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Dos and don’ts for a stress-free build

Our comprehensive guide

Watching Grand Designs, you can’t help but wonder – is building a new home always that stressful?

We know from experience that the answer is ‘no’. In fact a recent customer, Joe Webber, called building with us “relaxing”!

While that’s probably a bit much to ask from most builds, the truth is that minimising stress is really just about ticking a few boxes – and avoiding a few no-nos.

We dug into the shared expertise of our franchisees, to compile this definitive list of building dos and don’ts.

Do: really get to know your section

Some sections are trickier than others. While it’s obvious that a sloped section will need extra work, what lies underneath can be equally challenging pricy.

Before you start, it’s a good idea to get a Geotechnical report (a ‘Geotech’ report) on your site’s soil quality. This will give you a guide on whether your site will need expensive stabilising foundations or specific additional engineering.

And then there are restricted legal covenants. Have you checked? Your site might come with a whole lot of rules about how you build your home (e.g. its size, use, design, cladding and landscaping). Other limitations, like height-to-boundary restrictions, daylight hours, and minimum viewing corridors, can also affect your designs.  

Do: check in with council rules

The council is often one of the biggest headaches and hold-ups during a build, because people haven’t properly understood the rules. Understanding their requirements around things like minimum backyard size, maximum site coverage, flooding risks, storm water and sewer connections, can help stop those issues before they arise.

Do: get finance preapproved

You might think that it’ll be easy to get a loan to buy your section, but you’d be surprised at some of the requirements banks have. They’ll want to approve the section and build design before they’ll lend to you – it’s about minimising their risk!

Don’t: assume all builders are created equal

There’s a lot more to building a house than being good with nails and wood. Great builders will have lots of processes in place to ensure your build goes seamlessly. They’ll offer to meet with you on-site and explain any issues they foresee. During the design phase, your builder should also be on hand to make sure what’s being planned can actually be completed within your budget, and where you could save money without losing your vision.

Don’t: pay your builder charge up

A lot of builders prefer to work on charge-up – they’ll give you an estimate and then charge you for the hours they actually work. On the surface, that seems fair – why pay for more hours than they actually use. The reality is that working under charge-up, your builder has no incentive to work efficiently. If they’re working to a set fee, it’s on them to invest in excellent planning, spot issues before they arise, work to time and keep subtrades working together. If that means they finish the job faster than expected, that’s a win on both sides! It also means you have a more definite idea of the costs involved in building – you won’t have to go back to the bank, cap in hand, because costs have unexpectedly spiraled.  

Do: Double check your specifications

When you receive pricing from a builder you should get a comprehensive specification sheet – ‘spec’ for short. This outlines all the materials that will be used to build your home. These are some of the things that are treated as “extras” to lower the overall quote. At a minimum, make sure they’re included. You might also like to question the integrity of a builder who has purposely excluded these.

When you receive pricing from nay builder, check that it allows for:

• Getting power, phone, gas, water on site
• Accommodating any underground services that cross your site
•Correct wind, earthquake and/or corrosion zone requirements
• Any extra engineering, bracing and product specification needed
• Sturdy framing? Lighter framing is 75 x 45 (3x2) – 90 x 45 (4x2) is far sturdier.
• Enough nogs. Two nogs (also known as dwangs) on a 2.4 stud height and three on a 2.7 stud height will provide good stability.
• An excellent level of insulation. Building code requires R2.2 on the walls and R3.2 on the ceilings, but R2.6 and R4.0 respectively will give you better performance, and will future-proof your home against changes in the building code.
• Decent Gib in the ceilings. Industry standard is 10mm, 13mm will mean your ceilings won’t sag.
• Metal ceiling battens, rather than wood. Gib does not guarantee their product if it’s fixed to wooden ceiling battens.
• Three coats of good quality paint from recognised brands
• Enough power points. To keep costs down, many companies only allow for one light and one power point per room – adding more later will markedly increase the costs.
• Floor coverings
• Excavation, foundations, driveway, paths and topsoil
• The needs of a rural site, if necessary
• Drainage, stormwater, services
• The cost of working drawings, any engineering and consultant’s fees required and all council fees – these aren’t often included, but it’s good to confirm so you know what other costs you’ll need to factor in.
• A handover programme and a commitment to quality after the build is completed.

Do: question PC sums

On your quote, you might see the term ‘PC sum’. These are prime cost sums and should only be used when a builder simply can’t accurately cost an element of the build. In some cases, builders will use PC sums to lower the overall price of a building contract – and when the real costs roll in, your budget will bottom out. Most materials can be easily costed – generally, the elements that come with genuine unknowns are the earthworks and foundations (because no one really knows what’s underneath the dirt!). Other PC sums will be included when the builder hasn’t taken the time to cost things out properly – that’s not a deal breaker, but does mean you need to question what’s really been included.

Do: check up on your builder

The majority of builders are fantastic professionals and trustworthy – but lots aren’t. A few simple checks will let you confirm that your build company are what they say they are. First is to see their Master Builder registration, and check that they can offer a Master Builders 10-year warranty and contract agreement. Google them to look for evidence of trade awards, what people are saying about them online and any red flags – have the directors ever declared bankruptcy, for example?

Don’t: put up with poor communication

Ideally your builder will have set communication systems and protocols – this shows they understand their importance. If your builder is hard to get hold of, and isn’t proactive with information and updates, it makes the build process far more stressful – and it might be a sign you need to look elsewhere.

Even a rose garden has thorns

We can’t promise that building your new house will be all roses, but paying attention to the dos and don’ts right from the start will save you a lot of headaches.

Get to know your section, your chosen builder and your council’s regulations really well. Get your ducks in a row with finance, and go over that spec sheet with a fine tooth comb. Get a solid quote and building schedule so you know what to expect, and make sure your builder keeps in close and regular touch.

Do all those things ahead of time, so that if or when things get thorny, you aren’t already totally stressed out, but are still relaxed enough to cope.

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