By far the worst moment so far came when we opened the pdf from our quantity surveyor. It seemed like forever as we scrolled down the 22-page document, hunting for the bottom line. For those of you who don't know, a quantity surveyor is the character you hire to have a look at your house plans and tell you how much it will cost to build. He or she has a backpack full of experience and a calculator full of algorithms to add up every nail, square metre of gib, each metre of steel beam, every bit of joinery, tapware, each hour of labour, every bucket of paint and cubic metre of excavation.
If quantity surveying sounds tedious, finicky and time-consuming to you, then probably don’t study it at university. I think a lot of quantity surveyors get into the field because it sounds majestic. Sounds like a guy standing with his legs far apart at the crest of a hill, lit by the setting sun. With one hand shading his eyes, he swings his steely gaze across his domain, narrows his eyes briefly then declares "A lot".
In reality it’s a guy called John with a laptop.
The only time I’d ever even heard of quantity surveyors before was in a Monty Python sketch I remember from when I was 13 – so I thought the whole process would most likely be a bit of a laugh, probably a fish involved and we’d all dress up as women. That didn’t turn out to be the case.
Not everyone gets their building quantity surveyed before they sign up a builder and begin. Blind optimism is a far more fun approach, and has the benefit of not destroying your hopes at the start. On Grand Designs they sail straight into building, and only find out the house is too ambitious when they run out of money. That’s what makes good television. How many of Kevin’s victims on that show end up selling their houses when the cameras finish filming, or selling their marital bed?
Gemma and I were dead keen to have our quantities professionally surveyed. We wanted to find out if we would be able to afford to build the house we’d had designed for us. We paid $300,000 for the section with no real idea of how much it would cost to build there. We had the designs sketched by our architect, and remained in the dark. In November last year our draughtsman Karl finished the resource consent drawings. That cost another few thousand dollars and still we didn’t have the foggiest about the cost. Trouble is, the quantity surveyer can’t get a clear idea of what you’re up to until you’ve nearly finished the final drawings to be submitted to council for building consent, by which time you feel pretty much committed to your (possibly unaffordable) design.
By the way, have I mentioned how much I love the Auckland City Council and the people at it? Such great people! I think it’s wise to start brown-nosing them now in the desperate hope that will win us favour for when we put the plans in for consent. Probably won’t have any effect, but, like praying and not murdering people, you do it anyway just in case there is a heaven. Holy Council forgive me.
There is a way to get a rough value of the cost of a build. You multiply the square metrage (the bigness) of the house by a number between $1500 and $3500 depending on how hard the section is to build on (the hardness) and how fancy the house is going to be (the fancyness). Bigness x (Hardness + Fancyness) = Costyness. In our case the bigness was about 250m2, and the hardness and fancyness we estimated at anywhere between $2000 and $3000 per square metre. So we were looking at somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000 – a very large costyness. It’s only writing this now that I find things like this estimating webpage at tradebox.co.nz that might have pointed to an even more ominous figure.
Did you know that it costs more to build in Auckland than anywhere else? What a rort. Why would that be? It doesn’t cost more to buy a hamburger in Auckland or to go to the movies or even to build a Lego house in Auckland. Once you’ve paid the ridiculous cost of the section, surely from there on the building costs should be even. It does make complete sense that it will be worth more once you finish - after all, when you’ve finished building a house in Auckland, you live in Auckland, so it stands to reason.
For a while we considered building the house in Dunedin, then having it shipped up here, in order to cleverly circumvent the rule that people building houses in Auckland have to get shafted.
If you’re going to meet one important person for our build as we go through this blog, it’s our draughtsman – Karl. You see our architect is Gemma’s father Roy, a great and renowned Wellington legend who was the architect of the Cake Tin. (By the way never call it the Cake Tin when Roy is around, especially not the first time you meet him. For example if your future mother-in-law says "Roy was the architect of the Westpac Trust Stadium" don’t say "oh, you mean the Cake Tin?" Not my best move.) Before Roy came back to us with the first drawings, I was concerned that our house would end up round with the lawn in the middle and about 40,000 chairs in it. It didn’t. It was beautiful straight away.
Roy is the big-picture architect, draughtsman Karl lives in Auckland and does the drawings that attract approval from the fabulous council and that enable the builder to make the house. Pages and pages and pages of them. By the middle of June this year the building consent drawings were near enough to finished for the quantity surveyor Karl recommended to us (John and his laptop) to have a look and make an estimate of costs.
We got the email from John’s laptop on a Friday morning. He had sent it at about 11.50 the night before. I imagined him surveying well into the night. Surely our quantities weren't that large that it required a late-night survey? The email was sitting crouched in the inbox there, waiting to pounce. Gemma and I opened the pdf. The first page gave nothing away.
We realised the final figure would be at the end of the document so we scrolled and scrolled. $750,000 was at the top end of the range of what we were expecting. I was secretly worried it would be around $800,000. Finally we found the bottom of the document.
We just looked at each other. $930,000 to build just one house? It was a bad day.
Six weeks later we have got over that shock, and we haven’t given up building a house. This blog will follow our progress as we go about finishing the drawings, contracting a builder and then building the house. Between now and the end of the summer (or more likely between now and whenever it gets finished – hopefully before the Rio Olympics, please don’t let that be a joke that ends up coming true).
We have made and will be making so many decisions, doing so much research, examining so many products and options for our build that, by the time we’ve finished, we should know enough about building a house to embark on building a house. It’ll be too late for us then, but if you are thinking about doing it yourself, perhaps reading this will prepare you better than we have been.
The first few blog posts will bring you up to date with our adventures so far. I’ll post pictures of the section, the drawings, some video and tell you what we did about the “million dollar shock” above.
In the meantime if you do any quantity surveying try to make it more surveying and less quantity.
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