It's been too long since my last post and I can only apologise reservedly for that. I've had a lot of trouble since then - I've been fired by Winston Peters for stealing from my mother, been criticised for saying we should compensate David Bain, been released in 48fps to mixed reviews, and been beaten 38-21 by England at Twickenham. Fun times.
It's December now. The northerly blows warmly and the black spiders in the corners of the windows and the weatherboards are getting bigger in their webs. You'd think with our building consent sorted and three tenders in from three reputable builders it would be all over bar the shouting, digging, hammering, roofing and moving in. (I don't know why we don't save time by actually leaving out the shouting altogether.) But we seem to manage to find ways to delay the beginning of our build. It's like old DIY adage "measure once, cut twice" (I think that's right) but we are taking our time measuring these builders' quotes very carefully. Mostly because our ruler isn't nearly long enough.
After we got the three quotes back from our builders, Gemma and I carefully curated an Excel document which places the builders' quotes one beside the other. It is broken down by areas like Concreting, Tiling, Carpentry, Preliminaries, Contractor's Margin etc. We have sent many emails to the builders over the past two weeks asking for clarifications to make sure we are clear about what is included in each quote and what is excluded. We have obtained quotes from our own suppliers for the things we wanted to source ourselves such as carpet ($5775), joinery ($41,400) and timber flooring ($8186.50). Once we've made sure that each quote has a cell in the spreadsheet for everything that we will need for the total house, then we can compare the totals and work out which builder is giving us the best price. The largest part of each quote is Carpentry. The second largest by far is called "GST" and I can't understand for the life of me why Grout, Sand and Tiles should be so expensive.
Right out on the right of the spreadsheet we've made a column for our quantity surveyor's estimate which he gave us before we put the plans out to the builders and in for building consent to the Council (Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory). Here is a snapshot of our spreadsheet.
There's a massive caveat when comparing the columns. The categories are not necessarily set. One builder might put all the concrete into the "Concrete" heading while others put some into that column and other parts of it into the "Precast Concrete" heading. It's very hard to tell what is actually included in each heading, so you never know for sure if you are comparing like for like across the columns. Despite that, you might notice straight away our problem: our quantity surveyor's estimate was a lot lower in some major areas than the builders have indicated. The cumulative effect was that the QS's total was (we think after comparing everything) about $160,000 less than the builders' quotes (which come out remarkably even once everything is taken into account). The QS has even underestimated the margin that the builders put on the job - marking it down for 7.5 per cent when in fact the builders have all put 10 per cent on.
This is a problem for us because we have invested a lot of time and money (completing the drawings, getting the building consent etc) on the basis that we could afford the house, but now it appears we can't. It's what is known in the trade as a "Major Mozz".
Gemma and I have reacted to this differently. I went off on tour of the country with 7 Days Live. Basically I went on the run. Timaru, Hastings, Invercargill, Dunedin, Palmerston North. But even in Palmerston North with all the excitement of the city around me I couldn't forget my problems. In fact I only discovered more problems. In Rotorua I found that the locals are extremely sensitive to anyone saying "Pooh your town stinks". But it does. I also found that they like to call their town Rotovegas. The trouble is that in Invercargill they also like to call their town Invervegas. I actually had people in shops ask me "What are you guys doing in Vegas?" in both towns. All I'm saying is we can't have both. I may not be as wise as Solomon, and nobody has asked me to do this, but I'm going to take it upon myself to decide who can have the title. It is easy really. The name works because of the rich irony of comparing a small place with the world's greatest all-night party city. If the Hangover had been set in Invercargill, it would have been 10 minutes long and ended with a nice pinot at the Kiln. Therefore the town which most deserves the title is the town where that irony is greatest. Invervegas by a country mile, literally. You're welcome. The only way this can be transferred is to either Lumsdevegas, Geraldivegas or Waiouruvegas.
Gemma meanwhile put a plan into action to try to reduce the costs and move toward the difficult choice of which builder to employ. She set up meetings with our architect and with each of the builders. Architect-in-law Roy came up to Aucklavegas and we invited each builder around to our house for a glass of water and a talk. Gemma had made a list of 15 questions for each of them - from simple questions like "when can you start?" to harder questions like "can you think of a cheaper way to do the stairs?", "if we can source materials cheaper than you can, is that okay?", "can we do the excavation on an open-book, charge-up basis?" and "are you okay with the fact that Jon is writing a blog detailing every step of this procedure and opening you up to public scrutiny?"
At the end of the meetings we were clearer about one thing: we like and trust all the builders extremely well. They really are top characters. After each left we looked at each other and just went "yes". Much better if this was X Factor and one of us said "You are the weakest link, put out your torch." (Or whatever they say.)
We followed up the meeting with an email containing 24 points to each builder. Each point aimed at reducing the cost of the quote or clarifying something for us. From "3. Remove canopy over bedroom 4 deck." to "5. Delete plastering on garden retaining walls" to "16. Stairs not to be Jarrah".
At the same time I've been in correspondence with the quantity surveyor. When something goes wrong it's easy to blame someone else so I've enjoyed blaming him for "Major Mozz 2012". I pointed out to him the wide variation between what he'd led us to expect and what awful reality we were faced with. The irony is that we were trying as hard as we could to avoid an awful surprise by hiring a quantity surveyor in the first place. He has pointed out a couple of things he wasn't including in his quote and asked for some clarification from the builders. He was particularly surprised with their figure for carpentry. I've passed his questions on to the builders.
What I am hoping is that all this to-and-fro, emails, lists, Excel, figures, waking up and going to Rotorua is going to eventually lead to the builders coming back with a final quote that is closer to affordable.
Sometimes at night I dream the numbers and then I wake up and they swirl around my head like birds in a cartoon when someone gets thumped.
No matter how the numbers swirl around, there are only a couple of ways to make the number east of equals smaller. Being a layabout who basically does nothing constructive for a living I am well used to lying awake at night just because I haven't done enough to get tired. But for the first time, after the builders visited, I actually lay awake from 0402 until about 0500 with anxiety.
The first way to reduce the mortgage we'll have is to increase the "Money in our Bank". I could do that by making 140 calls to the TAB each month, but luckily I don't have to because I have just published a book, and I've worked out I only have to sell about 14 million copies to make enough to pay for the house. So I would like to proudly abuse the privilege of writing this blog by showing a picture of me proudly abusing the privilege of MCing an awards night by shamelessly hawking my book. If you are Christmas shopping for someone who has just started out riding a bike or would like to ride a bike, what an ideal way to give them fitness, give them joy, save them money and give them a smile on the 25th!
What a massive cheeseball.
Another way to do that is to sell our current villa for more. But how much is it worth now? When is the best time to sell? How best to sell it? These are questions for a future blog.
And how much is too big a mortgage? Seriously, how much?
And of course the other way to reduce this eventual mortgage is what we are up to with the builders, the architect, Karl the draughtsman and the QS. And we've got our fingers crossed that when we hear back from all of them and put it all together again at least one of the builders will have given us a figure we can work with. We are determined to engage a builder by Christmas so keep an eye on this space for next week's post. With luck I'll be able to tell you who is building our house and for how much. And with even more luck it will be for less than one million dollars! There's that f*&^%ing number again.
Either way, even if it isn't the nicest house in the neighbourhood we will be able to sleep soundly (or lie awake quietly) in the knowledge that it is the most expensive house in Three Kings.
Sorry, Three Kivegas.
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