bespoke building budgets

Balancing between client aspirations and client building budget is a little like treading a high wire. If it’s a particularly tight budget, not only does the scope have to match the dreams and hopes of a family but it also has to take into account the current economic climate, the labour pricing, the way the industry is heading in the next 6 months…..  To some architects (too many unfortunately) this is irrelevant in the face of the beautiful art of architecture, but to me  it is important and crucial that I balance these two carefully to get my clients family to the other side of a site specific building process – intact and in one piece and still talking to me!

If you have a particularly tight budget check my architecture on a shoestring post. We try to work with our clients to bring their budget and their aspirations into balance, so I’m going out on a limb here to give you a few broad brush tips  to give you a hand at your planning stages. (Always consult with your own building professional with regards to your specific project)

1. Check your scope.

Chat with a quantity surveyor (the professionals in cost measurements) and architect at the beginning about current metre squared rates relevant to the quality and standard you want your house to be.   Remember that they can only offer a GUIDE right at the beginning based on similar projects and it is highly dependant on the quality, specification and scope you are aiming for as well as the site conditions  and of course doesn’t take into account  the changes that may occur to prices in the future 6 months or so when your project is finally drawn up and out to tender.

Meter squared rates are a rough guide only for use at the beginning and relate to the house only primarily, any septic tanks/ external landscaping and driveways, special engineered footings are generally on top of this. They are often less applicable for the very small or very large project due to the scale of delivery costs, site mobilisation etc, and in renovations – going upwards costs more than extending sidewards!

Accept that unless you are Richard Branson you can’t have it all. Establish which components of your house are top priority and which ones you are prepared to make compromises on. Remember the further you stretch your money out over the largest house foot print possible with the lowest floor metre squared rate possible, the less you can spend on the special architectural features and materials that make it unique and make the spaces magical.

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2. Contingency
A contingency amount is NOT optional. If you want a guaranteed price, simply expect to pay more (or get less for what you pay!). Many so-called ‘fixed price’ design and house packages have a LARGE contingency and margin built into their cost/time to buffer out cost risks (it may not be itemized, but trust me – it’s there!). Building is done in extreme conditions of multiple contracts, external weather forces, global material price changes, oil price changes over the time span of a lengthy contract period – someone has to absorb that cost risk. A contingency amount is there for things like the natural occurrences of material cost rises (during design or construction period) unforeseen discoveries of an existing house that needs work when you peel back the walls to add-on to, a heck of a lot of wet weather and you need to speed the progress up with more people on the job to meet your deadline, extra scaffold fees if there is a delay. If you want the certainty of a fixed price – that’s great and can easily be arranged,  just be prepared to pay for it.

If you are on a straight  labour/materials contract with a builder or even doing a DIY + subcontractors mix, then you need to have that little extra up your own sleeve to accommodate these risks and stay on course. Consider it ‘peace of mind’.
You could Allocate approx 10% contingency in your planning stage (Banks will have a say on this as part of their borrowing rules– also allow a higher figure for renovations as there is a higher risk of unexpected discoveries), Listen to your architect/QS if they recommend a differing figure because of the complexity of the site or build.

3. Professional Fees

TYPICALLY for a big build/extension You may have to engage an architect, engineer, quantity surveyor, land surveyor. Depending on your site maybe a geotechnical engineer. We work in collaboration with these professionals – you may wish to engage a landscape architect or for certain projects and interior designer may be applicable.  Talk to your architect – they will have several professionals whom they have worked with before and can assist in putting together a project team specific to your project. These professionals will quote their services for you directly to accept and the architect can outline the project to them so they have a good idea of the scope of works. The different professions often have ‘fee scales’ (like the NZIA) that you can look up on their websites to get an indicative idea of what they may cost – but this is not as applicable to very small projects which may have a similar amount of details involved to draw up despite a small budget. Architects in housing projects co-ordinate the different consultants and ensure they all meet together, to get a cohesive building you need great communication within your project team!

4. Council and Planning fees
In NZ, we pay fees for the drawings to be approved by Council or Planning in accordance with the building and planning regulations for the country and different regions. This ensures that all buildings are properly designed (and after March 2012 they must be designed and drawn up by a registered Architect or licensed building practitioner –design) before they even get to the building site. The fees for these processes are on the Councils Websites. You will certainly need a building consent fee for a new house or major extension and your architect will guide you as to whether you will need to pay resource consent fees, reserve contributions or services connection fees.

5. Accommodation
Building is a messy, dusty, loud and disruptive process with many people traipsing in and out the front door. Think carefully about how you are going to live through the process – rent a place, live with the parents, stick it out?

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6. Insurance
In a new build generally the builder/Main contractor insures the project works, in a renovation you insure your house and the contract works. Get a quote for building insurance – and if you decide you are going to be the ‘main contractor’ and hire all the subtrades individually you will need public liability insurance as well as you are in charge of the safety on the site.

7. Tax
In building calculations – all figures generally exclude GST (tax), so when any m2 rates are mentioned or building figures are mentioned – double check whether GST is included or not.

8. Changes. Once the design is frozen, in building consent, or on site, TRY TRY TRY not to make changes, as this will increase your fees, and is an approved ‘variation’ for the builder from his original price (ever seen the comparison between a ‘variation’ price and a ‘tendered’ price for the same item?!) .

9. Get a costing after the first design (preliminary design) . This is the point at which you push and balance the scheme so that your aspirations balance with your budget. Without a preliminary draft costing by a Quantity surveyor at this point there is no guarantee we are on the right track to suit CURRENT prices and labour rates. You then have the developed design stage to tweak it into alignment so that by tender & consent stage you are at least within the ballpark of where you want to be. DONT SKIP THIS STEP!

10. Research and talk with the builders you are going to tender your job to. Find out if they are truly interested in the project – if they are putting in a price but the project is just a bit small for them, or they are actually really really busy – it will be a lot higher cost than some one who is really motivated to get the job.  Make sure you get 3 prices so that you can compare and have a good variation to assess. Remember don’t just choose on price – dollars matter but also consider the experience, references and commitment of the builder to do a good job for you.

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I hope that’s helpful. I’d be really interested to hear of your own balancing act and whether you would have any practical and helpful tips for those setting a bespoke architecture house budget.



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