he exposed his unprofessional conduct. It was very obvious the builder under quoted the job in the first place and so waited for the right opportunity to adjust the pricing in his favour!

Now, legally he is within his right to do this. But morally it is wrong. And unfortunately, happens all too often – and not just on large projects but small ones too. Owner Builders often recount similar stories of conflicts with a variety of trades because of the exact same process.

In the end the couple had to walk away from the builder. Due to the cost blow out and the resulting bad experience they then turned to Owner Building and today they are now UBuild Homes’ customers and moving forward.

The same couple also had a very poor outcome with their drafting service. Again the reason was trust. They simply assumed that the drafting service would be professional and knowledgable about the planning requirements. They were not, and this resulted in further costs and anguish.

Now let me say this: Neither the builder or the drafting service provider in question are bad people or what you would call ‘shonky’. They were just unprofessional due to a lack of skill, training and experience. This is what commonly happens in the building industry and it creates problems for customers.

It’s vital that if you are building a house through a builder, or are planning to owner build, you get educated. Don’t fall into the trap of trusting that others will always do the right thing. Learn to spot the difference between professional and unprofessional behaviour. Be vigilant, check everything, question everything. This knowledge and questioning might just be one of the biggest investments you will ever make!

Kit Home Companies Going Broke

Troubles with Kit Home CompaniesHow does a Kit Home Company go broke?

There has been cause for concern over the number of Kit Home companies that are in financial trouble and the number of customers and Owner Builders that have been adversely affected by this.

In particular, if you had a chance to read the recent article in the Bundaberg Newspaper about an Owner Builder losing money with a kit home company that went broke, and basically the Owner Builder having no protection under any warranty legislation. When you have a moment check out the article:

Kit Home Customers Fall Through Cracks

Here are some insights into the issue:

  • First of all the UBuild mantra for Owner Builders should be: Trust No One. The Building and Construction Industry is an extremely volatile and difficult industry and whether you are owner building or not, you should be extremely careful with every transaction. Ensure that you have good written contracts in place and that you manage your risks very carefully.
  • Kit Home Companies should not go broke! It’s that simple. Kit Home Companies go broke because their parent company or their manufacturing company goes broke. Any Kit Home Company that manages their own manufacturing or that is owned by a building company is a risk because they need to feed the beast, and so all revenue goes back into ensuring cash flow for the parent and partner company.

As a potential customer/Owner Builder you should be asking the following questions of a prospective Kit Home Supplier:

  1. Do you operate solely as a Kit Home Company or are you a building company with a division that is a Kit Home Supplier? 
  2. Do you own the suppliers you put the kits together from? ie The Frame and Truss Manufacturing (Steel or Timber), the Window Manufacturing Company, etc?

If the answer to these questions is “Yes” then you are at risk because these businesses require large amounts of cash flow to keep them going. Your kit home deposits go into that pool of cash flow.

A Kit Home Company should be cash flow positive. In other words they should be using their buying power to source the Kit Home Package for the client at the best possible price by ensuring that good suppliers are competing against each other for the business of that Kit Home Supplier. Kit Home Suppliers should then be flexible and customer driven in their ability to manage the needs of the customer in terms of product and finance.

UBuild cannot comment in detail about the Warranty Insurance issues raised in the Bundaberg Newspaper article, except to say that in every state the Home Warranty Insurance process is different – and that it is a mess. The fact that there is on ongoing Federal Government enquiry into Home Warranty Insurance is a testament to that fact. 

The bottom line is that customers should not lose money dealing with Kit Home Companies. These companies, if properly managed, should be service focused, flexible, wholesale building material supply companies. If they are involved in other businesses then you, as a potential customer, are at risk.

Please check out a recent article on the Owner Builder Advice site about a real customer who was rescued from a difficult situation because of the inherent flexibility in the UBuild Kit Homes process:

Close Shave for a Kit Home Customer

Good luck out there and keep us posted with any challenges or questions.

Do You Have an Energy Efficient Home?

 How do you know if you have an Energy Efficient Home?

Energy Efficient HousingThe simple answer is; take a look at your energy bill! And there are other things to consider…

Take two identical looking houses standing side-by-side in a suburban street. Both houses have four family members of similar ages. Both families have similar habits.

The cost of electricity and water for the family on the left is $3700 per year. The cost of electricity and water for the family on the right is $2500 per year.

Which house would you rather live in? Easy question to answer! Now here is a slightly more difficult question: If they were both for sale how would you know which one would be the better buy? Well, you would have to ask and here are some of the things you would query…

When thinking energy efficiency here are 5 basic things that you can look for in a house, or that you can apply to a new house to make it more energy efficient:

  1. Ceiling Insulation.

    Right now is an especially good time to be installing ceiling insulation with the Government offering free insulation to the value of $1600.  Go for a rating on your ceiling insulation of R2.5 or above.

  2. Wall Insulation.

    Proper wall insulation in the cavity of a brick veneer house will have an impact on both energy and noise. If you are looking at a new house then give this some consideration. Wall wrap or sisalation does provide some benefits but full external wall insualtion will make a difference. 

  3. Heat Pump Hot Water Systerm or Solar HWS.

    Government Rebates also apply to these two items and they will make a difference to your energy efficiency rating. 

  4. Energy Efficient Appliances.

    Do some research. There are many good products out there now that have a long term effect: ie. flouro lighting, efficient fridges, no stand-by power on TV, computer and stereo, etc. 

  5. Avoid ducted Air Conditioning.

    It’s a power killer. Use natural ventilation wherever possible and energy efficient ceiling fans. You use as much energy opening a window as you do looking for the A/C remote controller! The thing about climate is this: Humans adapt over time to various climates. If you continually use A/C systems then over time you will creep up the amount of usage and the push down the temp control. It’s a slippery slope and a couple of degrees can make a huge difference to your energy consumption. Where possible: resist. It is better for the environment and over time you will adapt.

It can really be that simple!

When someone comes knocking on your door in the near future offering you cheap Green Loans don’t pretend you are not home. Invite them in and listen. If you are looking at a new kit home, a project home or owner building a home in the future you will need to do your homework and research on energy efficiency measures. But it will be homework that will be well worth it.

For more information on creating energy efficient designs and sustainable homes give UBuild Homes a call.

Matthew Last

UBuild Homes

Building Consultant, Green Loans Assessor and Energy Efficiency Design Consultant