Peter is an Adelaide builder with over 30 years of experience in the building industry. But when it came to building his own coastal farmhouse, he decided to join Undercover Architect’s online program for extra help and support.
Listen as Peter shares about his experiences of being “the client” for the build of his coastal farmhouse.
Peter found he accessed guidance and expertise through the Undercover Architect program, in helping to make the right decisions. Plus he learned more about being a better builder for his clients.
My name is Peter Claridge, I’m an Adelaide builder, we have about 30 years experience. I initially got involved in Undercover Architect, out of interest as a client. We were building our own house. But also, you know, we’ve built hundreds and hundreds of houses for other people. And so we’re just trying to improve our processes and understand the journey from the client’s perspective a little bit better.
You know, we speak to many, many people, but it’s always good to get a perspective.
And Amelia was putting out some very good content, very interesting content on, on, you know what to watch out for, tips and tricks, and design strategies, and how to work with builders. And I just found it very interesting.
So I’ve done a couple of her courses. We did a course in the early days as a client. And then we did something called the PAC Challenge, which was dealing, in training builders, how to deal with the market in a way that there’s no tears, and there’s good clear communication.
But our background is we were building about 20 homes a year and we’ve been doing that since, you know, about, we’re turning 30 next year. So we’ve built a new premises, and we’ve just put on some younger guys, and we were looking to set up for the next generation now. And just wanting to do it as, as professionally, as relationally, as we can. And found Amelia’s content really helpful with that.
I’ve been able to use the content to upskill myself in some approaches to clients, making sure that our communication is as good as it can be.
What concerns did you have before you started?
Yeah, it’s interesting, because we, as builders, we’ve dealt with hundreds and hundreds of clients. And some clients come very clear on their brief, very clear on their budget. And if there’s a couple, you know, they’re, they’re in a good unity.
And then the other 95%, come through with unclear goalposts of exactly what they want. A certain amount of conflict in the brief between the parties, and we, you know, after thirty years, we’ve got lots of sort of one liners, you know. That sometimes we say to people, we’re not sure they need a builder or a priest at this point, because, you know, because there’d be such a difference between the brief and the budget, or there’ll, be a lot of conflict in the expectations and how we’ve had to do a fair bit of marriage counselling over the years.
Because, you know, it’s a big expense you’re dealing with, you can’t build a home for yourself, a dream home for yourself, unless you work out, who do we want to be in the future? How do we want to live? How many kids do we propose having? How do we want to entertain? You know, what is the lifecycle of the home? Is it an investment?
And so you have to think about a whole lot of life issues that don’t normally come up in conversation. And so it does press triggers on … I want a dog or I don’t want a dog, you know. You know, one person’s a gardener, the other person wants easy care. Somebody wants to make provision for mother to come, mother to come live with us, someone else would, would rather die before letting them.
And so you’re dealing with a lot of quite high EQ, it’s not just the technical side, it’s the actual, the understanding of the people. We’re building homes for people. So you know, that’s been the interesting thing. And to avoid committing people to contract and so forth until a lot of those variables, all of them are sorted out.
Which is where Undercover Architect had some really good things to say about putting a team together and getting the documentation bulletproof before, before we’re trying to go to contract.
There’s a strategy in the building trade called, ‘Get ‘Em off the Street’. And it means, we don’t care how rubbish the documentation is, if we can get you to go to contract at that point, it’s a good cop, bad cop situation. And good cop is sign them up. And then bad cop being the building department, and the estimating department getting involved in variation, variation, variation, and always, always ends up in tears.
And when you’re speaking to people at a dinner party, and you get the cautionary tales, most of it comes down to communication, unforeseen expenses, not having a really good picture of what they were buying in the first place.
So Undercover Architect is sort of pretty much saying that, you know, getting the brief right, getting the design really right, and getting the documentation bulletproof, allows you to go to a builder and have a much more meaningful conversation. It’s a much more helpful conversation.
Because you’re, you’re clear on your foundations. There’s no other industry other than the building industry that I can think of that would be trying to sign people up even a $500,000, or a million dollar $, or $300,000 project, with very loose specifications. You wouldn’t even, you know, you wouldn’t even buy a meal that way. And yet people are making these massive expenditures without really fully understanding what they’re buying.
So we’re trying to reverse engineer that. We take some money from people early. We don’t actually make any money out of it. We just try and cover our consulting costs to the people that we’re hiring. And we try and get the design right. And then the second stage of that, we’ll try and get full development approval with, you know, engineering and glazing, insulation and foundations, steel work and all the government levies. We’re try to get that through so that the whole thing’s got a beautiful red bow on it. Every tap, every tile selected clearly and understood with pretty pictures.
At that point, if we haven’t managed to get a client to believe that we’re the right builder, they’re free to walk and take the documentation with them. You know hopefully, by that point, and on merit, they’d see we’ve worked well with them and, and goes to project. We’ve separated that out now, we do that effectively as a consultant.
So that, and this was part of Amelia’s influence in there, to work with, with clients to specify everything really, really clearly, so that by the time they go to contract, they know exactly what they’re buying. There’s no excuses, there’s no tears, there’s no surprises.
It’s a once a week cup of tea on site and enjoying the process, rather than endless redesign conflict on the run, variations on the run, which never never ends up well. Not very many people enjoy that.
The influence has been to encourage us to keep going with that strategy of getting the design and documentation, and client brief and client communication really right all the way through before we even ask for a building commitment.
So yeah, I guess that’s the main thing that we’ve taken away from reading Amelia’s stuff over the years.
What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?
It’s very interesting, our situation is very interesting, because we are building an investment home and our dream home at the same time.
Yes, and we’re building our own home at the same time as building lots of homes for other people. And it’s been interesting to take the builder hat off and put the client hat on. And we’ve been hopeless.
You know, as soon as the emotion comes in, and the personal implications of design, and how do we want to live? And what is our life going to look like, is going to look like in say, five or ten years? How do we build this home to suit ourselves for the long term? And we’ve had to hire a really good interior designer to work with us. A good designer. Get the right consulting team.
My wife and I have been on Pinterest and on Houzz, trying to put together our own brief, and we ended up having to get artist impressions done. We couldn’t picture it. We settled the floor plan, but then we ended up with a, we tried, you know a glass box look, and we didn’t like it. We tried a Hamptons look, but we didn’t like it. And then we ended up with, we’re calling it coastal, coastal farmhouse. Which is mixed materials, you know, lots of natural materials.
But it took us six months, and I’m a builder.
I’ve been designing houses for other people for 30 years.
But when it was our own home, and the emotion was involved, and the kids got involved, and you know, the plans are sitting on the table and the next door neighbours coming in, everybody has an opinion on how, what you ought to be building.
It was really interesting to take the, you know, take the builders hat off and put the client’s hat on.
It’s not as easy as it looks to design and build a beautiful home.
But that extra effort that you put in by putting the team together early and working with them, and allowing it to take how long it takes, you know. Obviously there’s holding costs on the property and so forth. It’s not easy to do that. But we do love the design now. We’re half constructed, and we’re walking around and you know how amazing it is. And we’re really excited. And it’s a positive experience.
If we rushed through, you know, and were railroaded by consultants, rather than allowing the process to take what it takes, it would have been a bad decision for us. So yeah, just to answer your question about, how’s it been, it’s been quite challenging.
It’s a challenging thing to start with a blank sheet of paper, a general idea of budget, a general idea of brief and take that through the steps, like a military campaign to arrive at a set of documentations, where every decision is made, you’re very clear on what you are buying, the budget is within your limitations.
Because we’re not trying to get people to spend more than they can afford. That’s not a good life decision for people to get heavily indebted. So we do try and make sure that our clients are very clear on their budget so that we don’t over pitch it.
All that involved is, is quite a tricky thing. You have to have a team that you trust. They have to be. So I’m all in favour of, of people doing their research very thoroughly before they put, before they give the keys to a designer or builder.
And when they give the keys to a designer, to make sure that the designer is in a team with a good engineer, a great interior designer, a good builder. So it’s a very interactive process with the client.
So that’s the thing that was fun for us. We had all those people around the table. And it was a good cooperative, collaborative conversation, and we’ve ended up with a great outcome. So yeah, but it’s not, you know, for somebody, that’s somebody who’s got 30 years. I was off the tools, I was a carpenter and I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I still found it hard.
How have you benefited from doing Undercover Architect’s courses?
We have a lot of experience in the industry. But I worked through some of the material that we had from Undercover Architect quite thoroughly when we were looking to move through this. Just to understand, you know, from the homeowners point of view what the best pathways were.
And I think it influenced us to put a team together earlier, rather than just deal with design work in isolation. As soon as we’ve got the floor plan down, we call in our selections consultant. And she was, she was amazing. And she did… helped us to get the textures right and the elevations right.
And then early on, we brought in the engineer, because it was about three ways of building it. And the engineer came up with a great way of … we have a, we have a raked ceiling area, we had an upper level overhanging section in the raked area. It was quite tricky. But the engineer came up with a really good methodology of building a tall steel frame, and hanging the upper level off the, off the top frame rather than supporting it from underneath.
So we ended up with a really nice open plan design. Yeah, there was a lot of, a lot of benefits in setting up that conversation early.
So we’re doing that as builders, we’re actually jumping on those panels a bit for our people. And we say, well, we’re happy to jump on it for free, as you know, to give our opinions. But then if it goes to the point of wanting costings, we’re actually doing that on a fixed, a fixed no obligation fee, just to come up with the right, the right budget parameters for them. So you don’t want to be doing that after 12 months and $30,000 with an architect. You don’t want to be throwing that documentation away, after that investment. You really want to be putting it together piece by piece, and not having to undo what you’ve already done.
And what we find with a lot of tender panels, we’ll get architectural drawings, and in some cases, the client spent $50,000 or $100,000 and they’ve got full development approval and, and they get three builders quotes, and they’re over budget. They get three more, and they’re over budget.
And in the end, the whole thing goes in the bin. About two out of three architectural projects are never built, they so far off brief. And the architects gone, ‘well, what do you want?’ And they draw out what the client wants, but what we want changes once we know how much it costs.
So every decision has got a technical and architectural and financial implication. And we can’t really lock into decision until we understand all of those facets. And so you’re getting that team around together so that you can answer the technical and the financial and the architectural questions, as you go through in a progression, is a really good strategy.
And that’s what we’ve learned, that’s helped our thinking with Undercover Architect, because Amelia has been very, very, very good at communicating the benefits of building a respectful, competent team.
Taking … for the owners to take control of the process, get very thorough with their brief, very clear on their budget. And then work with a team of professionals, paid if necessary, to make sure that when it comes together, it’s, it’s not, not just amazing to look at. Everybody can design an amazing … well, not everybody. There are a lot of people that can design an amazing building, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to come in at the right price. And it doesn’t mean that, it might have a wow factor, that doesn’t mean it’s practical. And it doesn’t mean it’s technically well put together.
So in the team, you know, we call it a ‘zone defence’. We sort of go, this is a situation, we need a zone defence, let’s call the team in. Let’s call the designer, and we’ll have three, four designers, and we’ll try and get the ones that’s the right fit for projects.
So yeah, we know if it’s a pole home, we’ll go to a particular guy. If it’s a rammed earth home, we’ve got another guy who’s very good at designing rammed earth. And so you develop the team, and bring in the right team for the right client for the project, and the right client. So and, sometimes you just know that a particular team is going to connect well, from a relational and a personality point of view. And so if you can get that team together early, it seems like it’s a slower way to go. But I think that you actually get to hand over quicker, because you’re not having to undo what you did with the previous guy.
What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?
Why did we decide to invest in the courses? There is an old saying that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance, right? The cost of ignorance in my industry is astronomical, it’s off the charts. And it’s, it’s heartbreaking and time consuming, and very frustrating.
So any education that you can get when you’re building, you know, a custom home and you’re investing, for a lot of people, that’s the biggest purchase they’ll ever make, you know.
The cost of Amelia’s courses are peanuts compared to the benefit that you’ll get out of them. And I defy anybody not to, not to actually make money out of doing her courses.
But, it’s speed through the process. And, and the better outcome, the less conflict, the clearer communication. It’s all so important. But you will actually, you know, the, the strategies of, of doing things in a disciplined way, will save people money.
Like it saved, you know, we’ve, we’ve made money out of doing the courses we’ve done with Amelia. You know, she’s a cash, she’s a profit centre for us.
But the, you know, to save money. There is a lot of free content out there and we do also access that. You know, it’s interesting.
Amelia has put her courses together in such a professional way. And they’re very, very, very easy to access. There’s the tools and the tips with it. You know, you just, you learn more than, you know, off the charts more than the cost of the course, the cost of the course is almost irrelevant.
You know, given the fact that, you know, you’re about to spend half a million bucks or a million bucks on a home, you know, to train yourself up is so, so important.
And then, and also, it’s not just that, it’s also, you know, we don’t know what we don’t know. To put the right team together, a team that work well together, and will tell you the truth, and not try and commit you to a contract before you’re ready to, you know, go to contract, and the decisions are made. You know, it’s supposed to be fun. You know, we talk about building the dream home, like it’s supposed to be fun, but you talk to people at dinner parties, it’s often not fun, it’s often a catastrophe. So it’s important to get the strategy right, and to get fully informed.
And Undercover Architect has been fantastic. I don’t know of a better resource, than Undercover Architect in getting that done.
Why should people educate themselves before starting?
There’s really a relational component to this, where we’ve told so many people over the years, please don’t build, please don’t try and do this. What you are trying to do, you’re massively underfunded. You’re going to kill yourselves trying to do this. Just have a holiday, take a breath, save up for a couple of years, or let’s work on bringing the home size down. The biggest difficulty is people wanting to build McMansions. You know, lots of area, not much architectural merit, over budget, you know, and they end up sort of trying to live in a warehouse.
The biggest problem we have from a brief point of view, is helping people to go, what about multi use spaces? What about designing the house for the 350 days that you’re going to live in it, rather than the four days of Christmas and Easter, you know, when you’ve got family over?
How about we try and bring this back to where it’s going to be beautiful to live in the vast majority of the time, and maybe Christmas, we’ll open the doors and use the alfresco rather than trying to design the whole house $300,000 over budget and 150m2 more than you need?
This whole conversation is quite difficult for some families. But to have that conversation this side of engaging a builder or assigning a building contract, it allows that to be done in a fairly low damage, fairly low stake environment. Rather than a lot of that being done on the run where the selections were done poorly. Now we’ve done them, we’re $50,000 over budget, and now we’re feeling massive stress.
Better to find that out before you’ve committed to a builder. Better to find that out through a process like Undercover Architect, to go, you know what, ‘now that we understand the facts, we shouldn’t be doing this’.We shouldn’t be doing this or the timing is not right.
Or you know, in some situations, the architectural conflict is so high level that we kind of go,’ let’s just pause it for a while’, you know. There’s all sorts of ways of taking the pressure out of a situation, providing that you haven’t gone to contract as soon as you’ve gotten the contract. And, and the builder is harassing for decisions and stuff on the run, that is not fun. That is not funny for anybody.
And it generally causes, you know, unforeseen variations and so forth. So if we breathe through the preliminaries, take a very strategic and systematic pathway, we put the right team together, so that we’re getting good sound professional advice.
At that point, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be and it will come together well. And if not, we’ll know early on before we spent stupid money, and got a you know, a year older and, and nowhere near building, which is what I see a lot, you know. Better off to get that initial stage done really, really nicely.
Which, again, you know, anybody who does Undercover Architect, is going to get a good understanding of how to proceed through that process, put a team together, what questions to ask, what to watch out for. So by the time you know, they’re sitting down opposite a builder, they’ve got a lot of clarity about what they need.
How did you first discover Undercover Architect?
So I came across Amelia and Undercover Architect through I think, originally through Facebook. And then we were clicking through some, I was clicking through to some of the links on the Sunday morning over breakfast, just out of interest. And then I actually was so interested, I clicked through to sign up with one of her earlier courses, which I found really useful. And then we’ve been on the, you know, they come up, they’re very good at posting content, useful content. There’s very little sales pitch with a lot of it.
It’s made, you know, you really do get the feeling that they’re, they, they have a mission that they take seriously to help educate people. And a lot of that content is free. But there’s the free content was so good, we’ve clicked through into two courses and paid for those.
And the second one was the PAC Challenge, which was aimed at builders. Helping builders to understand and deal with their clients better and to encourage builders to act as consultants prior to your contract and commitment. To get the, to get all the documentation, all the decisions done, you know, and be part of that team. And so we’ve been doing that, that’s been really useful.
And yeah, I read a lot of, I just read a lot of the content that comes across in there, you know. Through… we’re on, we’re on mailing lists now through email, but also, you know, they pop up on Instagram, and they pop up on Facebook, all the usual, usual suspects. Yeah.
Did you explore any other options before joining Undercover Architect?
Because, you know, because we have builder’s licences, we’ve done a lot of courses over the years, you know. We’ve done Greensmart, and some design courses. Most of the courses we’ve done are designed to give a particular skill, like they’re designed to help you estimate or they’re designed to help you design, you know, more sustainably.
Undercover Architect is probably the most holistic platform, you know, because it’s dealing with the, you know, you’d call it the customer experience, the client experience through the process. In an industry dominated by, by, you know, kind of A-Type, you know, driven people who believe they have the answers to every, you know, problem and every design situation, you know.
To pause that and to go back and go actually, we’re building homes for people, maybe we ought to listen to them. Maybe we ought to help them to work out what they want, and what their dream home would look like. And obviously it would be different for every single client. So the process of actually communicating with clients to get the brief clear before we put pen to paper and to ask the right questions, whatever.
Undercover Architect has done an amazing job of putting that process together. The enquiry, briefing, strategy process together.
We’ve not come across … I’ve not … I’m fairly widely read, I’ve not come across a better course in that respect.
Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?
Definitely, yeah. Certain clients can visualise things easier than others. Some people, they can read something and get a clear picture in their mind, other people need to touch and feel. And so, in the process of making decisions, we learn, you know, how that particular client wants to communicate, how they want to make decisions, and adjust our kind of processes to fit them. So that regardless of how they want to make those decisions, we end up with, you know, with clarity and documentation.
So, if, as a builder, if a client comes to us and says, I just want to make those decisions on the run because I have trouble visualising, then we’ll stop at that point and go well, okay, let’s deal with the visualisation issue. Let’s get you into the, let’s take you to a similar home. Let’s get you in, in the supplier’s studios, let’s get some artistic rendering done. Let’s get a cross section done. Rather than saying, let’s work it out on the run, we’ll reverse engineer and go, “how do we help you with the visualisation decision making?”
So, so in the old days, when we would go, “they’re having trouble visualising it. Let’s, let’s leave these four or five things out, and we’ll resolve them as we go”, that sort of thinking would often lead to variations and delays and, and, and misunderstandings.
So, the Undercover Architect approach is all about clarity of documentation, clarity in brief, communication with the client so that we have a really strong set of documentation. And that saves us tears. That saves us delays and saves the clients variations. It improves the whole relationship. So yeah, it’s really critical.
What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?
To anybody thinking of joining Undercover Architect, I would say that the cost of the courses is negligible compared to the benefit that they will get.
They will get confidence. They’ll get clarity. They’ll get systems and structures and it will be the best value money they have ever spent.