Monaco 28 with modified Contemporary Facade

Monaco 28 with modified Contemporary Facade

Monday, 19 December 2011

Every body needs good neighbours

We dropped by the block on Saturday and met another set of neighbours. A very young couple who are doing a good job with their block and I am sure will be very nice. We dropped in on another neighbour to pay our half for the fence. Our eldest boy met their daughter who is slightly older and they became best friends within seconds. The wives hit it off too. They have a baby who is a bit younger than ours, across the road is another young boy and next to them is some regular visiting grand kids. This is exactly why we wanted to move to to an emerging area and gives us a lot of faith that we have made a good decision.

DA Approved

A nice little Christmas present - we received notification today that the DA has been approved by Council without modification and the job has been passed onto the Certifier for the Construction Certificate.  We should be starting construction by early February.

There may be one hiccup though - I asked for the approved plans so I could send them to the bank.  When I checked them I noticed that they had not been updated with our overhead cupboards in the kitchen, which also means a large window was still shown in the kitchen rather than a slim bench height one.  I specifically pushed for that variation to go through so it would be ready for DA submission.  I am now waiting to hear back from Fowler Homes.  Hopefully no big deal, fingers crossed. Update - all good, doesn't, need to go back to Council. February start here we come!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

3D Home Modelling (pics)

In my constant dreaming about what it might all look like I have gone ahead and wasted much time this weekend creating the ground floor of my home on a 3D modelling program from the website . It took a while to master but then all of a sudden it started to come together pretty quickly. I suggest watching the YouTube tutorials before starting.

 It was also good for my wife to get a better feel for it, but now she wants to make changes. Too late!

Here they are...

Home Theatre (walls in Taubmans Gravel)

Living, Dining & Alfresco from Kitchen

Kitchen, Living, Dining & Alfresco

Monday, 14 November 2011

They're closing in... (pic)

This picture shows the development around our block of land between 29/12/09 and 23/10/11. I got the images from a website called .

In the first image at the end of '09 the estate construction fence passes through block.  By October '11 we are almost completely surrounded.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

DA Submitted!

A big step - our DA was submitted to Council yesterday. Service from Fowler Homes seems to have been a bit more reassuring and responsive since we started working with the Head Office. However, it has taken more than twice the time quoted to submit the DA.

I have had a look at Council's recent approvals and they appear to be turning them around pretty quickly, some as quick as 2 weeks. I hope that they don't come back with any significant ($$) revisions.

We have been thinking that we might be better off if building does not commence until after Christmas - we'd prefer to not have to pay any progress claims, and hence the bigger mortgage, before they stop for the Christmas break.

It has now been over 5 months since we signed on for a Tender. It is likely that it will be 8 months before commencing construction and probably 15-16 months til handover. This seems like a long time in a period of record low building activity. The actual work gone into all of this so far is probably 1-2 weeks worth, which means that our job sits in queues a lot of the time. There must be a better way.

I found this cool picture of an endless stair case which is akin to where we are right now.

The picture also reminded me of the first verse of Helter Skelter (The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, U2...):

When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and turn
and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Can you tell I'm getting a little bit bored? All of this kind of sums up the experience so far - exciting and monotonous, tantalising and tedious. The builder's paradox.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sub-Contractor Delays During Colour Stage

We were hoping to have all of the outstanding options finalised by the day after the Colours Appointment (30 Oct), as suggested by the Fowler Homes Colour Consultant. It has now been over a week and we are still waiting on prices for some kitchen upgrades...

Also, it has been over a week since I made my first of three calls to Vaccaro Electrical to make an appointment to do our Electrical Plan. Twice I was told that I would receive a return phone call, on the third I was told that I will get a call on Monday.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

DA Preparation Delay

If you were to take a shot every time you read the word 'delay' in this blog you'd be drunk by now.

We were told three weeks from contract signing to DA submission.  It has now been 5 weeks.

We are told that it is held up awaiting 'estate' approval. Is this a convenient way of saying 'this is out of our hands so don't blame us'?

In the meantime we waste another two weeks rent, two weeks of interest, two weeks of rates...

Hopefully this will be resolved soon so I can post about the DA delays!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Cornice Compromise (with Pic)

I said earlier that having square-set cornices (no cornices) had turned out to be too expensive.  We found a new product from Boral called Linear which gives a similar look.  It came in at less than half the price so we are going with it for the ground floor.  A good compromise I think!

Boral Linear Cornice

Electrical Plans (with Pics)

I am showing here the standard Electrical Plans versus our Final agreed Electrical Plans.  For reference, the orange crossed circles are light points, blue squares with toggles are powerpoints of varying types (single, double, weatherproof), red squares are switches of various types (# of switches, 2-way, dimmer), green squares are air related (fans and exhausts).


Ground Floor - Standard
1st Floor - Standard

Unfortunately it doesn't distinguish between normal lights and downlights.  We are using downlights in the Home Theatre (first room on the left), Porch and Hall (including niche), Family Room (rear left), 3 in the Kitchen, the Alfresco and 2 in the Main Bedroom niche. We have selected higher spec Philips 7W LED downlights to minimise energy consumption and heat. These were fairly expensive at $125 each including provision of the light point, supply and install. I'm sure we could have done it cheaper by getting our own Electrician but it was easier to just get it all done through the Builder and it will be nice to have a good proportion of the lighting fully completed when we move in.
Ground Floor - Upgraded
1st Floor - Upgraded

During the Tender phase we had managed to negotiate for free a S/S Ceiling Fan to the Alfresco and 2-Lamp Heater-Exhausts to the bathrooms and downstairs WC.  There was some reasonable cost there so I think we did well. 

Other things that you will notice we added were TV and Pay-TV points (surprisingly pricey), some external lighting to the front facade (dear too), floodlights to the rear eaves, a few extra standard internal light points and a couple of powerpoints.

All in all we will have spent about $4.5k but at least half of this is in downlights. The process was also managed very professionally by Vaccaro. Quite a pleasing outcome

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Kitchen Prices in, Electrical Booked

It turns out that upgrading from the Caesarstone base range is very expensive.  Going to a 'no-handle' option is also relatively expensive which I find surprising.

We managed to book the electrical appointment for next week, so we are going to hold off on deciding what options were are going to commit to until we've got the electrical prices on the table.  We received the standard electrical plan today and it seems reasonable.  The biggest thing lacking (which we already knew from the inclusions list) is that there is only 1 TV and telephone point. It looks like Vaccaro use Clipsal (C2000 range), they have a pretty good website to view their stuff.

It feels like we are making decent progress now.  The Fowler Homes head office consultant we are working with seems to be pretty proficient which is great.  We were advised in a letter attached to the contract that the DA should be lodged 3 weeks after signing.  That is today and no DA yet. I will be interested to see how much longer it takes...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Timber Floors - Good News

Good news - turns out the price provided for timber floors did not discount the credit for the tiles already included in the tender.  They are now reasonably priced and within our expectations of cost.  Just trying to decide between Jarrah (preferred but much more expensive) and Kempas.  Anyone have an opinion?

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Colours Appointment (Pics galore)

The Colours appointment went pretty well.  The room at Fowler Homes HO is pretty well stocked with most options so the session went pretty smoothly. The Fowler Homes Colour Consultant was useful and helped to guide decisions that she thought were important, she got back to us with a number of option prices the next day and committed to a date to deliver other prices still outstanding. Overall the standard inclusions appear to be quite reasonable with only a few exceptions. We need to book an appointment with Vaccaro Electrical to do the electrical plan, and Abruzzo to select tiles separately.  A few annoyances with the process were:

  • Fowler Homes are currently using Taubmans paints. Had we been told this prior we could have chosen from their charts, so in this case we had to choose the best alternative from colours we had chosen from others.
  • The Consultant did not have the prices for some of the simple options like taps and bathroom accessories - we could have given a yes or no straight away.
  • We have included a free standing bath in the main bathroom.  we are now told that we need to spend more on a free standing bath spout because the standard one won't reach from the wall.  This really should have been included in the tender.
  • We got a quote on square set cornice which was almost three times greater than what the Sales Rep told us it would be.
The Colour Consultant helped a fair bit with the facade, and we chose Austral Metropolis Topaz bricks with ironed off-white mortar , Bristile Classic Gunmetal concrete roof tiles.  The windows are Trend Anodic Natural Matt (Silver), gutters, fascia and downpipes are Colorbond Monument, Gliderol Tuscan Panel-lift garage door in Caoba Dawn, Corinthian Infinity 8G 2340 x 1200 front door with Oblong satin chrome pull handle and Jarrah stain, the rendered section is Taubman's Vintage Lace and the driveway is LivingConcrete Bluestone in 8' Quarry Stone pattern.
    The kitchen is polyurethane as part of Fowler Homes' Aspire upgrade package.  We chose Crisp White for the bottom cupboards and Taubmans Zelda (charcoal grey) for the overhead cupboards.  The back of the island bench will also be Zelda. We are waiting on a price for stainless steel kick panels but will probably end up with painted Silver Pearl.  For the bench tops we can take Ceasarstone Ice Snow as standard but are waiting on a price for Nougat (pictured).  We are also waiting on a price to thicken the island bench top from 20  to 40 mm and have no handles on the overhead cupboards.  The lower cupboards will have the larger oblong handles on the handles pic, and then we are using the middle sized ones on the vanities, both part of standard offer.

    Caesarstone Nougat and Ice Snow
    Large oblong handles for kitchen, middle size for vanities
    We will be upgrading the kitchen sink at some cost but it was too good looking to knock back.
    Abey Berazza kitchen sink

    For the bathrooms we also get standard Caesarstone benchtops in Snow and we have chosen Belgian Chocolate as the poly cupboard colour.  For the Powder Room we have gone with Walnut benchtop and Crisp White cupboard doors.  Tile selection is to be done at Abruzzo Wetherill Park and it is suggested that we wait until the roof tiles are on to ensure availability of the tiles.  We got a free alternative vanity sink mixer. We upgraded the bathroom accessories to Alder Metza with double towel rails instead of single - the upgrade price was quite reasonable.

    Standard bathroom accessories
    Metza accessories
    We had included Alder Alto tapware (see Euro showerhead) but got prices on some upgrades - square ones for the ensuite, hose style for the main bathroom.  These are expensive so we may unfortunately go back to the Euro.
    Euro showerhead
    Ensuite option
    Main shower option
    We are also upgrading the toilets to ones that are flush with the wall - cost was a bit but reduced when we took all three.
    Imperialware Zeto Toilet
    The standard carpet we have chosen is Ice Breaker 650.  We have gotten a price on Floating Timber Floors for the main living areas in Jarrah and Kempas.  The price was ridiculous, >100% mark up, so we are considering doing this ourselves.  I would be interested to hear from anyone who has done this and whether it proved to be a hassle with their Builder?

    Ice Breaker 650 carpet
    The bulk of the internal walls will be painted in Taubman's China Doll (white) but we are getting the whole Theatre Room and a wall in the Study done in Taubman's Gravel (blue-ish charcoal grey).  Fowler's price on this was very reasonable.

    That covers just about everything.  We are still a bit anxious about the costs yet to be determined on the kitchen, floorboards, tiles and electrical but at least we are moving towards knowing that we will have a very beautiful home.

    Thursday, 22 September 2011

    Contract Signed

    Congratulations, you have reached the front of the line! Now you can join the next queue!
    We signed the contract yesterday. It feels good to have achieved a milestone.

    We are told that it takes 3 weeks to prepare for council submission and then the council takes at least 6 weeks, then the construction certificate and mucking around with the bank, then the Builder has up to 4 weeks before they have to start. That lands bang on Christmas when they can have 5 weeks off! Then they can have up to 200 working days plus bad weather. At this rate we might be in at this time next year... Hopefully things go a bit quicker than that.

    Colours appointment next week, very exciting, will keep you posted.

    Monday, 19 September 2011

    Positive Service Experience

    Fowler have been pre-emptive and booked the colour appointment even though we are waiting on the bank to approve the loan before signing the building contract. Outstanding! Maybe they are responding to the bad press I talked about on earlier. What ever the reason, here's hoping it continues...

    Thursday, 15 September 2011

    The Contract

    Got the contract 2 days later than promised. It is a HIA standard contract and is written in the builder's favour. Then the Builder adds their own special conditions on top.
    As an example of the bias, liquidated damages apply if the building duration exceeds the contract period. Sounds good but, the contract period does not commence until 4 weeks after the Construction Certificate is approved. Then, allowable extensions include all adverse weather and 5 weeks at Christmas. Then the Builder specifies a contract period that is close to a year. Therefore, the building process can take well over a year before the builder will compensate you for the rent and interest fees that you have been incurring, and continue to incur, over that 12 month period. By this stage you have already paid the Builder $5,000 non-refundable. What do you do, walk away?

    Fowler's special conditions do not appear to be too bad.

    I negotiated the contract period down, but not by much, and the liquidated damages rate up, but not by much. I also prepared a list of special conditions, of which about 70% were accepted.

    We are now just waiting for the bank to complete a valuation and approve the loan before we sign the contract. More waiting! At least it's not the Builder this time.

    I noticed that they have been getting beaten up pretty bad on and that they have been posting responses. It is a worry that so many customers are not happy. I will be interested to see if the service improves as a result.

    Wednesday, 7 September 2011

    The Plans (Pics)

    We chose Fowler Homes' Monaco 28 design because we wanted a small footprint home to maximise the yard space for our little ones yet still get 4 bed, 2 garage, Alfresco, Cinema, Study, open plan kitchen, dining, family...  It is less than 16 m long, most are 19-20 m, and about 11.3 m wide.
    This design is almost exactly the same as Wisdom Homes' Aspiration (and is from the same Architect).
    I have included snap shots of some of the more exciting elements from the Plans.

    Ground Floor Plan

    1st Floor Plan

    Front Façade Elevation
    Compared to the original design we have:
    • Had to put a split because of the sloping site.  This was big dollars, mainly because the ceiling height had to be increased to 3450 mm in the front of the house.  Should make for a grand entry!
    • Converted the ground floor linen cupboard into a pantry (no pantry in original design)
    • Flipped the Home Cinema and the Study - no charge
    • Made the Ensuite Shower full length with two shower heads - this cost a bit too
    • Moved the Bed 3 and 4 windows to suit the view - minor fee
    • Added two piers and parapet over in front of the Home Cinema to jazz up the basic façade - this cost a fair bit
    • Made the Meals Room wall a recycled brick feature wall - this cost a bit

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Facade Pic

    Here is a façade I have mocked up in PowerPoint.
    We went with the standard offering from Fowler Homes (Contemporary) and then added some piers and a parapet in front of the left side as a feature.  We are then going to render and paint that feature and the porch parapet.
    Hopefully modern enough but still enduring and elegant...

    Custom Facade

    From Sign On to Drawings - Delays, Delays, Delays...

    To finalise the Fowler Homes tender in order to make it accurate for the drawings took a couple of iterations despite me giving clear instructions each time.  After this we paid the first deposit of $5,000, negotiated down from $10,000 - Wisdom Homes only wanted $2,300 at this stage.

    I had to ask what the next steps were as no information was offered.  I was told that the drawings would take about 4 weeks.  I follow up at 3.5 weeks and then again at 4.5 weeks and finally get them that night.
    There are some minor errors and a few things I would like changed. It takes 4 days to get a variation detailing the amendments and changes.  I sign and return within 30 minutes.  I follow up 5 days later to find that the Rep did not realise I had returned it and she orders the drawings then.  A week and a half  later I finally complain about all of the delays and I get revisions that night with a promise for the Contract within 3 days.
    I again follow up 4 days later to be told the boss is ill and it will come tomorrow.

    As I had anticipated during the negotiations phase I have to chase every time in order to make progress.  I am hoping to be in by Easter 2012.  I think it is realistic but I also won't be surprised to be disappointed...

    Have been pricing Solicitors to review the Contract.  Ranges from $500 to $2,500 so worth shopping around.  I will read it first to decide whether I think it is necessary or not.

    In the meantime we have investigated a few variations:

    • Bowral Dry Pressed Gertrudis Brown and plain Bowral Brown Dry Pressed brick upgrades were super expensive and we will not be going there.
    • Austral Brick are having trouble supplying the Whitsunday range and are offering Metropolis in lieu.  Austral emailed me a spreadsheet of jobs completed in the Metropolis range and I have done some drive-bys.  It looks like we might go with Topaz.
    • We had Bristile Classic concrete tiles thrown in free.  Thought about Birch and Beach but all of the light coloured roofs I see around the place are covered in dirt.  We are thinking Gunmetal now.
    • We are going ahead with an internal brick wall in the Meals area done in recycled brick from the Recycled Brick Yard at Canterbury. Check out Google streetview of 46 Evans St Rozelle to see the effect.  Should look hot.
    I am surprised that the Contract comes before the Colours and Electrical - doesn't make sense to me.  I have tried to estimate the likely variations for my budget. I hope that we don't get too many ugly surprises.

    I will keep you posted.

    Wednesday, 31 August 2011

    Base Price versus Full Price

    One of my questions when embarking on this project was 'what is it really going to cost'?
    The Reps will always say 'it depends on what you want to include' and in part it is true, but the reality is the base price is bogus and it is ridiculous that they can even use it as there would never have been a home built without some extra costs.

    For the record, our final tender ended up $130k over the base price of our double storey home.  This included a fair bit of site costs including a split in the home, BASIX and approvals, air con, optional alfresco, floors and driveway, and quite a few decorator inclusions.  On a flat (<500 mm fall), non-saline block we might have done it for +$100k.

    Our No 3 Tip to date - factor in a hefty spend above the base price.  Pour over the inclusions and try to think of everything that is not included or will probably need to be upgraded.

    We are yet to do the colour selection and electrical appointment so although we have included provisional allowances for upgrades, I won't be surprised to end up spending more.  We will wait and see...


    We sent off emails to both Builders telling them that they were really expensive and listed the features that the other Builder was beating them with.  I also expressed some concern with Fowler Homes about their attention to detail after the tender fiasco.

    Fowler Homes assured me the error was a one-off (a few pages got lost in the fax machine) and threw in for free a few of the things that Wisdom had in their upgrade package.

    Wisdom Homes refused to negotiate.  When I told them that we were going to walk they rang the wife and asked for a copy of Fowler Homes' tender so that they could be sure it was a fair comparison.  They said that they would match Fowler's tender and take $1,000 off.  She told them that we wanted their best offer, not just $1,000 better, and that we would not give it to them because then we were giving up our competitive position.  They then rang me to see if I'd break but I held firm.

    In the meantime we went back to Fowler Homes and told them that Wisdom Homes had given us more and dropped their price.  Fowler gave us a few more things which gave them a couple of grand price benefit and some nicer features.

    Our No 2 Tip to date - there is room to negotiate (with some!)

    Wisdom Homes had presented very professionally and we felt confident that they would do a good job.  Their unwillingness to negotiate lost them our business.  I get the feeling that they are doing a lot of work already and didn't need to chase our work and blow their margin.

    On the other hand, Fowler Homes presented less professionally and we knew we would need to ride them but we were going to get more for our dollar and for this we were prepared to do some hard yards.

    Fowler Homes it is...

    The Fowler Tender

    Starting the Fowler Homes process was far more laid back - our requests were recorded on a scrap of paper... We had to put the heat on to get their Tender within the 3 weeks promised.  It was presented in one of the display home sales offices, open to other customers and disruptions.  We turn to the first page to see that the split was wrong (tall at back, short at front, despite a block sloping to the front).  Then we find that 80% of the inclusions that we had asked for had not been priced. Very disappointing and frustrating.  The Sales Rep was apologetic and promised to get it corrected quickly.  This was a Saturday, we got the update on the Monday.  Almost exactly the same as Wisdom Homes ! The Rep also let on that there was room to move.  Despite their error, Fowler Homes were in the game.

    The Wisdom Tender

    Wisdom Homes spent forever handwriting all of the details to include in the tender, very meticulous. They completed their tender within the promised 3 weeks and presented it at their head office at Narellan.  It was very professional and well explained.  It was close to the original indicative quote.  Wisdom Homes' rep recorded any variations that we were interested in exploring and talked us out of a few things that were obviously going to be unrealistic.  We explained that we were getting other tenders and asked if there was any room for negotiation.  We were politely told 'no' and I have to say we were skeptical.  They then came back with a revised tender via email within a few days.  At this point we thought it likely that we would be going with Wisdom Homes.

    How it all started (with Pic)

    After battling with an older home for a few years we wondered whether we could afford to build.  We were always wary of the base price vs actual price unknown and assumed it would be out of reach.  We took the plunge and got an indicative quote from Wisdom Homes ($0) using the contour plan of a block of land in an area that we liked.  Here is a dodgy panorama from the block.  We liked the elevated location and the green views.  Also the area was nicely established and family oriented.

    Panorama from our block

    Even though it was a bit slopey we were surprised to find that it probably was within our reach and we felt that Wisdom Homes had been thorough and honest so we put our home on the market.

    Lucky for us our home sold on the first day, $50 above the list price! The wife had really played the Agents against each other to get a low commission too so we were off to a great start.

    We signed on with Wisdom Homes for a tender ($700) as we liked that their homes had good open plan access onto Alfresco areas and were small enough to leave us some yard space.  We were keen to tender with Eden Brae but all of their designs had way too big a footprint.  We got indicative costs from Clarendon Homes who were cost competitive but their designs weren't quite right and their tender was pricey ($1,000).  Finally we found Fowler Homes who use the same architect as Wisdom and chose to tender on a house that was almost exactly the same - hopefully a good 'apples for apples' comparison.

    Our Number 1 Tip to date - get at least 2 tenders as the Builders will realise that they have to give you competitive pricing.  We had a friend who was quoted $40k in site costs.  When he walked they knocked $15k off without blinking an eye but he ended up buying something established he was so turned off.