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Seven things I wish I knew before I started my 'Grand Design'

Before and After Building your Dream Home

It’s been ten years since my wife and I decided to design and build our own architectural home in Auckland, New Zealand.

Even though I started my career as an engineer and project manager at Fletcher Construction, there were still many lessons about home building that I had to learn the “hard way” as we planned, designed, and built our dream family home near Howick Village.

The experience was ultimately a catalyst for my return to the building industry, and I am proud to now be an owner-manager at Faulkner Construction, a company that has been building amazing architectural homes across greater Auckland since 1981.

My business partnership with company founder Ross Faulkner (who is a Carpenter and Licensed Building Practitioner) allows me to focus on guiding our clients through their own building journeys, and using my business and project management experience to make the process as smooth as possible.

I know firsthand that building a new home is one of the most exciting, and potentially stressful, projects you will ever take on. So in the spirit of sharing my experience before you need it - here are the seven things I wish I knew before I started my own home-building journey:

1. Decide how much you want to spend - and really commit to that number

Oscar Wilde said “I can resist everything except temptation”. The building process will send a thousand temptations your way, and you will spend more than you really want to unless you are truly committed to your budget.

One of the most common temptations is to build a home that is bigger than you need. People always ask builders about cost per square metre, as if that’s the most important factor in the building cost equation, but seem to be less eager to discuss the actual size of their home.

After moving my family-of-five out of a 350m2 five-bedroom home into the existing 100m2 two-bedroom home on our building site - and living in it for two years - we realised we could make do with less. So one of the main themes we took into our design phase was to build a home that was “no more and no less than we would use well”.

2. Make sure your architect is also committed to your budget

Your architect will have more influence on the home you want to build than anyone else, so make darn sure they’re committed to designing a home that you're willing to pay for.

A good question to ask your architect is, “do you think this is realistic for my budget?” Don’t be afraid to continually ask this question throughout the design process - and take onboard their feedback and advice.

3. Choose your preferred builder as soon as possible

Many people make the mistake of designing their dream home, applying for building consent, and then running a competitive tender to choose their builder. Then they’re surprised when ALL the tender responses are way over their budget, and they have to decide whether to go ahead and spend more than they wanted, or go back to the drawing board.

Choosing a reputable builder - preferably one with an in-house Quantity Surveyor - and including them early in the design process will help you make sure you’re designing a home that fits your budget.

Think of you, your architect and your builder as your core project team. Open communication and transparency between the three parties throughout the building journey will be key to your success.

4. Don't forget to allow for risk

Building an architecturally-designed home is an inherently risky undertaking, because a home like yours has never been built before - which is all part of the fun, right?!

If you're using a home loan to help fund your build, the bank will add a "contingency" to your budget to cover their lending risk and ensure you will have enough funds to complete your home.

If you ask your builder for a fixed-price quote you are really asking them to “own” your budget risk, but they will also add contingencies to their quote to cover this risk and you may never know how much it actually cost them to build your home.

The alternative is to own the risk yourself and engage your builder on an open-book, cost-reimbursement contract. Just don't forget to add your own contingencies if you take this approach.

The next two suggestions will help you to manage that risk, and hopefully keep some of that contingency up your sleeve.

5. Make your builder give you a detailed budget and programme before you start construction

This may sound like a trivial expectation for anyone who works in the white-collar world - but it may not be trivial for your builder if they're more comfortable behind a hammer or skill-saw than they are behind a computer. But as the management guru Peter Drucker said:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.

If your builder is really onto it they will structure your budget so that it aligns with the sequence of work on your programme, allowing you to compare your budget with the actual cost of work completed at critical milestones of your project. That will be very handy when you get to the next tip.

6. Get regular progress updates

Your builder should hold themselves accountable to the budget and programme mentioned above, but don’t be afraid to ask for regular progress updates if they’re not forthcoming. It’s easier to deal with performance issues early, so you have more time to course-correct before they reach crisis point. This is especially crucial if you own the risk, where lots of little extras can add up to a major programme and budget blowouts by the end of a project.

Regular progress updates when your Building

Image credit: Jim Matroni @Conversant

7. Remember to enjoy the ride!

Building or renovating your own home will be one of the most challenging, stressful, and ultimately rewarding things you ever do. When things do get overwhelming, try to remember you’re dealing with “first-world problems” and reconnect with all of the great reasons you decided to build in the first place. Keep your eyes on the prize, and when push comes to shove, don’t be afraid to review the 6 suggestions above to get things back on track!

Faulkner Construction is one of the most decorated registered Maser Builders in New Zealand


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