Advice for new home builders

Good luck for a start.

Building a home is daunting. I have gone through it a couple of times and here is my advice for all newcomers.

01. Let's see what's out there

Go look at some (all) display homes around your area. They’ll give you a good idea of what you really want. Obviously you’d be stupid to think that everything in the display home comes as standard. Standard homes have nothing except walls and the bare essentials. Everything you see in display homes are upgrades, and you’ll be paying about 40-50% on top of the base price.

Just ask the sales consultants – what’s this home worth as is. Not base price. And you’ll get an idea.

Back to topic – While you’re in the house, jot down things you really like. We’re talking about structure and material here. For example – Wooden floorboards in main living areas, Glass splashback in kitchen, Extended benchtop in laundry etc.

These notes will form a base for your next step.

02. What do I want?

Let’s choose a builder first and we’ll take it from there? NO. Let’s make a list of all the shit we need first.

This is where you should start. Create a spreadsheet. I used Google Drive so I can access it anywhere. Remember, the notes you took? Start putting them in the spreadsheet in an orderly fashion. Create categories – External, Tiling, Electrical, Flooring, Kitchen, Galley, Laundry, Master Bedroom etc. Now start populating each section with things you want. This spreadsheet will grow as you learn more and more after meeting different builders and display homes.

Believe it not, this spreadsheet is your best friend. Keep updating this. Create extra columns for adding price and comments.

03. Get real quotes. Apples for apples.

Once you’ve got a fair idea of what you want (spreadsheet), it’s time to talk to builders. Before the sales agent gives you a spiel on how amazing they are – just hand them the spreadsheet and ask them to quote on that. Do the same with every other builder of your choice.

Builders are smart. They pay a team of professionals to analyse the market and create packages to lure customers in. I have seen some builders throw in heaps of extras for FREE, but then their base price is quite high (You pay $300k and we’ll give you $50k worth of extra). On the other side, some builders don’t even throw in a free carpet, but their base price is quite low (You pay $250k, now add your extras).

When you add all the upgrades, that’s when you can really compare apples with apples.

I realised that after handing out my spreadsheet to Metricon, Porter Davis, Boutique, Carlisle and Symonds – all gave me a quote which were literally only $2k up or down. So what’s the takeaway? All their prices are quite competitive. And no one is really cheaper.

One exception – A couple of private builders – Weeks building group and Eight homes – were cheaper by $15 – $18k. I did not go with them. Why? First, they don’t have enough display homes. It’s hard to convince your wife that the home will look like it does in the photos they showed us. Second, their colour selection showroom was smaller than the apartment I rented while studying. You’ll have to make important selections like kitchen sinks, showers and flooring from brochures and 5″ x 5″ samples. That’s not gonna cut the mustard for me. I want to see things in real and make selections based on how I feel.

04. How to choose a builder

Choose a builder who has a flair for architectural designs and is a little flexible with design changes. I’m not talking about a custom floorplan. I’m talking about moving windows, adding a walk-in-robe and customising kitchen island bench.

Carlisle homes flatly refused to add a skylight while they had them in their display homes. They said they don’t have the expertise and they used an external company to do it for them. Metricon said the same for timber decking in Alfresco area. Symonds said they can’t reduce the size of some windows.

I just don’t want to go to a display home just to realise later the builder can’t do all the cool features I want.

I chose Porter Davis for my second build. They were certainly not the cheapest, but were happy to do skylights and all the upgrades I wanted. Plus their display homes are stunning compared to Metricon or Symonds.

I’d also recommend using a private builder because they are very flexible. Weeks Building Group even offered me to source my preferred appliances from Harvey Norman (when on sale) and supply to them. As I said before, the only downside is  – I can’t pick sinks, basins, taps and window frames from a brochure. But if you are up for the game – play it. Good luck convincing your partner!

05. What comes next?

Well, once you’ve chosen a builder they will ask for a deposit. That deposit will get your ball rolling.

Don’t pay it – until you are happy with everything on your quote. Everything as in – everything. Yes, you can always change stuff later down the track, but it won’t be as easy as rocking up to the display center and asking your sales agent to add/delete stuff from your quote.

Once you’ve paid the deposit, your relation with the Sales Agent is over. Your file goes to head office and you’ll be assigned a building coordinator (BC) – who is contactable only via email. They don’t pick up calls. I have called them numerous times and have left voice mails. They will call you back – yes – but generally don’t pick up calls.

Your BC will arrange appointment times with you for Colour Selection Process, Tender and Contract.

Colour Selection Process – where you choose electrical fixtures, sinks, showers, wall paint, tiles and 90% of the stuff you want in your new home.

Tender – where you are presented with a document with all the selections you made with the final dollar amount. You are also required to pay about 3% deposit at this stage.

Contract – where you formally sign-off all the documents. You are required to pay about 5% deposit at this stage.

Remember this – Make as many changes as you want before Tender. Once you sign the tender and pay the deposits – the ball is in their court. Until Tender you’ve just lost your initial ($1k – $2k) deposit. Keep this in mind because things get uphill from here.

06. Colour Selection. Yay!

I was very excited for this day.

Before our appointment day, I’ve had made numerous trips to Porter Davis’ Colour Selection Center in South Melbourne. All of the builders allow you to visit their Colour Selection centres and get an understanding of what you’ll go through later. It’s a great idea. Remember the spreadsheet? Good. Keep adding stuff to it as you see new items. Ask for prices wherever you can. Your sales agent doesn’t know all the prices. He may have given you prices for 60% of things. Get the rest from the Colour Selection people. They generally have a price list.

In my case, I had prices for literally 95% of the things on my spreadsheet. I also had an allowance for $15k in case shit hits the fan.

On your appointment day, the 8 hours will go so quick that you wouldn’t even realise. You’ll meet people from electrical department, flooring department, kitchen and so forth. Everyone will give you a print-out with all your upgrades and their final pricing. They give you a grace period of 48 hours to submit any change requests. I suggest be prepared for that.

Once you get home, make sure you put all those prices into your spreadsheet. See if is similar to what you had budgeted earlier. Mine came to be about $5600 more than I had budgeted. Not because of my mistake, but the Sales Agent gave me vague prices for things he didn’t know. Like – “Overhead Cupboards I reckon is about $800”. It turned out to be $2100.

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