We promised this list a long time ago, but better late than never right..?
To help perspective home builders/renovators, here is a list of our tips and tricks:
- Go over your design and inclusions list with a fine-toothed comb BEFORE you sign the contract with the builder. It can be a battle afterwards and, because they are no longer keen for your business, more expensive. Ask them upfront how flexible they are with changes at various stages of the process. Consider hiring a design firm (architect or draftsman) to get your plans down-pat first. They're often easier/quicker to deal with than builders and many spec-home builders offer a custom service these days and will happily quote off your own plans. It also helps you to more quickly and easily compare builders. If going for a house and land package, ask if they allow changes (if you want them).
- On the issue of the tender, Mick has reminded me of its importance so I have given it several points. Make sure you go into the most detail you can. We're talking right down to the type of paint specified. "Low Sheen Acrylic" (which is standard in most contracts) is unbelievably vague - just see our post on it here. Make sure you pick a specific type i.e. "Dulux Wash and Wear" and put it in. Check the builder's standard range on everything. It might be great, it might not be. Better to get this changed before you sign the contract, not just at your "selections appointment." Keep in mind that not all builder's quotes are created equal. Some may seem really expensive and some seem really cheap. Check what they include in their price and try as best you can to compare apples with apples by getting them to up/down-grade finishes as you like and re-quote. And consider having a lawyer review the contract, especially if there are any tricky points in your build/land/estate.
- Do not make the mistake of thinking that it's too early to start planning things like where your laundry sink should go and what type it is. Little things like that effect plumbing placement and will annoy you forever if you can't change it once the slab is poured. If you're renovating, live in a space for a while first and think about how you use it and what you do and don't like. In fact, do this for every place you've lived in and compile a list of wants in order of priority. This will help you pick a plan. Don't allow display homes to bamboozle you. They are rarely setup for REAL family living. They look awful shiny, but they offer an ideal rather than what is necessarily practical.
- If you can, map out each room and see the proportions. Try to map out key furniture pieces too so you won't be shocked when the walls go up and your favourite lounge doesn't fit.
- It's a bit tough, but try to line up (height as well) where windows will be placed so you can plan around the view (or lack-there-of). Move windows if the placement is less than ideal or consider frosting them or changing their size if necessary. Highlight windows (long, skinny windows often placed at the top of a wall) allow more light in and often help negate any privacy issues.
- Check the plumbing plan and make sure that it looks right before the concrete is poured for the slab (including external taps/drains). Wish we had gone with our gut on that one and brought it to our builder's attention. It is never a good thing to have to rebate a new slab (especially near an edge) after it is poured. Do not settle for waste stacks going through your study (that was another epic battle we had).
- Approach the project from the perspective of it being A) your forever home - unless you know it's not, it will make it cheaper if you can avoid it, but not as personal, B) up for sale the day you get keys. Try to limit the over-capitalisation and over-personalisation so that if you need to sell it not long after you move in, it's still possible. You just never know what life has in-store for you. Best to be prepared for anything as best you can.
- Keep your eye on the builders every step of the way. They are only human and use sub-contractors who mostly don't care about your house, well certainly not to the degree you do! Ask your builder before you sign how much involvement they let you have during the build phase. Ask how many site visits they allow and whether or not getting your white card (quick cheap course) will allow you more visits (note: white card still means you need to be inducted to the site and visit under an insured trade such as the builder). Also consider hiring a building inspector to review the build before each progress payment.
- Try and make sure the a/c ducting is planned before the timber frame is made (especially important for two-story homes and/or homes with raked ceilings). We had to compromise on where our ducts were placed and it could limit the efficiency (and therefore costs more to run) of our A/C. Also make sure you specify which outlets you want on which zones and that just because your A/C can do so many, doesn't mean it can in your place. Depends on the room sizes/location, roof size and A/C unit power etc. Ensure you plan outlet, control and sensor locations. Also make sure the unit included in the tender is actually powerful enough for the size of your home. Under-powered units are often quoted to save money, but spending more upfront on a bigger unit can cost less in the long-run as it won't struggle or need to run as much.
- If you're after downlights, they are VERY expensive through the builder, so where there is roof above a room just go with a single batten point in the room and have your own sparky install downlights after the build (you can save even more money by supplying the lights yourself). Only have the builder install downlights where there will be a floor or raked ceiling above the room you want them in as it's near impossible to install them after the build (same as for ducted air-conditioning or any ducting/cabling)
- Put in the best insulation you can afford and insulate EVERYWHERE. Standard contracts rarely insulate everywhere or offer best quality. It will save you so much on heating/cooling and make your house much more comfortable. Insulate the garage and between the floor joists of two-story homes. Also consider installing whirly-birds; they're cheap and make a big difference. And if you can afford it, double-glaze.
- Builder's standard NEVER allows for enough power outlets. At the very least always upgrade any single points to doubles and consider adding as many extra points as you can afford. If you cannot afford as many as you'd like, just remember that's it's relatively easy for a sparky to piggy-back a second outlet from another on the same wall, so plan placement with that in-mind e.g. you can usually easily install a power point on the other side of a wall with a point on it. Also carefully consider placement and number of external points (and don't forget the eaves if you're a Christmas lights fan!).
- For ease of access, consider having the power sub-board installed inside, such as in the garage.
- Data cabling including Foxtel, TV aerials: consider every room and where you want anything in the future, even if you don't have the money to connect it up yet. It will save you much headache later when you already have the cabling in the wall/roof especially in inaccessible areas such as bottom level of a two-story house.
- Take photos of EVERY wall at framing stage for you to refer to later. It is very helpful to know where cabling/ducting/pipes/studs run after gyprock is up.
- Allow a tap-point for your fridge. Fridges that provide filtered water and/or ice need a tap. Even if you're current fridge doesn't need it, it's simpler to install the plumbing now in case you upgrade your fridge later, and it's handy for re-sale.
- Bathroom lighting is often an afterthought. Give it some good consideration including possibly a waterproof downlight in the shower. Bathrooms can have some odd angles/corners these days with space being tight in many new builds, and dark corners are not ideal in a place you get gussied up!
- Specify placement of EVERYTHING before-hand such as the alarm, A/C control panels, doorbells etc. It's surprising (and very frustrating) how illogically trades will place these things sometimes!
- If space allows, consider widening your kitchen benches. You generally pay for benchtops by the meter length, not width, so it usually doesn't cost extra to slightly widen your counters. We wanted a Caesarstone splashback but it's thicker than glass or tile so we simply widened the benchtop and pulled the cabinets out from the wall a little. This way we didn't lose any bench space. And while you're at it, widen your breakfast bar if you can. Standard size is often impractical for actually sitting at the counter.
- When funds won't stretch the full distance, prioritise what's important to your family and what cannot easily/cheaply be done after the build. Installing flashy taps/sinks/doors can easily be changed after hand-over, but installing a steel beam to open a space up can't. I know the structural stuff isn't as pretty as the fit-out, but quality of the building itself should come first.
We will be sure to add to this if/when we think of any more points.
Anyone out there about to start or currently building, I wish you lots of luck! Remember, when it all seems to be taking too much time and effort, I promise that you will forget the heartache (assuming it's a quality build) once you're in <3