Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 3 - Trees

We have quite a few trees on our block. Actually we have more than that, we have a lot of trees. They are not small either. The majority of them are big.

In order to build our house we need to remove more than 12 large gum trees, that is just within the space where the house is going. There are more that need to be removed, but being in a council shire that is just a little crazy over trees, I don't think that is going to happen.

In the photo above, all of the trees (except for the very back ones on the left) need to go. They are directly in the way of the house. All their stumps will be taken as well.  There are others that are in front of where I took this photo, that need to be removed as well.

At the front of the block, you can see by the above photo there are two large trees, actually they are huge if you have a look at my car next to Them. The council does not want these trees to go as they think they significant, however, they will be not that much over 5 metres from the front of the house. Council allows trees to be automatically removed if they are within 5 metres of the dwelling. These might be further than that away, but I would hate if they fell on the house. Another worry, they are big now, they are only going to get bigger.

Price to remove 12 trees and take away the stumps, but leave the trees behind for fire wood $3,500. Got to be happy with that, it was a lot cheaper than I thought.  Now we just need planning permission and we can get going

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day Zero

We paid our $3,000 initial payment to Rawson today.  I am actually quite excited that we are finally getting the process moving again.  We received a bottle of Champagne for our efforts from Rawson.

We did make a few changes today to our plans and hopefully if we spell it out from the beginning the check plans that come to us might be right and we wont have to make many changes.

We originally changed the home theatre door to a single swinging door, we have since changed our minds and will make it double cavity sliding doors.  That way we can leave the doors open the majority of the time and when we are using the room we can shut the doors off.

In the kitchen we are having a window as the splashback. The kitchen bench will be 5 metres long and we want a window that is 4.8 metres long that will be centred.  As a single window this length would be a scary cost, we have decided to have 3 windows, a 2400mm long centred and 2 x 1200mm on each end.

We have also advised that everything needs to be symmetrical.  Windows need to be centred in the rooms and the oven and sink centred in the bench.  Mat is anal about things being centred and it will annoy him forever if it is out.

Paul has advised us that the plans probably will be wrong.  Fingers crossed the plans will be right.

Next step - picking external colours. Not looking forward to that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Spanner in the works

Who would have thought that this build could get any more complicated it just did.

If you remember back to the original reason we sold our house and bought a block of land, to build the McDonald Jones Bronte House

When the application to change the building envelope was rejected I was devastated. In the end we decided rather than fighting the council and ending up being thousands more (than we already were) out of pocket, just to cut our loses and go and find another house.  So we did and we have paid another fee to Rawson.

Today, I sent an email to the council trying to tie up loose ends, formally requesting them to withdraw the application.  I also sent one to our surveyor with a few choice words saying that we had not heard from them in a month and we gathered they had washed their hands of the matter.   I quickly received a phone call back stating that they had been arguing with the council for the last month (would have been nice if they had let us know what they were doing) and that they thought they would have formal approval in the next couple of days.

I explained our current situation, that we had decided to go with another builder. I was asked to reconsider, if it wasn't for us, to think about the community as there were many people that wanted to change building envelopes.

So what do I do?  I asked Mat, do we go for our original house that we fell in love with or do we go with the new house? 

We went with the new house. Yes it is going to cost us about $40,000 more, but it is a bigger house and will fit better on the block. 

So today the s.96 application was formally withdrawn. Goodbye Bronte Executive Grande.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tender Shock

I had my tender presentation today. I now know the reason they present it in person, so they can explain it point by point rather than flicking through to the bit we all want to know - THE PRICE.

Paul at Rawson is pretty good with his tenders and I did not expect much and thought that going in today would be a formality.  Well I was a little bit wrong there.

Firstly to Kate, thanks for your patience with the kids and with them leaving the office like a cookie bomb had just gone off. The cleaners are going to have a little more work tonight cleaning up after my kids.

Now the quote is about $12,000 more than I expected.  One of the reasons the slab.  We had a soil test done with McDonald Jones and it came back as an M class slab. Rawson wanted to do their own soil test and it has come back as an H class slab.  Adds an extra $6,000 to the cost of the house.  I am a little stunned by this, as the bore holes that were drilled were about 10 metres further back on the block from the original McDonald Jones ones.

The water connection came in quite a lot higher, but this has since been reduced significantly.  Sewerage and stormwater were also a lot higher than our McDonald Jones quote, but these are provisions as there is a 66m run to connect these services.

Now I just need to wait to speak to Kate tomorrow after she has spoken with the estimating department to see if there is any movement on the slab.

Also, I asked what the cost of the staircase was - it didn't make me fall over with the cost. In the show home the wood is victorian ash and the banisters are stainless steel. I am thinking when we go to colours I might get it priced for just the banisters in stainless and leave the staircase in MDF so we can carpet it later. 

Show Homes and Tenders

Today is my tender presentation. I would rather just have it in an email so I can look at it at home and go through it all, but I guess this is the process of how building companies work. They want to do it in person, so you can't faint and yell profanities in their office.  So keep your fingers crossed, hopefully I do not faint.

On our way back from Canberra we stopped in at the Show Homes at Kellyville Ridge. They have the Fernside 38 on display. It is great to see the house in the flesh, and probably a good thing that we are 2 hours drive away as I am sure I would be there a lot.

Here are some pictures (taken on my phone) from our visit.

Front door - I love the large void here.  I would love the wooden stairs and the stainless banister, but I think I would die at the price - maybe I should ask the price to ease my mind, but then maybe I would want it.  I also love the wallpaper up the stairs.

We will not have the tall ceilings as in the show home. We would love them, but it adds more $$$ to the build cost. I have told myself that we are short and that normal height ceilings are already high enough for us.

Our one will have the alfresco option built in as part of the house, so the back wall in the photo will be where our house ends, and then we will add another alfresco on the back - total length of the house 27metres.

The tiles will be 600 x 600 porcelain white tiles. I know groan and tell me how horrible they are to keep clean. I know they are, I had them in my last house. I could regularly be seen on my hands and knees with a grout brush scrubbing the grout back to white, but I love the look, so we will be putting them in this house as well.

I am extending the kitchen island by 900mm, which will make it about 3.3m long (I wanted 3.5m, but I think that that is pushing it).  40mm stone with waterfall edge to both ends. I am also extending the back kitchen bench by 900mm as well.   We are also having the window for a splashback. 

Another view of the kitchen, the island in ours will extend into the alfresco area.

Last picture is of the front of the house again. Did I tell you I love the void?

After seeing the house in the flesh we are really happy with our selection. I just want to start building. All this waiting is driving me nuts.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fernside 38

After the thick book that we were given with all the house designs, we settled on the Fernside 38. It had 5 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, study and home theatre.

Originally I did not want 3.5 bathrooms. My mum has 5 bathrooms in her house and she has just had to replace 3 of them.  To me more bathrooms means more cleaning. However, for re-sale value I didn't think we could lose any of them.   Bedroom 5 on the ground floor will be our guest room. Guests don't want to be travelling upstairs to have a shower, so it had to stay.

Another idea originally was to lose the bath in the ensuite.  I used to take baths all the time and but could probably count on one hand the amount of times I had one in the last 8 years.  We were giong to extend the size of the bedroom where we had lost the bath.  Again for re-sale value we have kept it in.  We are going to lose the door from the ensuite into the WIR. There is no need for this and allows us to have extra hanging space.

In the lounge at the front of the house we are making the opening to the room a normal door. This is going to be the home theatre room and we want it dark.

We are also losing the cut out in the study that connects to the dining area.  The desk in my study is never clean, I don't really need it on display.

For me the kitchen area was not really big enough. In my last house my island kitchen bench was 3.5m and in this house it is 2.4m - however there is not enough room to extend it as it is at the back of the house.  Our idea was to have the alfresco option, which is an additional 4m and to add this as part of the house. Adding the alfresco is part of the promotions package at the moment, so we have paid an additional $6,000 to make this part of the house and not have it as an alfresco.

Remember that budget - if we thought it was smashed before, it really is going to be now.

To add to this, we have extended the kitchen including the island by 900mm each. We have changed the splash back into a long window.  There will be 40mm ceasarstone including waterfall ends. Undermount sink and a tap for the fridge.  We have taken out the door in the pantry to the laundry and we have put it in the hallway.  I dont want to have to talk through the pantry to get to the laundry and I get the extra storage in the pantry.

Our tender request went in last Monday.  On the weekend we had another thought.  How much was the alfresco option worth on its own. We need an undercover area on the house and were going to get one built after we had the house handed over, but we might as well get it built with the house if it is reasonable.

Another call to our trusty salesperson Paul and he gave us the price and reminded us that we were already at our limit. I advised him that we had already smashed our budget a long time ago (more than $20,000 ago) and so now we were really going to give it a beating.

We are now waiting on the final price.   If you take the floor plan as it is above, add an additional alfresco option on the back and you will have the house we are planning to build.

The house will be 14m wide and 27m long (so will just fit into the building envelope - length ways anyway)
It will be 42 squares when it is finished.  The price, well that is offensive, but as my dad told me years ago, always buy/build the biggest house you can afford. It costs a lot more to extend/move later when you realise you need the extra room.

What Do We Do?

I think for a few days we sat there stunned. I cried and I swore. It was not as simple as choosing another house. It was that house that I wanted. I know it sounds dramatic, but it felt like the dream was slipping away.

So rather than wallow in self pity, we better come up with a solution. We could try and fight it or we could move on.

A visit to Waterford County show homes to get a price off Eden Brae for their double storey houses we stumbled across Rawson Homes. We walked through their Benham 33. It was a little too small for what we wanted and did not have the 5th bedroom and a study that we wanted, but from our interactions with the sales person, we settled on a design Fernside 38.

The good thing with Rawson is their inclusions are better than with McDonald Jones and a lot of the things that were an upgrade are standard, but their quote is fixed. Site costs are fixed. This is going to help as this house is going to well and truely smash our budget. 

Follow us on this journey as we go through the pre-building stage and build this house. We are hoping it wont take too much more than a year, but we have learnt, nothing is ever smooth when you are building a house.

Section 96 and Consolidated Tenders

It never occured to me that we might not be able to move the building envelope. From my discussions with council and with the Surveyors there was no reason that the building envelope was there and it was just a formality to change it.

I was told by the Surveyors that the Council had to refer the S.96 application to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) within 2 working days of receiving the application.  The application was lodged Tuesday 17th April 2012

I rung the council on 20th April, nothing had been done with it. I was told to call the following Monday.

I called again 23rd April to be told it was sitting on one of the employees desk and nothing had been done and to call back in a couple of days.

I called back on 26th April 2012 to be told that again nothing had been done. When I questioned about the two working days, I was told I needed to speak to the employee that was looking after it. I left a message and did not get a call back.

I rung again to be told that it had not been referred to the RFS. When I questioned the employee about the 2 days he said that he did not think it needed to be referred and he was waiting to speak to the head of the RFS just to confirm, but there was nothing wrong with the application and as far as he was concerned it was all approved.

Another call to chase up on 2nd May, the same employee advised that the head of the RFS did not need it referred and it was all good, just waiting for the tree people to get back to him and then he could send out the official paperwork. He said it would be 2 weeks.

During this time that we were waiting, we gave McDonald Jones the green light to go ahead. Everything had been so positive from council that we thought it was a matter of time. 

On 26th April 2012 we went through our initial colour walkthrough.  This was an eye opener.  The discount that we were given upon signing, this was spent in a blink of an eye.

On 3rd May we received our Consolidated Tender.  It came back as BAL 12.5 bushfire. We knew this already and that added an additional $5,610 to the quote.  Luckily for us everything else was good, no difference in the slab which I was worried about.

Once we signed off on the Consolidated Tender, the plans were drawn up and we made our appointment to have choose our colours.  It was set for 25th May 2012

On Tuesday 15th May I rung up the Council to check on the progress. I was advised that I would get a call back.  No call back, so I chased the following day to be told that an email had been sent to the Surveyors and it was suggested that I read it.

Bascially the gist of the email was that there was an additional 8 trees that needed to be cut down with new building envelope (which is complete rubbish as there are not another 8 trees to cut down) and it was a koala habitat area.  They were saying 'No' on moving the envelope and if we wanted to pursue it we needed to provide a full flora and fauna report with an animal report, which would have cost in excess of $7,000.

To say I was floored was an understatement. I didn't know what to do. Firstly I had a go at the council employee.  He denied ever telling me that it was approved. Denied telling me it did not have to be referred to the RFS.

I went to a Council Councellor, he told me to walk away. He said there was no point to fight the council. It would only cost me money and I wouldn't win.  His solution - just choose another house. I didn't want another house - I wanted that house.

So nearly $5,000 down the drain and 2 months wasted.


Before we had even settled on the block, we went to McDonald Jones to get their free tender.  We listed all the things that we wanted and waited for the tender. We had an ideal figure in our mind.   When we sat in the sales office, and given our quote, I received my first lesson in house building - it is more expensive than you think.

Without even going to colours or having proper site evaluations the quote was already $4,000 over our max budget.  Ouch!! We had agreed to sell the house.  We needed some time to think about it.   The most pressing thing was to find out about this block and the building envelope.

I went to the local Council. They thought that it may be a Koala habitat area. They asked me if I had noticed any Koala poo or scratches on the trees. Not being a poo expert, they sent a animal person out to the block, who confirmed there was no poo on the block and the trees were scratch free, so we were clear in that area.   He said there were two large trees at the front of the block and maybe they were of significance, and a visit from the council tree guy was needed.  After he visited it was confirmed that the trees did not have any significance and they could be cut down if needed to build a house.   We were told at that stage that we would need to put in a DA in order to do anything further - putting in a DA meant buying the block.

With this information we were encouraged, we exchanged on the block and paid our $3,000 deposit to McDonald Jones after receiving a nice discount from them.

Prior to the block settling, McDonald Jones advised us that we should try and have a face-to-face meeting with the council regarding the building envelope. We didnt want to get to the DA stage and then be told no.  I rung many people at the council and finally someone told me that I needed to put in a Section 96 to modify the building envelope. They gave me the name of the Surveyor who had done the original subdivision.

A nice little bill of $1,266 and $192.50 to the council for fees our application was lodged on 17th April 2012. We were told it would take up to 6 weeks to get an answer.  So all we could do was wait.

Lets start at the very beginning

We are building a new house. We have toyed with the idea for many years, but it has always been in the too hard basket.   In January this year we decided to put the house on the market.  We were going on holidays and thought that we would give ourselved a month after we returned to finish everything off and then we would sell it. We wanted to buy a bigger block of land, but the main objective for me was building my dream house.

This was our house before, it is still pretty nice.   We moved up to Port Stephens from Sydney in 2009. Our decision to move was dictated to be able to own a house like this, our house in Sydney was tiny compared to this. The house when we bought it was only 8 months old. It was unfinished. Basically there was the house (minus floor coverings) and 1/2 an acre of dirt.  A couple of pictures to show you what it was like before we sold

Entry hallway with study to the right.

Home Theatre

Main living/kitchen area.



Part of the backyard.
We acheived a lot in just over 3 years, but maybe we have been spoilt by what we can afford compared to Sydney. 

The house sold to the first and only viewer before it was officially on the market.  We had to find somewhere to buy quickly and to organise somewhere to rent.  As with property, nothing goes as smoothly as you hope.  

Firstly, we had agreed to purchase a 1 acre block of land. We thought it was all going smoothly until the agent decided to play silly buggers with us and try to rip us off.  We pulled out on the purchase of the first block and settled on a second block.  Things worked out though, it was $10,000 cheaper - so more money to spend on the house build.

The land is 1 acre (4000m2)  There are way too may trees at the moment, so there will be some clearing to do before we can start building. The positive is, we will have free firewood for life.

The reason we were going to sell the house - this house

It is the Mcdonald Jones Bronte Executive Grande.  It would have been perfect. 5 bedrooms, 2 studies and an activity room big enough for a pool table.    The problem we were going to have is the block has a pre-determined building envelope.   The envelope is 20m x 28m, the problem with the Bronte is it 29m wide, so was not going to fit on the building envelope.   So our first port of call was to change the building envelope, how hard could it be?