In a prior blog, “Building from a Distance”, we made reference to the importance of planning all aspects of your build. Having now lived through that phase for a few more months, the saying “Hindsight is an Exact Science” has once again proved to be so true. Ideas are one thing, the end result is another, but all that goes on in between is where the wheels often fall off when building your dream home.
What has become very apparent in the process is to “live” the build each and every day from the moment the excavation begins. Some of the most obvious errors can get missed if you are not keeping an eye on the vision you have. One needs to be able to visualise the next step in the process in order to avoid the pitfalls of bad judgement, not enough involvement and other people making decisions for you without you having the absolute clarity of what may be the issue. Whilst you may spend many a sleepless night during the build process imagining what everything will look like, it will not be in vain when the finished product is exactly what you envisaged.
Let’s start with the plans for your home. We have witnessed a number of disasters where the property owner wants to cut corners to such an extent that they choose the wrong architectural professional or draftsman to design their house. If the design is wrong for the lay of the land and the available views, you will regret it from long before you move into the finished product and beyond. Rather apportion more of your budget to getting the right design that takes all elements of the land and your lifestyle into consideration. Also consider what impact the positioning of your neighbour’s property will have on your privacy or, if you are building in a new development, what affect your neighbours build may have on your views, property access and garden layout. Don’t just rely on pictures of prior work done by the architect. Insist on seeing the end results in person and ideally discuss the experience with prior clients. And never forget to do your own research independently to establish the credibility of your short-listed architects.
On the assumption that you have a reasonable and realistic budget to build and have decided on the land, your choice of the right builder becomes absolutely key. You are entrusting your dream (and your budget) into the hands of someone you don’t know and if the “click” between owner and builder is not there from the outset, step two of your planning could already be your biggest mistake. Rather take the time to evaluate as many builders as you deem necessary (in our case it was 7) until you make that connection with the one who you feel can deliver on your expectations in all aspects. You will be taking a lengthy journey down this road and it has to be a path of mutual understanding and respect, with the comfortable feeling that you can engage, debate, argue, disagree and challenge whenever you feel it is necessary without it becoming a negative experience. And like for the selection of the architect, make sure you go through the same due diligence with your preferred builder in checking out their track record, examples of the finished product and the clients satisfaction levels with the builder. In doing so, remember one very important fact – your personal standards and expectations may be very different to other people so even though someone says “it was a great experience and we are happy with the builder”, will the finished product meet your standard of finishes and aesthetic perfection. It’s all about personal likes and dislikes and many people will accept an “OK” end result when in reality it could’ve been a lot better.
If you do choose to go the owner/builder route, then this becomes even more challenging because you then have multiple relationships to manage, not just with a builder. Be sure you have the time, inclination and above all the ability and sanity to juggle all of those. Never underestimate the amount of time and frustration you will deal with if you are doing your build yourself, it could not only kill your bank balance but your personal relationships too, including those with the household pets.
So you now have your plans drawn up (and approved) and you have a builder. Before going any further, it is recommended that you “visualise” your plan intensely (or even better get 3D architectural animation of the house). Many people look at a plan but do not “see” some of the key elements that should be understood at the outset e.g. where are the light switches going to be located, where and how many plug-points are there, what lighting do you require inside and outside, how big will your windows be and the list goes on and on. If, for example, you take the architects recommendation without actually understanding the dimensions of windows, you could be disappointed when the job is done. Take that tape measure, check those dimensions against existing windows and decide if they meet your requirements because once those window frames are in, they’re in, unless your budget (and sense of humour) allows for lots of re-work which is a total waste of time, money and numerous brands of tranquiliser.
Many people underestimate their own ability to understand everything involved in the building process and choose to contract the architect to manage the entire build process on their behalf, or to keep the builder “honest” so to speak. Whilst this can work well for those who have a growing budget, the majority of people cannot afford the expense of having the architect manage this process, which can be 3 to 4 times the cost of the creation of the plans themselves. It makes a massive difference to your architectural fees if you handle this yourself or use a 3rd party to act as your eyes and ears. We considered this approach in the beginning but very quickly saw a clue that this could be a huge waste of money – the architects “generally” do not appear to actually want to do this as their prime choice is to be creative and to design, not project manage. Whilst some firms may disagree, you can bet it’s more because of the potential revenue stream than the actual desire to play project managers. A top class architect wants to create and design and any deviation from that focus will cost you dearly when you could have had the joy of the experience for yourself, and not pay someone to have the thrill on your behalf.
You are now ready to break ground and to see the transformation of a piece of land from nothing into an emerging representation of yourself, your likes and ideas. Don’t short change yourself by missing out on this creation.
In our next blog, we will cover the finer details of what you need to do once the structure makes its way into something recognisable.