There was also a lot of other advice I'm not sure about such as suggestions that I build somewhere else, harden up, build it myself instead of hiring a builder, move to Christchurch, move to the third world or re-sit School C maths. (I may have slightly misunderstood some of them.) My favourite comment started with the words "Whoop-de-doo". What I loved was that someone still says "Whoop de doo" - I thought that had been lost along with phrases like "man alive" and "heebie jeebies" and calling people "bounders". I like to imagine the commenter thinking "I'm gonna tear this guy a new one - I'll start with ‘Whoop de doo’" then stopping to think how to spell it. There isn't a dictionary in the land that will give you a spelling for Whoop de doo. In fact if I were him I would have saved on the second "o" in "doo" and splashed out on another "e" for the "de".
And I'm delighted to pass on two important facts about quantity surveyors I didn't know. Lizzie points out that nails are just about the only thing they don't actually count - nails are measured by weight. And jk shares another sketch where Fry and Laurie rightly lampoon the profession.
After getting a quantity surveyor's estimate of $930,000 to build our three-level Three Kings house (see last blog post), Gemma and I freaked out. Despite making the big bucks as a semi-professional part-time blogging poster, there was no way we could afford that on top of the price of the section. We laughed, we cried (well I cried, but only a little bit). Gemma was remarkably calm - she knew we'd work our way through it, but all I could see was dreams collapsing like a house made of pink icey slicey wafers.
Our next step was to get a valuation on the place. I reasoned that it was one kind of stupid to build a house you could potentially not afford to build, but that it was a completely different species of stupid to build a house that wouldn’t be worth nearly what you spent on it. I’m all up for being reckless and overextending ourselves to the point that we can’t afford milk and have to wee on our Weetbix to soften them (disgusting I know but I’ve been a Massey student) but if it was at least worth what we spend then if all turns to yoghurt we can sell it and laugh about the whole thing later.
Luckily there are valuers (my friend Rachel calls them valuators, which I love, so I will call them that from now on) who will look at your plans and the area, research recent sales and come up with an estimation of market value of a house which doesn’t exist. I would have thought lack of existence would decrease the market value a lot, but it doesn’t seem to hamper it at all. In fact imaginariness seems to increase the value, if anything.
I met a great character called Derek on our site, from a crowd called Morley and Associates. He took this photo of our tiny steep section
and he and I walked around. I gave him our plans. Before he retreated back to his lair to create a value for our place, he asked me if I had any idea of what it would be worth. I said no – which was true. I did have an idea of what I hoped it would be worth. If it was up to me his calculation should be Valuation = QS Estimate + Section Cost. I didn’t tell him what I hoped it would be though. I didn’t want to affect the outcome. Actually I didn’t want to be laughed at in the street.
Derek went away to begin his calculations. Basically he looks at other houses that have sold in the area. He then compares them to our imaginary house – which he evaluates for bigness and fanciness. If he thinks ours will be stinker than a previously sold house nearby, he knows the value will be less. If he thinks ours is grouser than another, he’ll say "a bit more than that". The trick is to know the area well enough and have the kind of handle on "stinker" and "grouser" that takes a lot of experience to have. So we crossed our fingers and waited for his report.
The next day we got a letter from the council. It was our first rates assessment for the section. At the top it said "Land value: $240,000". Now I love the Auckland Council - have I established that already? I love them the way monkeys love bananas (a lot and every day) and furthermore I understand that the CV or GV or RV, or whatever it is, is often less than the market value. But since we had, just a few months before, paid $300,000 for the section we took this as a bad omen for the overall value of our eventual house.
Meanwhile we took that QS report and wrote all over it. We crossed things out, recalculated things, tried to find mistakes and tried to find savings. Some things we realised we just didn't need. Some things we realised we couldn't afford. My favourite thing we removed was a patterned pressed aluminium on the ceiling in our living/dining/kitchen area
It’s great stuff, can be used outside as well as inside. I wanted to put it up as a nod to the old villa we own now – as that’s what the Victorians and Edwardians put up in the fancy rooms of their houses – our house has it in the front two rooms and half the hallway. A number of companies in Australia do it, including these people.
For everything we considered removing we had to work out if the replacement would be cheaper enough to mean a worthwhile saving. Replacing the patterned aluminium ceilings with normal gib saved us about $8000 so it was a no-brainer. (Actually a no-brainer would be if we decided not to go with the giant decorative brain we had planned for the foyer, but there’s no way I’m giving that up.)
We found things we knew we could get cheaper than the QS had listed. We crossed those things out. We joyfully discovered that the QS had a figure in there for a driveway crossing that exists already. On our own we found about $50,000 of savings without making massive changes to our overall plans.
We called our architect (father-in-law) and our draughtsman (Karl), we called our engineer (Bruce) our mothers (Sandy and Jocelyn) and our quantity surveyor (bad nasty man). We asked our professionals if there were strange, foolish, costly or inefficient things in our plans we weren’t aware of. Were there aspects of our plans they were secretly laughing at? With their help we removed or rationalised a whole lot of small things. No glass balustrades, timber retaining instead of block where possible, smaller garage area, no rain screen – just normal cladding... Putting a couple of support posts in the open-plan area upstairs and along the edge of the deck meant the roof structure could be simplified – saving a lot of money on steel. We hadn’t wanted any posts, but once we realised that wish would cost us $20,000 we were remarkably unconcerned about having a couple of posts.
You know you’ve been staring at the plans and QS report too long when you say to your wife “I think we can both agree this ‘roof’ is a luxury we can’t afford.”
That’s a picture of our house as planned so far. It’s only an artist’s impression using a 3D modelling programme called Google Sketchup that’s absolutely free here. We decided to splash out and leave the roof in the plans.
To avoid getting such a surprise from the QS report, commentster Glen last week suggested my maths needed a tweak. He suggested I change my equation (which was Bigness x (Hardness + Fancyness) = Costyness) so that our budget dictates the size of the house we can afford. Glen’s solution was “Costyness - fixed site costs = build budget / (fancyness) = m2 I can afford” If I’m getting Glen right, I might translate it as:
Bigness I can afford = (Costyness – fixed site costs)/(Fancyness)
That way if you know your budget and the fixed site costs of building on your site (dictated by the difficulty of your section) then you can vary your "fancyness" to dictate the size of house you can afford. It’s pretty hard to do this first up, until you get an idea of what your fixed site costs are – so this was basically what we ended up doing once we had the QS report in hand. Thanks Glen.
After a couple of weeks of discussions and changes the revised QS report came back at a significantly smaller amount than the first report. I won’t tell you right now what it was because we are soon getting builders to quote for the job and we aren’t supposed to tell them what we are expecting, so it’s secret right now. But I will tell you as soon as we accept a builder’s quote.
Then we got the email from Derek the valuator. It was another tense moment, but this time not an awful one. Amazingly the valuation almost exactly equalled the new QS estimate plus the section cost. I did a dance.
After about $2000 spent on valuators and quantity surveyors, we are glad we had our eyes opened with them. It’s good to know exactly which sort of stupid you are before you embark on ill-advised projects. It’s good to know by how much your optimism outstrips sensible projections and it’s comforting to have a handle on the scale of your future poverty. Now we have finished being sensible we can charge forward like eager children.
In the meantime we have been struggling long and hard with how to best heat our new house – a big decision we have to make in the next couple of weeks before we submit plans for building consent. My next blogging post will tell you all we’ve learnt about house heating.
Spoiler alert: If you thought the answer was to buy some heaters, it turns out you’re wrong.
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