We are now done and dusted with the design stage of our #loverdreamerscoastalcottage

If you ask us, this is the most time-consuming part of our build and it’s now over! In another few weeks we will commence building! Yippeeee!

This is our third new build that we have taken on over the past four years. And let me tell you, the design stage does get easier each time. When we set out on our first new build we had no idea what we were in for! We had both completed cosmetic home renovations in the past, but a new build is a whole new ball game. Each time you learn something new about the process that you’ll be prepared for with the next build. We have learnt so much over the past few years designing and building homes for ourselves to live in and we want to share our tips with you.

Our goal for this project is to build a smaller home than we ever have before, featuring only spaces we need. We aren’t jumping on any tiny house movement here but what we have learnt and realised over the past few years, is although we love living in a new modern home, we don’t love the upkeep of a large home or being surrounded by too much stuff. You may have heard us say it before, but this house will not have a walk-in robe, an ensuite, a butler’s pantry, a play room or a second living room. Now, we know this is not for everyone and a lot of people get joy out of these spaces in their home, but for us, our last two builds have had all these spaces and we feel our home life would be a lot more simplified if we didn’t have them. We don’t “need” them.

What we love more than designing and building houses is time and adventures with our kids. Whether it’s a day trip to the beach or our love for travel. For us, this is our ultimate goal – time together as a family. To be able to achieve this we needed to design a home that was large enough to live comfortably but be easy to upkeep which gives us our “more time”. The other major factor is building a smaller home means a much smaller mortgage, which gives us more financial freedom to enjoy those other things in life we love to do.

We are building this smaller home on a strict budget. We will know before building commences exactly how much our build is going to cost us. We are big believers that the time to save the most amount of money when building a new house is in the design stage. This is the time that you can easily make changes to the plan and really focus on how you want to live in your home.

We’d like to share our tips with you on how we have gone through our design stage with this build. This process saves us money from the beginning, cements our budget and keeps our build as stress free as possible.

Our first step of the design stage is writing a “wish list” of what we’d really like in our home. This is everything from exterior to interior, how the house flows, the feeling you’d like to create in your home and even functionality features such as where you want storage etc. If you don’t already have a vision in mind of how you want the house to look or what features you’d like in your home, turn to magazines, Pinterest, Instagram etc for inspiration. Start compiling images that you like, and you will soon start to see your style and what types of homes you are drawn too. This will help you express your ideas to your draftsman or architect and builder.

After we have mastered what our wish list is, what features we really want in our home and how we want our home to flow and feel, we then hand draw ourselves a sketch of how we would like the floor plan to look.

From our sketch we can then start talking to builders and get an idea based on the sqm size of the home, how much the house will cost to build. When builders give you an estimate sqm rate it’s important to find out what is and isn’t included and what level of finishes that estimate will cover. A lot of builders will exclude kitchen costs, flooring costs, decks, driveways etc. Or they will give you a PC sum “Provisional Costs”, which rarely covers the cost of the kitchen for example, leaving you with unknown additional costs. We always talk to 3-4 builders in this stage. Ask around with people you know for builder recommendations. People will always tell you if they have had a bad experience with their builder. In this stage it is also important to find out from the builder if you’re restricted to certain brands or preferred suppliers when you’re making product selections or if you’re free to choose whatever you like. What sqm budgets do they work off for flooring, tiles etc? This will soon tell you if their estimate budget is going to fit in with what you have in mind. It’s so important to do your homework in this stage as there can be so many hidden or unknown costs with new builds. Finding a builder that will give you a fixed priced contract without PC sums can save a lot of money and headaches. We are building on a strict budget, so we only choose a builder that works with a fixed price contract without any PC sums. This avoids any overrun costs during the build and we are in control of exactly how much our build is going to cost.

Choosing a draftsman / architect and a builder that have worked together in the past, will also save you a lot of time, money and stress. During the design stage be sure to tell them both your budget you’re working towards from the first design meeting. You would already have spoken to a few builders prior to meeting with your draftsman, so you will have an idea of what the house may cost to build from what the builders told you in their estimate costs. It is in the design stage that costs can add up quickly as draftsman / architects will try and suggest many things to make your house look great. It is your builder that will keep those choices realistic as he will guide you (and the draftsman / architect) on design choices to stick within your budget. It wouldn’t be recommended having a draftsman / architect design the house of your dreams without coordinating with your builder, to then have your builder tell you after the plans are drawn that the design doesn’t fit within your budget. It would then be back to the drawing board and more money spent in design fees.

It is possible to achieve a personalised architecturally designed house within a similar budget to a mass group build company. It’s just a matter of finding the right builder and ensuring he has a good relationship with the draftsman or architect that’s designing your home. It may take a bit of time to find the right builder, but the end result will be worth it. This gives you a lot more freedom in the design of your home to achieve a home that is going to suit “your” needs without paying a fee every time you want to alter a mass-produced group floor plan design.

Here are some of the ways we cut back costs in the design stage of this build –

Originally, we had the idea of high internal ceilings, with a higher pitched exterior roof and a lower roof over the veranda at the front of the house to achieve that Victorian style cottage. We soon changed our minds after talking to our builder in conjunction with the draftsman as that would have added tens of thousands of dollars to our overall build cost. The extra roof pitch and the higher internal ceilings quickly adds up over the entire cost of build. It means more roof, more cladding, more framing, more insulation, more painting… the list goes on. We decided in the end to lower the roof pitch and have a single gable roof – front to back. We have maintained some character in the design and saved tens of thousands of dollars just in that one decision.

We would have loved a raked ceiling in our kitchen, dining, lounge area but we always knew this was beyond our budget. If we did opt for a raked ceiling with our floor plan design, we would have had to have had load bearing steel beams, which quickly add to your costs. The labour alone for a raked ceiling quickly adds up. Internal scaffolding would have been required, more materials due to the high pitch and more labour overall. We compromised on our idea of a feature raked ceiling and chose to go with a scissor truss which is only fractionally more expensive than a standard girder truss. A scissor truss allows you to have a smaller pitch ceiling than a raked ceiling without all the extra costs associated with a raked ceiling. Is it as stunning? No! But again, it’s potentially tens of thousand dollars cheaper. This is our compromise to still have a feature ceiling on a minimal budget.

We would have loved to have louvre windows throughout the whole house. However, again this adds thousands to the cost of your build. We compromised here and agreed to have louvre windows in the living areas and standard sliding windows in the rest of the house.

Unused floor space is a massive wasted cost in a new build. We had our hand drawn plans drawn up professionally by a local draftsman. Immediately we cut down the room sizes and dissected the plans to cut out space not needed. This alone is probably the best cost saving exercise anyone building a new house can do. For this build we removed about 20sqm of unnecessary space from our initial floor plan. Depending on your per sqm budget, that can add up to between $30,000 to $50,000 + of savings alone.

If you have an eye for design and clearly know the style of house you’re after, choosing a Draftsman over an Architect can save you thousands of dollars.

All the above decisions accumulate to a lot of money saved on the total build cost before even considering the interior fit out products. By saving this much money on the structural design of your home, it allows you to have more freedom for splurging on a few luxury items on the interior. For us, some of our splurges are Caesarstone bench tops, upgraded floor coverings, installing a good heating and cooling system. These interior splurge costs are much smaller costs in the grand scheme of how much money you can save by getting the structural design of your house right from the beginning. Making structural changes after the build has started is not only hard to do but can cost a lot of money.

For this build we have picked every single item for our build prior to building commencing. Why? Because we always work off a fixed price contract with our builders. No PC sums = no surprise costs along the way. When our build starts, we know exactly how much it’ll cost and there are no hidden surprises and no extra financial risk. While the plans are being drawn up by the draftsman and while plans are in council, we pick every single finer detail for our build. We start a spreadsheet and list every single item we have chosen for the house and give this to our builder. We pick tiles, flooring, paint colours, cabinetry, interior / exterior cladding, door handles, hinges, door stops, lights, fans, taps, baths, toilets – you name it, every item that goes into the house has been picked before the build starts. We draw up the electrical plan ourselves in fine detail, so this can be costed accurately. Every last detail is picked before the final fixed price is negotiated and before building starts. The builders love this as they know exactly what you’re after. It also allows the build to progress quicker and run smoothly. Your builder can pre order products in advance, so they’re ready when he and the other trades need them, and you won’t be caught with items out of stock when you leave the decision till the last minute. Leaving these decisions to the last minute is a stressful situation for all and always delays the building time and adds extra costs. It is a lot of work in the design and planning stage to pick everything out, but it will save you a lot of money and will ensure your build runs smoothly and faster. The builder then has every single choice to quote accurately and as long as you don’t change your mind you will come in exactly on budget as per your fixed price contract. If you don’t have an eye for design, or aren’t confident in making these choices, engaging a professional at this stage can be money well spent. We always try to not get too emotionally attached to any of our decisions when selecting products for our house. Our end goal is to build a house within our agreed set budget. If you get too emotional during this process you will start saying yes to too many choices and your budget will blow out fast. This is why we suggest you refer back to your wish list often and take a reality check on what you really want from your home and what budget you have to play with. If your builder gives you an open reign to choose products from many different suppliers, be sure to shop around and get quotes from a few places. Each of them will want your business and will price match products another supplier can offer. This too will save you money.

All of this takes a lot of organisation and it can be hard work in the beginning stage before the build even starts, but you will definitely reap the rewards financially and your build will be a lot smoother! Be as organised as possible but don’t sweat the small stuff! Enjoy the journey of the building process. It can be an emotional rollercoaster. Accepting from the beginning that there will always be something that will go differently from the original plans and that some degree of change will need to take place along the journey, will help make the process be less stressful.

We’ll be back here throughout the process to take you through each room and space in our home to give you more information on the finer details and how we saved money to achieve the look we are after.

A beautiful home doesn’t need to be extremely expensive to build. There are so many ways to save money throughout the process allowing you to build a really nice home within a reasonable budget.

Stay tuned… the build will start in a few weeks!!

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