Each year, thousands of families derive great pride and pleasure from building a new home; however, we’ve all heard terrible reports from people who say they would never build again. The difference between realising a dream and enduring a nightmare often boils down to doing your homework.

Purchasing a block of land will probably be your first step. Whether you’re a first home owner, or someone who has owned houses before, land cost is usually a significant consideration. New housing estates generally have a range of blocks from which to choose. Quite naturally, larger and more level blocks generally command higher prices. Steep blocks may have magnificent views but the additional foundations and retaining walls can be expensive.

Unfortunately, when working within a tight budget, buyers are often tempted to purchase a lower priced block, a decision often regretted when they are ready to build. Location is a serious consideration: what are surrounding suburbs and homes like? Will they complement the style of home you are considering building? Is the area serviced by public transport? Aspect is important too, especially when it comes to building an eco-efficient home.

A north or west-facing home, especially in sub-tropical or tropical areas, can be great in winter but in summer may require expensive air-conditioning to keep it liveable. In South-East Queensland, prevailing summer breezes come from the South-East, so an east-facing home can benefit significantly from cooling breezes flowing through the home’s main living areas. Topography should also be taken into consideration: will the block require large quantities of fill? Is it so steep that only a pole house will suit? Is the driveway so steep that access will become a nightmare? Will the block require additional drainage or retaining walls?

With the shortage of new waterfront land, demolishing and rebuilding on an existing canal or riverfront site is becoming increasingly popular, however some councils are now insisting that blocks on older waterfront developments be filled to raise the new home above any projected flood levels. This may be a wise precaution, but it can add thousands to a new home’s foundation and slab costs. These additional costs might far exceed the incremental cost of purchasing a better block of land in the first place.

Being the first to build in a new street also has its risks: one definite advantage of not being the first to build is that you will have a fairly good idea of the type of homes already built on nearby land. So often, a family’s dream home can be substantially devalued when a smaller or less attractive home is subsequently built right next door. If possible, try to meet potential neighbours: you might discover an instant rapport, learn some interesting things about the area, or simply conclude that there’s no way you’d ever get along in the future.

Finally, try to involve your prospective builder in the land purchase. Chances are he or she will see things you’re unlikely to have thought about; or suggest economical solutions for overcoming any shortcomings the block may have.

Find a Builder

Once you have bought and paid for the land, the next step will undoubtedly be selecting a suitable builder. Like car manufacturers, different builders service different sectors of the market. A project builder who primarily services first home buyers may not necessarily be suited to building a custom design, for example. Jim Taylor, director of Unique Homes, specialises in building custom-designed homes and boutique villa projects valued at above $500,000. He’s been building homes for more than 30 years throughout South-East Queensland and Northern New South Wales. His advice is to ensure there is compatibility and rapport between the potential homeowner, the builder and the designer.

“Generally, homeowners have a pretty good idea about what they would like and how it needs to complement their lifestyle. It’s all about working with clients, rather than dictating to them. Often, it’s simply a matter of developing a series of solutions that will enable them to realise their dreams in the most cost-effective way. Delivering value for money doesn’t always equate with being the lowest priced tenderer. Fixed price contracts provide far greater certainty for homeowners than loosely written open-ended quotes. The secret here is to ensure that the entire project is carefully detailed in the contracted price.”

Taylor stresses that a good builder’s contractual obligations will extend much further than simply completing the home. “The contract should clearly state arrangements for any make-good requirements after handover and any warranties offered under the contract,” he says.

Size and Design

The next stage of the project will be to decide on the design and overall size of your new home. First home buyers dealing with project builders have literally hundreds of different designs and home sizes available to them, however, with some homes, you may find there is little room for personal variation. Jim Taylor says there’s a big advantage in engaging a builder experienced in custom designs. He claims that in many instances, his company has completed custom-designed homes for little more than it would have cost to build similarly sized project homes.

“We employ our own experienced and qualified in-house designers,” he says. “This  allows our designers to work very closely with our clients; to develop homes that complement their individual lifestyles while meeting their budgets. Because we specify each home down to the finest detail, there are fewer chances of misunderstandings occurring during the building process.”

Little Things

Specifying the build can be one of the most time consuming aspects and extra time spent at this stage can save thousands of dollars and a great deal of heartache at a later date. Deciding to add a couple of power points or an extra outdoor tap can be very costly once the brickwork has been completed or the plasterboard is fixed in place. Careful consideration must be given to the location and quality of plumbing fixtures, light fittings, power points and internal sound systems. Tiling costs, both internal and external, can vary enormously.

Check to ensure those beautiful bathroom taps and trendy kitchen tiles shown in the display home are actually included in the price quoted. The same can be said for timber skirting boards and architraves, door hardware, stoves and wall ovens. It’s not uncommon to find that the display home has been specified with expensive optional extras over and above the base price quoted. Behind the scenes you’ll also have to consider the little luxuries often hidden from view: a ducted vacuum system makes cleaning the home far easier while a fully-integrated ducted air-conditioning system may be preferable to retrofitting wall-mounted units at a later date.

Consider also the proven benefits of installing wall and ceiling insulation during the building process. It could save thousands of dollars in heating and cooling costs after you’ve moved in. What type of water heater is specified and is it large enough to cater for your family’s daily needs? Will you install a solar power system? If so, how big will the system need to be to service your family’s requirements?

The Great Outdoors

These days, the Queensland lifestyle also tends to revolve around alfresco dining and outdoor entertaining. If you’re thinking about having a pool, it may be far less expensive to install one prior to commencing the home’s slab or foundations than trying to excavate and deliver concrete after the home has been completed. This is also the best stage to think about including a barbecue area, patios and pergolas.

While it’s tempting to say ‘we’ll have those jobs done after we’ve moved in’, it’s generally less expensive and a lot more convenient to have them included at the time of building than to subcontract these jobs at a later date. Before you move in, consider the extra jobs to be undertaken: there’s the internal and external painting, driveways, fencing, floor coverings, window shutters and blinds, landscaping, paths and a host of other seemingly minor yet time consuming endeavours.

The real joy of building comes when you move into your new home. Knowing you’ll have a host of jobs that will tie you up in knots for many weekends to come can really take the shine off the joy and excitement of the entire project. If possible, try to allow sufficient budget to ensure that your furnishings and interior décor will complement your beautiful new home, even if it’s only in the living areas where you’ll spend most of your time.