Is it possible to build a custom design at a project home price? It is, and this is how.
So, in my last update, Clare and Darren were surfing the display villages, narrowing down their choices, finding floor plans they liked, and getting advice from me about what works, doesn’t work, and suits their site to maximise its opportunities and potential … all in the endeavour of creating their well-designed home.
I found another alternative for them though, that we’ve thrown into the mix. And they’re excited.
A volume builder with a twist
Through my networks, I found out about a builder, Landmark Building and Developments, Qld. A colleague and friend who is a building designer, Aaron Wailes (AWBD) provides building design and documentation services for them and suggested we take a look. They are a volume builder also, but with a twist – they build custom (one-off) designs with a ‘spec-home overlay’.
What does this mean in non-jargon language?
They will design a home for you, or you can bring them your own design, and then they build it … to a similar standard as the big project-home builders out there, at a similar price (based on your design and what you want in it).
An independent builder – for the same price?
So, most project home builders out there have a base-build price of $850-950/m2. This isn’t really for a house you can live in from day one though – that’s the advertised price you see, and then there are the ‘upgrade’ options, most of which are actually about making it liveable. They can take the price per m2 to around $1200.
Landmark – and there’s a few others, although I don’t have personal experience of them or any endorsements available – will do your design for a similar rate.
Landmark can also manage the documentation, engineer’s input and building approvals as part of their scope of works.
Clare and Darren planned a visit to of Landmark’s recently completed homes. I always recommend you do this with a builder you are thinking of working with. Clare spoke about their aim being “to see if the build quality of the home reflects our anticipated finish in the house we want to build. Based on the outcomes of that visit and discussion with the builder, we will determine whether we will continue to progress a build with a project home builder, or alternatively work with UA to design our home and then build with an independent builder.”
Clare speaks of what she was excited about ….
“The prospect that we could design our own home at a price that fits our budget. The opportunities and outcomes seem endless with this option over manipulating the locations of internal walls and doors etc to get a house that functions to our family’s requirements.”
Always visit a finished house – and look with an eagle eye.
And BEWARE the ‘display’.
I sent Clare and Darren armed with some specific things to look at on their visit. There are lots of things that impact cost when building a home, but when you’re looking at this area of residential construction, there are a few things that that are a good check to see ‘what’s in the price’ and how that compares to other builders.
- Ceiling heights – ideally you want 2700mm on ground floor, with 2400mm glazing height, and then 2400mm on upper floor with 2100mm glazing height. Any improvements on this are great. If it’s a one-storey home, definitely have 2700mm high ceilings. It makes such a massive difference to the openness and spaciousness of the home. Don’t do 2700mm high ceilings and 2100mm glazing height though …. Just doesn’t look or feel great.
- Are the internal stairs timber or carpet (ideally you want timber – less slippery, better wearing over time)
- What is the extent of tiling in the bathroom? This is a big money saver overall. It should be to at least 2100mm in the bathrooms and ensuites. Ideally for the whole room.
- What window types are being used. In the hierarchy of glazing, this is the order from cost most, to cost least: Bifold. Louvre. Awning (push out at bottom, hinge at top). Sliding.
- Where rendered brickwork is being used, what is over the top of door and window openings? Is it a textured fibre-cement sheeting that looks like brickwork? Does this material occur anywhere you come into direct contact with it? This is not great. If you can touch it easily (say on a balcony) and it looks like masonry, but sounds like lightweight cladding when you knock on it, they’ve used a textured fibre cement sheet. I don’t recommend using the textured sheet where you can touch it – my experience is that people feel their being deceived because it’s looking like something it’s not, and then they wonder what other shortcuts have been made. If you don’t care, think of your future buyers. It won’t wear as well in high-traffic areas as rendered brickwork does either.
- What is the size of the garage? Double car garages should be 6m x 6m to park two cars, and bigger if you want to store anything in there. The size of this area will determine whether structural steel may possibly need to be used, which is extra cost.
They viewed the house with these things in mind and also really examining it for defects etc.
Remember, if a builder presents a house as their ‘display’ … it will represent the best of what their standards are. And if you can find lots of faults, what do you think your build will be when it’s not a display, or the one they’re going to show off to everyone? Think of the display as the pinnacle. It should be perfect. It should be exemplary. Then anything they build for their customers stands half a chance of being a great quality build.
So how do you look at a display?
Most people, when viewing a home, look between their knees and their foreheads. Watch them. How many people are looking up, around, down on the floor, getting close to the carpet, poking heads inside cupboards to see how the ceiling are finished in there?
The best of both worlds – your own design, and building on a budget?
A couple of pieces of advice/observations from Clare and Darren so far on their journey:
“Grateful to be openly discussing what we are looking at doing, as it has already resulted in being able to purchase our new property off-market, which has saved us some money, and discussions and questions that I have asked UA have led to finding a potential builder that is competitive with the cost of building a project home, offering the opportunity to build our own architecturally designed home.”
“Think about spaces when you are at other people’s places. We just had a weekend away at the coast and rented a huge home that was great as it catered to all the extended family that we had with us. But it also demonstrated to us how a house can be badly laid out.”
Landmark’s home passed Clare and Darren’s comfort test for proceeding to the next step with them. They were happy with the build quality, noticed a few things they’d change material and specification-wise, but overall got a good vibe from the company’s owner (who was showing them around), and confidence that it was possible to build their own design, at 300m2 max size with an inground pool, for the budget they’re seeking to spend.
Based on this, Clare and Darren are commissioning me to work with them in creating the design for their new home.
For me, this is exciting. Generally, a one-off, architect-designed, 2 storey home has a base construction cost of around $2,500/m2, and can continue upwards to more than $4,000/m2 for the ones you see in the glossy magazines like Houses.
I’m looking forward to the opportunities this presents in customising a design that optimises the potential of Clare and Darren’s block of land, and in creating a well-designed, compact family home that has functional, beautiful spaces to live in.
It doesn’t have to look like the glossy magazines to be functional and beautiful and support you living your best life. Great design comes in lots of different packages.