Is the grass greener on the other side? - Owner Builder Club

Is the grass greener on the other side?

Registered builder vs owner builder

Meet Kirrily. Kirrily openly shares her experience of building a new home on the beautiful Sunshine Coast through the traditional build scenario.

Our intention with this Q&A is to give you a perspective from someone who has been through the traditional process.

And PS, Kirrily ended up selling their beautiful home herself significantly above bank value and she's not even a real estate agent! Goes to show what's possible 🙂


Let’s start with getting some background into your build…

We (husband Richard and 2 children) built a four-bedroom home near the beach through the traditional model of engaging a building to run the entire project.

We wanted an interesting design rather than a stock standard house. Other considerations for us were the natural environment, making the best use of the land and product choices.

We’ve done a lot of renovating over the years but never a new build. For years I've kept a book of things I like and I went to that book as a starting point.

We also looked at a lot of display homes and that helped us come up with things we didn’t want.

We found a lot of display homes slapped together with things like skirting boards not joining properly. We’re quite fussy so we were really conscious of getting a builder who finished things off well.

Overall, we were happy with the quality of our build.

So readers, here are a few of their learning’s along the way:

Learning 1 – get the plans right

We started out by getting our plans architecturally drawn. Although we clearly articulated our build budget, when it came to getting quotes from builders the cost of the build turned out to be double our budget.

It was an unpleasant experience because we spent $10,000 on plans that we couldn’t use. We wanted to get it right so we knew we had to start again with a different designer.

Not only was it a costly exercise but it ended up being a very long process.

Learning 2 – take time to understand the contract

Our next challenge was the contract process with the builder. We felt very rushed as the builder wanted the contract signed on the spot (on a Sunday afternoon), he was not open to us taking the contract away to review.

Because we were rushed, there were things that we originally requested e.g. no cornices throughout main living area that ended up not being included in the contract. That meant they needed to be treated as variations.

With a contract, you need to know what you’re looking for. For example, if you’ve stipulated you don’t want cornices, you need to make sure this is included.

It had taken so long to get to the contract stage we didn't want to delay any further yet in hindsight, we should have taken our time.

Learning 3 – be crystal clear with finances

The next challenge we faced was with finance. Although the bank initially ok’d the money, the actual bank valuation came in lower and that meant we couldn’t get the money we needed to proceed.

We knew this early on so we were able to talk it through with our builder to find a way around it. The solution was to cut back on finishes to bring costs down and treat some parts of the process as variations.

But despite the payment process being agreed early on, it ended up being a real challenge during the build. It got so bad that the bank got involved and it almost went to the tribunal.

Learning 4 – time is money

The build was done in 8 months but we felt it could have been done in half the time. There were times when parts of the build were completed but then the site sat for days on end without any work being done.

The builder sub-contracted out so he didn’t have to pay anyone until work was done – there was no desire for him to get the work done and he had 30 jobs on the go at the one time.

We felt the process was managed very poorly as there was no continuity with trades. This made it an incredibly frustrating experience that cost us money as we were paying rent during the build period.

I think if you’re managing the process yourself, you have to commit to the time that it takes but it means you’re able to manage the trades more efficiently.

There’s definitely more control when you’re in control of the whole process.

Learning 5 – understand prices

For us, a big part of the learning was the importance of understanding prices of fixtures and fittings – getting out into shops and looking at different products and their prices.

Although we cut costs with some fixtures and fittings, we found a few pieces that resulted in a more high-end look and feel. For example, the sinks in the bathroom and lighting.

Five fantastic learnings, now let’s read Kirrily’s parting words of wisdom to those considering both options i.e. go with a builder or do it as an OB…

  1. Either way, you must do your homework.
  2. It comes down to the individual. If you’re not the type of person who likes to keep an eye on everything it’s probably better not to be an Owner Builder.
  3. You need to be an organised person. Have structure and stick with it.
  4. Either way, there’s not always a perfect scenario.
  5. Just because you don’t know how to hold a hammer, doesn’t mean you can’t be an OB and make it work. Your strength might be with project management.
  6. You need time and flexibility especially if you’re working full time.

We L.O.V.E. number 5 which is why we put it in bold italics! Just because you don’t know how to hold a hammer doesn’t mean you can’t be an Owner Builder!

So is the grass always greener on the other side? Does going with a builder always = a better experience?

A big thank-you to Kirrily for being so open with sharing her experience and giving us some great food for thought 🙂

Until next time,

Happy researching, planning and building!

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