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Budgeting your new home build to avoid nasty surprises

By christian / Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Budgeting your new home build to avoid nasty surprises

With every build, there are complete unknowns about extra costs to a build – usually acts of nature, but there are so many more that are caused by assumptions, poor research, and good intentions.

In general, you want to budget for uncertainty, plan before building, and stick to the plan.

Not doing so – making last-minute changes – can have a domino effect which can hit your pocket multiple times.

The Domino Effect

Domino Effect3The earlier you make a decision, the cheaper the build will be.

The later, the more expensive.


Let’s say you visit your designer early, see the plans they have, and declare some changes. All it costs you is time for your research, time with your designer, and some paper.

Let’s say instead you don’t make this declaration until weeks later. Say you now decided on a different external cladding. By now the project has been seen and translated into documents for other specialists: town planners, building surveyors, engineers, maybe even some tenders sought for materials. A change at this stage will involve passing the project through all these hands again, multiplying the cost by that many people.

The time delay also costs, and may push the build into an unfavourable season when further delays may occur, costing yet more money.

Then, if budgeted too tightly, part of the build may have to be sacrificed; another change, so start the whole process again.

So let’s take a look at the factors you need to know to keep your build well-funded:

1. Know Your Soil

Soil quality can be assessed with a survey to work out whether your chosen plot is stable and good to build on, such as rock, sand and hard clay, or if the soil has a high degree of reactivity, like basalt, which will swell and shrink depending on moisture.

You might not be able to do much about the soil itself,  but knowing which type of soil you have will allow a professional structural engineer to recommend footings material accordingly. Your soil in normal-wet and normal-dry conditions may be best suited to stiffened or waffle rafts; strip, piled or pad footings; or a slab. The structural engineer can also advise on which construction type you need, from a clad frame to full masonry.

Once you know your soil, trees become a known cost factor as your site engineer will know what the moisture-drawing effect of the roots and recommend a strategy to deal with it.

2. Budget For The Unknown: Site Preparation

Site Assessor3Once you start digging, you may encounter other surprises.

Once the ground is opened, uneven bedrock may require cutting or piers, and boulders need to be removed, at your expense.

Some of this may require access for large vehicles – so their accessibility is also a factor.

An experienced site assessor can give you a professional opinion with margins for error, and may even have some records of your site available, but until that ground is opened, be safe and budget for surprises.

3. Town planning regulations

A full and detailed knowledge of local building laws before you start building can spare you a lot of delays and costs. How close a building can be to the boundary, for example.

Known early, a designer can account for this when drafting the footprint. Known only later, plans need to be altered, perhaps compromising your initial design and delaying the permit process and thus site start.

Needless to say, this is costly and will delay construction.

Knowledge and research into all the local regulations ahead of time to make sure that such surprises are not expensive ones.

4. Cheap materials ain’t cheap

Cheap MaterialsA budget builder might convince you that you can cut costs by using the cheaper materials they recommend. On day one of completion it might look good, but those cheaper or unsuitable materials will break down and need repair much sooner than expected, adding to your yearly ongoing costs and potentially reducing your resale value.

On the other hand, going for specialty materials might lead to those materials being unavailable at the time of the build, or if more are needed, adding time and therefore cost to the project.

5. Communication in writing

Good quality documentation leaves no question to anyone on the project as to what is to be done. Having all the paperwork in order will also let the writers know which instructions are missing. Clear communication in writing is vital, and affords no assumptions.

This documentation tells all concerned where the limits of the project are: The Scope Of Works. Be clear about all of the expectations of a project, including what is excluded. A builder might read the plans which do not say to include certain features, and put them in, at a cost to you both in the materials and labour, but also the removal of it if you had something else in mind.

And there’s the key – to take whatever is in your mind and put it on paper so there can be no confusion.

6. Changing your mind during construction

Changing Your Mind During ConstructionAs mentioned at the start, the easiest way to have the budget get out of control is to make decisions later rather than sooner.

And that was just in the design phase. Once the build has commenced, it is a completely different world. A change now – even seemingly minor – will likely cause delays, can compound into a halt to site progress, and create a large financial burden for you.

Avoid this by being engaged throughout. Ask many questions of your designer, do plenty of research, and issue many decisions as early as possible. Leave nothing to assumption.

Then commit. Commit and don’t let go, and budget for reality, not dreams.

That may sound boring, but…

7. Be boring

If there were one piece of advice I would etch into everyone’s head, it would be:

Make the build as boring as possible.

Eliminate all surprises, remove all mystery, plan well ahead, before shovel hits dirt.

Plan, plan, think it all through and be pesky with your questions and demands. An extra week of planning with good advice is the path to a well-executed job.

Do give us a call and drop in to Gilpip for a chat about your house goals, and we will help you take the next step towards your newly-built home.

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Get in touch today to begin your journey to a beautiful new home.


We were always welcomed on site – something we realise is not always easy to manage. Equally important was the response to our many queries and questions. They were accepted graciously, and dealt with.

John and Ruth McIntosh


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