Lessons from building our forever home

You should build a house. I can personally recommend the experience. Wow, it is a journey. An unpredictable roller coaster full of lessons both positive and negative. It is an adventure, a stress, a passion, a test, an accomplishment and eventually your own customised and intimately designed part of Australia.

Before we get into my perspective my wife wanted you to benefit from her pain. When I asked which lessons she learned she quickly replied, “interior design is not like The Block. It is stressful and will give you anxiety when it is your money, you will need coffee!”

She also added that taking photos throughout the process has been fantastic to look back over (so I have included ours in this post) and to be aware that the build will take longer than first estimated.

“…interior design is not like The Block. It is stressful and will give you anxiety when it is your money, you will need coffee!”

Mrs DD

As for me, my main lessons, the things I learned, my experience and insights are outlined below.

Get a kick ass block
We gained more wealth from our decision to buy our block of land than we could possibly have imagined. Looking back it was the single greatest financial decision of our lives. Not unlike shares, auto parts, cattle, any profitable venture – you make your money when you buy. Do not underestimate the positive benefits of a lovely parcel of land. At the time I thought we did well, now I know we bought extremely well. Do your research, know your zoning and planning layers. And just like wake boarding, the flatter the better.

Do not over capitalise
It can be extremely tempting to over-extend your project, in fact the process is designed to make the upsell a little too easy. The bank has said you can borrow a certain amount, or maybe you are using a broker like we did. You look at the price tag of the block, marry it up with the cost of the house (as shown on the shiny brochure) and figure you can afford it and nothing will go awry. However, despite the long-overdue Royal Commission which (among other things) took a thorough and dirty look into the lending practices of Australian banks and other financial institutions, you could still get caught out. At the time of writing this post Australia’s interest rates are at an all-time low, that is insane. To reiterate, borrowing money to build a house has never been cheaper, ever! So prepare yourself for the inevitable climb in interest rates, do you sums and avoid failing before you have even begun. Managing your finances effectively is the only way to avoid the horrific outcome of having spent more on the house than it is worth on the day you move in. Yet, still not as bad as not having the money to complete the construction at all.

Managing your finances effectively is the only way to avoid the horrific outcome of having spent more on the house than it is worth on the day you move in…

Ask around for a GREAT consultant
I had no idea how beneficial a like-minded and understanding professional consultant would be. Our new house project was a custom-build, it was a corner block with odd shaped boundaries and annoying setbacks that most-likely turned off other buyers. It was essentially the AU Falcon of real estate, OK not that bad. Our building consultant worked with us, often after business hours, tweaking the smallest of layout details. He provided his opinion when we asked, helped us understand some of the more complex concepts, but above all was genuinely passionate about his work, which we loved. Being comfortable communicating the positives and negatives will create a better result, so spend the time to find an individual that you feel you would be very happy to partner with, for many months. Asking your friends about their experiences would be well worth while, which leads me to my next point.

Speak to friends who have built before
We gained a truckload of knowledge from sitting with friends of ours in their brand new homes just asking questions. Take over a bottle of wine, make them feel important (and comfortable) and ask away. Your mind will start racing with questions from the moment you pull up out the front of their house, so don’t be shy. There are so many things to consider and their experience will be invaluable, if you can spend the time to learn from their journey.

Our new house project was a custom-build, it was a corner block with odd shaped boundaries and annoying setbacks that most-likely turned off other buyers. It was essentially the AU Falcon of real estate…

If you are unsure, be sure to ask
As above with your friends, go out there and get the information you deserve. You should know how much it costs to upgrade the roof insulation for a five-star energy rating. You should know if you are buying a bush fire zoned property. You should know what is involved with site costs and service connections. You should know the ceiling heights, brick options and power point locations. Ask everyone everything. The people you will encounter during your building process will be experienced professionals who deal with these sorts of concepts all day as their career. You are building just one house, for now. Pick their brains, most of the time they will love explaining it for you, truly they will.

You need to triple check everything
This sucks, it is very obvious and super boring. I hated even including this tip in this list, but it is imperative. I made two mistakes with our house design that still bug me to this day, because I did not triple check closely enough. Firstly, I never added a small window to our dark walk-in-robe. And secondly, we accidentally left the colour of the cabinetry in the kids’ bathroom the same as our en-suite. Nobody else would ever notice or care about these two oversights, but I sure do. Perhaps I am looking at things the wrong way around, it was because I triple checked everything that we ONLY had two mishaps, phew.

I made two mistakes with our house design that still bug me to this day…

Visualise
My wife struggles to see things that aren’t there, which makes sense. I enjoy imagining what might be, but the visualisation process just frustrates her. So during the build I would find myself spray painting floor plan details on grass, using ladders to show ceiling heights, miming out site works, roughly sketching elevation concepts and driving her around housing estates to see brick and roof tile combinations. Develop strategies that help you to see what is to be built, it will make you more comfortable with your decisions. And there are a LOT of decisions.

Your friends don’t care about the details
You might be thinking that this seems quirky or even harsh, but it is true. You might have spent six straight hours on the weekend selecting your colours (which we actually did) but your mates at the pub that night don’t give two shits which ceiling white you went for. Just invite everyone over for a beer once the place is built, by which time you will have forgotten which ceiling white you went for.

…your mates at the pub that night don’t give two shits which ceiling white you went for…

Inclusions are better than exclusions
It is obvious, right? Inclusions are great. Exclusions are bloody expensive. Off the top of my head, some six years later, here are some of the exclusions we found the money for at the time of building…

  • Beveled skirting boards, shower tiles to the roof, shower recess area, double shower output (I love our shower), gas provisions for fire place, white grout, beveled doors, facade upgrade, pot drawers, underlay upgrade, internal wall insulation, extra entrance highlight window and eaves (my favourite of them all).

These are just the additions we included during the build that I can remember, as I take another deep breath here is a look at some of things we needed to pay for after we moved in…

  • Concrete driveway, concrete paths, letterbox, clothesline, wheelie bins, TV antenna, fly wire screens, blinds, curtains, internal sealant, security doors, ceiling fans, air conditioning, pendant lights, downlights, fences and all the bloody landscaping.

Because in the end, after all of your hard work, emotion, effort and finances you will most likely end up with a sparkling new home perched on a dirty mound of mess. Outside will need a bobcat load of work…

  • Retaining walls, grass seed, sprinklers, top soil, potting mix, garden soil, mulch, gravel, plants, trees, vegies and my gorgeous shed.

These eventual add-ons did not all happen at once, they took place over the course of many years. Because we saved while living in the house we knew the priorities and we weren’t paying interest on the purchases.

Because in the end, after all of your hard work, emotion, effort and finances you will most likely end up with a sparkling new home perched on a dirty mound of mess…

Now, the inclusions, the sweet stuff. All builders vary, and different deals pop up at various times, but again from memory, here are some of ours…

  • Higher ceilings, fancy door handles, choice of roof tile styles and colours, fancy bricks, alfresco extension, upgraded tapware, extra power points, 900mm oven extension, fancy toilets with soft close lids (highly recommended), walk-in-robe shelving, laundry bench top, an extra garden tap, outdoor power point and a free chopping board upon moving in.

Above all else, and with everything outlined above, the number one lesson learned as an individual, as a couple and as a family was simple. Never say never. We moved out of our “forever home” after five years. We have had some lovely tenants enjoying it recently. We all drove past it last month and it was emotional, I was surprised that my main feeling was pride.

We are selling it this Summer.


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. That was some twist at the end! Is there a part two? I have so many questions!!!

    Like

    1. Currently on the market, fingers are crossed, eeeeek.

      Like

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