How to price a new build

MONEY: Pricing up a house build is a very detailed process.
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MONEY: Pricing up a house build is a very detailed process.

There was a lot of nodding and agreement from readers in response to the piece about things going wrong with our architect.

But the biggest issue most of you faced wasn't to do with not liking a design, but being able to afford it. I would like to say that I know how to fix that. But I cannot tell a lie.

When it comes to house building, the price seems to always go up. What I can say though, is that advice from a trusted friend in our second-go-round was to price your design at the earliest possible opportunity, and to me, that makes sound sense.

Price it early

Your designer should have a good idea about what things cost to build, but the prices for building materials in New Zealand do move quite quickly. So how do you get a handle on the cost of your design?

There are various stages of the design process. The first, usually called preliminary design, is where you have a good idea of what you're going to build. The number of rooms, the size and many of the materials. It's not as detailed as the next two or so stages, which will go into some of the how (structural elements, full material details, etc).

After the developed design stage, when you will basically sign off your design, the later working drawings allow a builder to cost your house pretty accurately, and this is the estimate most people start from. For more about this and other parts of the build process, check out some of these handy guides.

While getting someone to cost your preliminary design cannot give you a fully realised estimate, it can give you a really good idea of where things are sitting.

Show a plan of an elaborately designed six bedroom mansion that you're planning to build for $300,000 to almost any builder and they will be able to shake their head knowingly and say "not a chance, love". This is what I like to call the "you're dreamin" test.

Here is where we were lucky second time round. For a small fee, a friend with quantity surveying software was able to generate an estimate that went into some serious detail - we're talking nails and screws - from our preliminary design. From this we were able to quickly work out that even our pretty simple design was too much for our budget.

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Some qualified quantity surveyors offer services at comparable costs, but some charge considerably more, and your design might not have enough detail to warrant that sort of expense. But whether it's with a builder, a trade savvy friend, or a quantity surveyor, my advice is get someone skilled to check over your early plans and see if you're in the ball park or if "you're dreamin"

And in my opinion, it's worth a bit of money now to save a LOT of money later. You won't get a full quote, but if you're over budget early on, chances are costs are only going to go up.

And price it again

Because we were at an early stage in the design process, we were able to make changes with the knowledge we had minimised the cost and time implications for the architectural process.

We slimmed down the room sizes, changed the cladding, cut off a few pretty, but unessential, architectural details (cantilevered overhangs) and some other bits and pieces.

By making those changes early, we were able to trim our estimate by $150,000. Of course, this was still pie in sky territory; we didn't have all the "how-to" parts, which is where a lot of the money goes, but it did mean that when we get there, we are much more confident that we might be out tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands.

Tens of thousands of dollars you can usually change by swapping materials; hundreds of thousands... not so much.

And… price it again

Of course, when you have your final working drawings and you're ready to contract your builder, you need to get him or her to provide a full quote.

Even then, unless you manage to get a fixed price contract (more on that next week), things will likely still change. But by this time you'll be ready to get your plans into council and you'll be within sight of actually starting.

If you get to this stage and you're still getting builders telling you "you're dreaming", things are unlikely to go well and they are not going to be cheap to fix. So, when it comes to pricing your design, ask early, ask often and hopefully the house of your dreams will become an affordable reality.

- Michele Powles is a writer and mother of a lego engineer and destruction specialist. You can read more about their New Build Love over at  www.buildingboxes.co.nz or on  Facebook

 - Stuff.co.nz

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