Foxes Grand Designs: Progress + Process (and some tips) - Foxes Blog
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Foxes Grand Designs: Progress + Process (and some tips)

Foxes Grand Designs: Progress + Process (and some tips)

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It’s all been a bit quiet on the build progress front on the blog, not because nothing has been happening, but because it’s happening so fast! It’s been hard to keep up.

I had chosen to have a home built offsite, then trucked in, commonly called a ‘pre-fab’ this kind of building process isn’t quite the norm in New Zealand, a little looked down on, and I have no idea why, it’s amazing and I think more people should do it. It’s faster, it’s cheaper and you get the same quality product IF you don’t mind planning everything in advance and putting a lot of trust into a building company.

After 5 weeks since construction began, my house was shifted onto site on Friday just gone (23rd October 2015) just like that. Over the next 6 weeks, the site connections will be completed, decking will be built, base boards will be added around the foundations (I like to think of it as a petticoat for a house) and the internal fit off will be done including appliances installed and my wooden flooring added to the kitchen/living/dining. And then we move in! True story. Eleven weeks, on time and on budget.

I’ve been sharing my progress with friends and family via facebook, and one question I have been asked by lots of people was how the hell am I able to do this… well listen in!Like most people living in Auckland in their early 30’s, I am not made of money. I am self employed, I am a parent, not someone with dosh up the wazoo to fritter around the place, but I like to think I’m the right amount of careful and carefree with my money. Save some, spend some, yadda yadda (boring). One thing I am, is creative and that has helped in this entire process.

When building the ‘traditional’ way it’s slow and expensive. Mainly because all the trades that are involved with a house (framers, plasters, plumbers, electricians, painters, roofers etc.) all have to come to you, to your site each day and only work on your one house or project. Sometimes these trades overlap; you might have one trade come, then another has to do their bit, then the first one has to come back to finish of the first bit and this could take days an more often than not, weeks. Materials need to be delivered and stored on your site somehow. All these things cost and those costs add up.

Because I had such a tight budget (we’re talking around the $350,000 mark here folks, total, everything, no secrets here), but was determined to build, pre-fabrication was the way to go. The cost comparison to a traditional build process was huge. We’re talking hundreds of thousands in savings, it’s still costing hundreds of thousands, but it doesn’t give me heart palpitations or cold sweats. Why so much cheaper? Everything is made in the one place, on their building yard. It’s built under cover so no weather delays, tradies come to the one place and they might be working on 5 houses at once. So when one finishes a step, and another needs to come in, they are close by and just working on the next house, not the next town. Materials can be stored in the one place. Delivery charges are the same each time. No port-a-loo’s. Amazing!

The only difference being that your house has to be moved onsite on the back of a truck, which seems scary, but they do this all the time and know their stuff. Plus it’s insured, if it falls off, they build you a new one.

Of course, this will depend on your site; not all sites are pre-fabable (just made that word up) and you will need to discuss this with the company you want to go with. They’ll meet you on site and will know what you can/can’t do.

When getting your pricing for a pre-fab, you do have to make a lot of decisions before you even draw up the first plans as this goes into your final quote. I find having a deadline helps in the decision making process, also if you decide in advance, you don’t have to worry about it later and can start planning around your choices, which is the fun part!

I looked at loads of companies. I met with them, got pricing, visited the site and it was all a bit of a mind boggle because once you decide on one company, you can’t really change them. They were all of a similar price, but varied greatly in quality. When looking at their spec sheets (a list of items and finishes that come as ‘standard’ in what they build) I went with the best quality on offer that I could afford. They weren’t the cheapest, but I knew I would get a quality house that would last. Lots of them offer their houses at what you think is a good price to start with, but when you delve into those specifications, it’s all very basic with average finishes and materials and to add things like double glazing, quality underlay, tiles instead of lino and kitchen cabinets etc were all add-ons and suddenly, what began as a cost effective house, is now super expensive. The company I chose, used quality fittings and materials as standard, so there were no hidden up-sells, only the ones that I wanted to add, like my beautiful kitchen tap.

Customer service also had a lot to do with it. I met with many companies, some couldn’t have cared less about even just calling me back, to sending me a quote when they said they would. But others were punctual, friendly and knowledgeable. At the end of the day, you want to deal with someone that picks up the phone and responds to emails.

The company I chose, Advance Build, were great. They met me onsite, answered all my newbie questions patiently and put in quite a bit of effort; like they had the job already even though it was just the quoting stage. I’d heard from local real estate agents they had done some local builds and were good to deal with, I did some sneaky drive-by’s and in the end, went with my instinct. So far, so good.

So how do you get started in this whole process? Here are some things that I have learnt in a baptism of fire kind of way.

  • Know your budget first. Use online mortgage calculators to get a rough idea and start a conversation with a mortgage broker or your bank. It’s so much easier to play the game when you know where the goal posts are.
  • Sort out your deposit. To build, you need at least 20%, more if you can. Can you get any subsidies (such as the HomeStart Grant if it’s your first home)? Use your Kiwisaver? Plead to family members? Clear up as much debt as you can and set a savings plan in place.
  • Pick a location you’d like to live (or can afford to live) and secure your section. I know from experience, if you like a section, someone else will like it too and there is nothing more infuriating (and heart breaking) than doing all this work and missing out on a plot when it’s snatched from under your nose.
  • Check the convenants on your section (if there are any). Buying from a subdivision usually means rules, called convenants (what size trees you can plant, materials you can build with and even how big your house needs to be or what colour you can paint it) these rules, like house footprint or materials, will make an impact on your building process and costs later on.
  • Look at companies that build in your area and decide what way you want to build. Kit set and project manage yourself? Pre-fabrication with them project managing? Traditional build? Relocate and restore an old Villa maybe? Repurposed containers? Mud bricks in an eco house?
  • Factor things like moving costs, school fees, new uniforms for your kids, connection of the phone/power/broadband, cattery/kennel charges for the pets, letterbox, washing line; anything that will be involved in your move, add this to your budget. Then add a little more, just in case.
  • If money is really tight, don’t worry about landscaping, a garage (mine is going in next year) or even a driveway, those things can wait; even carpet can wait. Chuck down some rugs in the bedrooms, get some gravel to park on, use that money on something inside that are harder to change later; double glazing, more power points, quality fixtures etc. If you are anything like me, you will have offers of help coming from friends or family and gardening is something enjoyable, easy and can be paid for in cold beers and BBQ’s.
  • Keep everything on email when dealing with your building company if you can. Confirm things in writing, especially if you have discussed something over the phone. This has saved me on numerous occasions when communication goes awry.
  • A fixed price and completion contract will not only take off so much pressure, stress and worry, the banks also like this and it means you can plan your move and start counting down!
  • Add to your savings budget how much in overlap rent/mortgage payments you will have to make during the course of your project. This is where the contracted fixed completion date comes in, it helps with the budgeting and ensures it won’t go months over and you are in a financial hole.
  • Have a contingency budget of at least 10%. Things crop up, even if you plan really well. Like extra legal fees an extra valuation for your bank. Or extra excavation charges, surveyors for council consent. If you don’t use it, you can keep it in the pot for your rates or an extra mortgage payment to take the pressure off later on. Or a new sofa, I’m not here to judge.

So there isn’t long to go until we are in! I am visiting site again in a few weeks so will have more to report back. In the meantime, I’m like a trigger happy mad woman on Pinterest, planning my dream interior….