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Buying a home

What it pays to know before building your own home

25 May 2020

Owning your own home is the great Aussie dream, but sometimes that dream can turn into a nightmare. For instance, when Adam set out to build his own home he discovered some unexpected costs, fine print and challenges that he hadn't expected. Here he shares his experience with us, so that others can learn and avoid the pitfalls.

When I'm not at work having fun creating mobile apps and preaching to the world about User Experience Design, I'm working on a project that doesn't involve code and pixels: building a house for the first time.

Now, as my previous house purchase didn't require me to make any real decisions except for where my new LCD TV was going, when it came to building a house from scratch, I just assumed there wasn't much to it. Pick a block of land, I thought, get some house plans done up and bingo, a man cave is delivered.

Turns out that's not exactly how it works. The first thing I found amusing on my journey was the very serious and decadent world of display villages. After walking through various homes with their lavish interiors, their average disbursement of 85 down-lights per room, and groomed outdoor sanctuaries surrounded by wall-to-wall BBQ facilities and water moats, I began to dream big, only to very quickly learn that only about 20% of what you see in those places is actually 'included'.

After accepting the reality of what I'd get as 'standard' in our new home, the next hurdle was to learn the lingo associated with building it on a block of land. If you think banking jargon is bad, wait until you get into the world of house construction.

Four things I've learnt so far about building a house

  • The soil on your block of land matters – one of the first things we learned was that soil has ratings like: S (for sand), M (silt) or H (high plasticity) class. Depending on how reactive your soil is or how much it may move, your block is given a rating. The higher the rating, the more reinforcement your house slab needs and ultimately, the more you'll pay. Try and find this out early as it can add considerable unforeseen costs to your house construction.
  • You should know your block size and frontage early. Until we had locked-in our exact block of land, we were unsure of the block size, which created too much variety when it came to picking house plans and designs we liked. It's good to know if your block qualifies for your dream house. For example, if your block is less than 14 metres you'll likely need to look at narrow lot homes, which can be quite different to what you are expecting to build.
  • You need to understand the 'small lot code'. If you do end up going with a smaller block, it's crucial to check with your council and state government first, as there are usually a set of considerations you'll have to take into account. In Qld, for example, if your block is less than 450 square metres, there are different rules to what you can build with a key factor of your house only being allowed to take up a maximum 50% of your block.
  • You also need to understand 'building covenants'. Here I was thinking this was some Indiana Jones type thing, but if you're building in a new estate, turns out there are restrictions around how you can build and design your house. It's best to check how these restrictions apply to your build, and then factor those changes into your house plans. For example, as part of the building covenant where we're building, we had to have the front of our house rendered. This was a cost and undertaking we hadn't thought about before. It's good to know these things in advance, and factor them into your budget before you buy your plot of land.
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