Late last year, when I attended a conference called “Problogger“, I had the good fortune to connect and spend time with the gorgeous Nicole Cox.
I knew her from her awesome blog, The Builder’s Wife, and over the last year, we’ve got to know each other a lot better (and I’ve been a guest blogger on her site too!). She and her hubby run their building company, Fernbrooke Homes, and also have a Facebook Group “Ask the Builder” you can join to get building questions answered.
I asked Nicole more about their business, and to share her insight into some of the biggest mistakes she sees homeowners make when building or renovating.
Tell us a bit about you and your business?
My name is Nicole Cox, and I am “The Builder’s Wife“. My husband Adam, aka “the Builder” and I have been running our family business, Fernbrooke Homes, for 5 years.
Prior to this Adam ran a construction company with his father, and I was a Business manager for a pharmacy chain.
Our business was started from a drive that Adam and I had, to make changes in the marketplace. Tired of seeing poor customer service, we were and continue to be driven to provide exceptional customer service throughout your building process.
Nicole neglects to mention that between them, she and Adam also have 5 kids, and are renovating their own, 100+ year old Queenslander. There’s no rest for this clever lady!
What type of projects do you mainly work on?
Fernbrooke Homes is a bespoke building company that specialises in high quality renovations of Queenslander style homes, as well as custom built new homes.
We are deliberately selective about the number of projects we take on at any given time, to ensure quality from beginning to end and then beyond.
What are your top tips for homeowners to get it right when working out the cost of their projects?
Tip #1: Set a realistic budget.
Too often dreams come undone simply because the budget is not realistic.
How do you do this? Research, research research! Take time to do your homework, remembering this is often the biggest financial decision you will make.
Tip #2: Have a comprehensive list of specifications.
If your list of specifications is thorough, there is likely little to be missed in the quoting process, that could then come up and surprise you later on.
Fixed price quotes are only fixed for what is listed in the quote and then the contract. If you have forgotten to add something to your list, this will come at an added cost after the contract has been signed.
Tip #3: When comparing quotes, be sure you are comparing apples for apples.
We have watched many clients take a less expensive quote only to find there were differences in what was being quoted on, and they were well out of pocket by the end of the project.
This can come for something as simple as a communication breakdown, or can be as complex as an unscrupulous builder.
This again is where a comprehensive list of specification will help. The list will provide opportunity for each builder to be quoting on the same things, then giving a more accurate reflection of final project costs.
Tip #4: Involve both your architect and your builder right from the beginning.
Not all architects are good at estimating costs involved with the building cost.
We have a couple that we work with who with years of experience are able to provide an estimate that is very close to what the final cost is, and then others that far under estimate which only leads to heart break for you the client. Having both involved right from the planning stage is the best way to ensure the project can be built for your realistic budget.
(Here’s my blog on how to avoid having your architect blow your budget during design!)
Tip #5: Always have a contingency budget.
Once spaces start to take space, it is very common for clients to make changes.
Most changes will cost money. Having a contingency budget means you are unlikely to have an unexpected blow out that you are unable to afford.
We suggest to our clients to have a minimum of 10% but a more realistic contingency budget would be 20%.
Where do you mainly see unexpected costs blowing out, mistakes being made or major stress being caused?
Unrealistic budgets are the biggest cause of cost blowing out.
We have had so many clients who have not effectively communicated their budget requirements to the architect, who has then drawn their “dream” plans only to find them totally unaffordable.
Other than that, in our opinion most stress comes from poor communication. This can come from the client, builder or architect. It is of the upmost importance that before the project in undertaken, you are comfortable you have found professionals you are able to effectively communicate with.
Like everything, with careful planning and clear communication, stress and mistakes will be significantly reduced.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
There are two parts of what we do that I love the most. The first is breaking tradition, and the second is helping our clients build their dreams.
I love that our clients are given the opportunity to work with Adam and I as a pair. We find this gives the best level of service to our clients, as we are able to more effectively listen and then communicate to ensure we are meeting our client’s needs.
Being a woman in the field of construction is still a relatively new thing, but it makes complete sense to us. Most of our clients are either couples, or women, so having another women to deal with, who is on site and communicating regularly, just makes sense.
They say Women are from Venus and Men from Mars, and this is never more true than it is when communicating. The fact that we do this together, we feel gives us the best chance to get it right.
Where do you work / service clients? (And can individual clients come to you, or do they need to come via an architect or other designer?)
We work all over South East Queensland though predominately in Brisbane, Ipswich and the surrounding suburbs. We have several designers and architects that we work with, however predominately clients contact us direct.
Where can people find you?
You can find out more about us at our website, on Instagram and Facebook or via The Builder’s Wife Blog.
Thanks so much Nicole for such great tips and insight!
How about you? Which tip of Nicole’s gave you an ‘a-ha’ moment? I’d love to hear – pop it in the comments below.
And head over to Nicole’s website or social platforms and say “Hi” and let her know you saw her at Undercover Architect.
Other blogs you may find useful …
This blog on Communication will help you to see how to use this important tool well.
You can see Nicole and Adam have no issue in working with architects, however this isn’t the case with all builders. This is why …
Don’t think your builder sounds as proactive and collaborative as Adam and Nicole? This is what to do …
So: I’ve heard it said that if the owner prices out the list of inclusions they want to use: cabinets, bench tops, doors, taps etc then doubles this for the install cost: how “rule of thumb” is that? Of course this doesn’t take into account the actual construction…?!
I’ve heard of that way of pricing but never used it personally so cannot attest to its accuracy. If you’re seeking early and rough estimates, I suppose it could be a way of doing it. I think you’re better off speaking to local builders who are constructing projects similar to what you’re aiming for, and get an understanding of their square meterage rates as a starting point. Then test and check your estimates along the way as more detail builds.
– Amelia, UA x
Love this! When we built, we chose a local company (we’re in Mackay, QLD Australia) over another we were considering mainly because they gave us a fully fixed price quote. What they quoted is exactly what we got – no overages. I think fixed price contracts make a huge difference in the end product you end up with because you’re not re-stretching your budget!
Thanks for your feedback Brent. I’m glad that you had such a great experience in building your new home.
– Amelia, UA
Hello Amelia. I am planning to renovate my bathroom and laundry renovation and have seen you talking about the owner providing a specifications list to prospective builders. As I’m at the stage where I would like to get some quotes, could you elaborate on how specific the specifications list needs to be? For example do I include details such as the size of my floor tiles etc? Thank you for your blog, my little family consists of 3 women so your advice is invaluable.
My very warm regards Gen.
The more you specify, the greater certainty you’ll have that the quote reflects what you actually want. The aim is to remove as many assumptions as you can! Best wishes for your project, and so glad you’re finding the blog useful,
– Amelia, UA