Owner Builder leveraging a previous 'not so great' building experience - Owner Builder Club

Owner Builder leveraging a previous ‘not so great’ building experience

Owner Builders

Meet Melbourne based Owner Builder, Mark.

Mark is in the throws of doubling the size of a 1970's single story, brick veneer beach house on a concrete slab (adding 160sqm). Plus, he renovated the front of the house adding a new roof and rewired to bring in line with current standards.

Read how Mark has drawn on his past experience of renovating his Melbourne home under the traditional model of using a builder.

At what point did you decide to do your extension as an OB?

There was no option for us. We had a builder do a $500k renovation of our home in Melbourne 10 years ago and it ended up at VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal). Most of the problems were due to very poor project management of the job and of the overall site.

I felt I could do a better job and getting a builder for this project was not even a thought.

You’re project managing your extension together with a full-time job?

I have my own business so I'm juggling the business with the build. From that perspective, it gives me some flexibility to project manage.

It’s stressful to fit everything in to maintain the timeline of the build.

The travel time to the house from work to site is around 40 mins on a good day however the front of the house is very liveable so I can live on-site while renovating – that's worked out well.

How did your experience with your other renovation help you navigate the 1st steps?

We knew our first step was to engage a Building Designer.

We weren’t interested in getting an Architect.  We went with a local designer who was familiar with the issues in the area. For example, factoring in that we’re 300m from the beach; with global warming we’re in a 1 in 50 year flood zone – the height of house was a consideration; plus the old sewerage and septic tank in the backyard.

The hardest thing was getting the Building Permit. It’s challenging in Victoria.

The structure of our finances means my wife’s name is on the property title. It wasn’t until after I did the course and submitted that I found out I wasn’t able to be the registered Owner Builder because my name wasn’t on the title. My wife had to become the registered OB even though she would have nothing to do with the build.

My wife also had to do the White Card course even though she wouldn’t be on-site. I was lucky to already have a White Card.

The process to get the building permit had taken 12 months – a very frustrating period.

GREAT TIP: Make sure you check the name on the property title!

Can you share more about your decision to use a Building Designer?

We used an Architect to do our first reno. We asked them to run a tender to get the work quoted by builders and the 4 quotes that came back were ridiculous – over the top prices. To the point that it would have made more sense to knock the house down and build. Looking back through their tender documents, we picked up that the document was quite vague which is why the high prices came back from builders.

We also found issues with the design as we went through the build. We felt the Architect should have worked more closely with us. One example, our WIR could have been bigger and had more light.

I love Architects and the work they do, however this time round we knew we had other options to get our plans done.

Did your Building Permit go through Council?

No. Because we didn’t have any planning permit requirements, the Building Permit and Inspections were done through a local surveyor.

Because we went through a local Building Designer, he had the relationship with the relevant parties to process the permit. This made it much easier for us.

How did you get your head around the cost per sqm?


My brother is in the trade so that helped. I also asked around. I understood the cost per sqm for a new build (in Victoria) and a renovation. We’re going to come in between a new build and a renovation.

Know that sometimes you might have to take a hit. With our roof plumber, I knew it was a little more expensive but he gave me references I could check out. We used a new type of colorbond roof that’s harder to work with and I knew he’d back his work.

It wasn’t a big risk to use him and I was prepared to take a hit on his cost to get it done properly.

Did you calculate material quantities from your plans or did someone do it for you?

I did it myself. When you look at plans, it’s fairly easy to work out most stuff. Things you don’t know, you can send plans off for a quote. For example, I got all wall frames and trusses made off-site, so I sent plans to a supplier.

As part of that process the supplier suggested we go for a certain type of roof truss. That appealed to me because it gave us a cathedral ceiling with a cavity as well. We were able to incorporate this back into the design with the designer.

Some materials are different like bricks. You’ve got to price out the cost to lay a single brick. You work out how many bricks you need and you’ve got your price.

How did you go about getting quotes for materials and labour?

You have to know what you're paying for – understand material costs so you get a fair idea of what the mark up is on labour.

As an example, I priced out materials for our roof so I knew these costs however our roof plumber wouldn’t split the material and labour costs. He only provided an all up price.

We’re paying our carpenter’s an hourly rate and buying the materials. That’s worked out well. Our electrician is also on an hourly rate.

If you’re on-site, you can better manage the hours that they’re doing.

We’re also keeping on top of our budget. We know where we are at; we know how much per square we should be paying; and how much it should cost us to deliver the house.

GREAT TIP: Research and know the cost of materials.

Did you find suppliers were open to negotiate with you as an Owner Builder?

Depends on what you’re looking at. We found people were quite happy to go out of their way to help with price.

With windows, I got two quotes and I was able to trade the two off against each other.

The paint quote came in at $12,000 so we decided to do it ourselves. It's much easier these days with spray.

Suppliers are happy to negotiate down you’ve just got to ask the question.

GREAT TIP: Don't be afraid to ask a supplier for their best price.

What else did you learn from your 1st renovation that you’ve applied now?

  1. Don’t always go for fancy stuff like rooves and balconies. With our first reno, we had issues with constant leaks through the front of the house because of a poorly installed and constructed balcony. This time round, we’ve stuck with functional and what we needed especially with the roof.
  2. With our first reno, we trusted the Architect and went along with what they told us when in reality, we should have critically analysed what it was we wanted.
  3. We know if you project manage yourself and your on-site, you’ve got the benefit of making changes through the build. Our designer made the drawings flexible enough to allow for changes without any issues e.g. moving a wall slightly. Only yesterday, there were 5 decisions made with tiling in the ensuite that if I weren’t there, the tiler would have gone in a different direction. It's harder to do this remotely.  There are days where decisions are less critical.

What other tips can you give to Owner Builders?

  1. Be on-site as much as you can.
  2. Listen to what people are saying and don’t take it as gospel. Analyse it yourself.
  3. Try to stay a week ahead of where your build is at so you’re prepared.
  4. 9 out of 10 people who say they’re going to turn up never do so work on the basis of most people not doing what they say. I’m lucky to have good tradespeople who turn up when they say they will but there are some trades that are notorious for not turning up.
  5. Be prepared to be worn out. Living through an extension is hard work.

Another great conversation with lots of great tips! A very big thank you to Mark for openly sharing his experience!

Until next time,

Happy researching, planning and building!

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