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Building your own home? How to ensure your contractor is up to code

Building a new home, particularly a custom house, involves a major construction project, and it’s definitely not a task for the feint-hearted. The homebuyer/owner will need to wear multiple hats to see the project to completion which are not limited to but include financing, design approver, contractor, resource acquisition, labour management, legal, quality inspection, and more. No surprise, many homebuyers building their own custom home hire help in one form or another to help manage such projects – particularly to carry out an under construction building inspection to ensure everything is on track.

This said, for those who want to manage most of the home-building tasks directly, there are couple of project control issues to be aware of and pay attention to. These include the following:

Design

The design and architecture package for a custom home will drive a large amount of the preliminary costs, often due to specific details and materials needed to create the desired effects. It’s important to include as much in the design as possible up front as this will often help remove ambiguities and last-minute decisions causing specification changes later on. Doing so takes some effort, trust, and anticipation of what a design will look like. No one wants to get to the end of a build and find out it has no resemblance to the design desired. So taking the time to spell out all the possible details is critical. This process is often best served by a designer or architect who knows what questions to ask and is willing to push a customer to get the information identified early. A buyer needs to put the time into this phase to see the best results, so patience is important.

Materials often drive up costs considerably. A custom home easily reaches over $280,000 now in Australia. A particular slate tile may look wonderful, but it costs $5 a tile, which can be $5,000 for 1,000 square foot floor in one room. Understanding how specific materials will drive overall cost is critical to managing a build cost and keeping it in budget. Plan as much as possible ahead of time, and budget-cutting won’t be necessary later on.

Legalities

The local zoning legalities are often another phase that needs to be vetted before any commitments for a build are made. Just because person wants a three-story Rancheria out in a rural doesn’t mean that the local county or city jurisdiction is going to let that happen freely. There are all sorts of permits, zoning requirements, licenses and fees that have to be identified and anticipated. One of the biggest is a development fee. New environmental taxes can easily add another $5,000 per project. Many counties and provinces charge them as an anticipated cost of development for the next twenty years when a build occurs in an undeveloped area. The idea is that the property plot pays for its share of all the improvements that come over time to the area with streets, plumbing, sewer, electrical lines and similar. There’s no guarantee that the development happens anytime soon, but local governments charge these fees to the tune of $50,000 to $100,000 per build parcel.

Contracting

The contract defines the very tasks that the builder hired will actually commit to when constructing the custom home. This is where all the above design issues decided earlier come into play. If a person has no experience in residential building, it is highly advised he hire a professional foreman to manage the contract for him. Many times builders will have their own custom build contract draft ready to offer to customers, detailing out many of the areas. These are canned templates written in favour of the builder; a buyer is not obligated to use them, but they can be helpful as a starting point. Making sure every term and expectation is clear is key to saving on waste and unexpected expenses.

Review and Quality Check

Before a build is complete, an under construction report can be invaluable to ensure the quality of a project delivery. It works like an inspection report, checking all the required and important aspects of a custom home build and that they meet structural and design expectations. There’s no point in spending thousands on a build and only a few minutes on the approval of the work. The under construction report provides, phase by phase, a review on progress and shortcomings. This allows fixes to occur during the construction, which is far less costly than after the fact. Finally, the reporting also includes a Practical Completion Inspection which ensures the house is up to code and ready to be occupied. This includes a review of all utilities and working systems expected. The report provides a valuable check by a building expert, giving a homeowner piece of mind in what was bought and built.

Brad Porteus is the Managing Director of BSP Construction Consultants, investment property inspection specialists in Perth, Western Australia. You can find Brad on Google+ and LinkedIn.


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