Stuck

Sorry it has been awhile since posts. Seems we have hit a snag… a very large snag. Turns out that the builder’s initial cost estimate was not even close to the actual. Despite being very clear about what we wanted to achieve from the beginning and about the budget being finite, the quote is $150,000+ out of reach. I could write a very lengthy post about the many calls/emails/meetings we’ve had with this builder and countless others, but honestly, it’s depressing. To cut it short, the builders of South-West Sydney are too busy to take on a job they don’t want. If we could be a slab build or internal renovation or pay $500,000+ (for an 18sq home), then we’d be right. I think realistically we have three options left to us: knock-down re-build a VERY basic house (probably a kit home), scale-back the renovation possibly even to the point where we just make the existing house slightly more liveable (though it’s a tough layout to re-work and very small at 9sq), or rent it out while we wait to liquidate more capital (no idea when this will be). We’re feeling pretty defeated at the moment, which is a shame considering how much I was really enjoying the process. I must say, for all that people complain about real estate agents and car salesmen, I think that dislike/mistrust should be aimed instead at builders. They have wasted not only our money and energy, but something even more precious to Mick and I now, and that is our time.

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Final Concept Plans

We have had to make some compromises for budget, and I suspect there will be more coming, but for now at least the concept plans are done. This is the fourth set and we have approved them now for council submission. During council’s deliberation, which I’m told is typically 6 weeks, we will make final selections for finishes such as colours, flooring, appliances, cabinetry etc. For now, here are the plans…

Site Plan

 

Ground Floorplan

You may be wondering what the fireplace (rectangle with a circle in it) is for in the kitchen plans. This is, to me, for a little jewel I have been coveting ever since the building inspector noticed it under the house. Now, when I say “little” I should say, “heavy!” It’s the original wood burning stove for the house that would have sat in the alcove where the oven and cooktop currently are. It’s a Metters Bega No. 3 and I have spoken briefly to a restorer in WA (if anyone knows someone in Sydney, please tell me, as I can’t find one). My hope is that we can have it restored and installed. It may not happen as part of the build depending on finances, but it’ll be a lovely project at any time in any case. Here’s a photo of our diamond in the (very) rough and where it would have originally been installed…

Stove Site Exist
Original wood stove location now houses modern oven, cooktop and range.

 

Stove 1
Original Metters Bega No. 3 wood stove found under the house

 

Making Hay While The Sun Shines

Whilst the decision to change direction was a long one, the decisions since have been quick. Due to a few different factors, Mick has mostly been off chemo for a while now and we have been making hay while the sun shines. Despite a quick settlement, we still managed to arrange several site visits, a builder’s quote, some finish decisions and a full survey before handover. And although we’ve only had the keys since Thursday, we received first draft plans on Friday. And they look good! Trying to move as few existing walls as possible, we’ll turn the bathroom into an en-suite, the kitchen into a new bathroom, the dining room into a new bedroom and remove the back wall to create an open plan addition housing kitchen, meals and living. We had toyed with the idea of building an attached garage and creating rooms above it, but have decided against it. It’s more to clean and maintain and an expense we can live without. We find the way the drafts-men have treated the space really interesting and it’s a shame in that regard not to go ahead with the garage addition, but a carport is all we need and allows us to bring it forward and recover more backyard and costs. We cannot keep the existing carport as it isn’t council approved and the garage frame is rotten.

Below is the initial concept plans we received on Friday…

Ground Floor PlanFirst Floor Plan

These are the plans we have sent back with our proposed revisions (Mick’s drafting software expertise finally has an external audience!)…

Reno Draft A (Ash B)

As you can see we have removed the garage addition and subbed in the carport. We have also decided to use the proposed bedroom at the front as a second living space (it is currently a lounge room anyway), add a linen press, enlarge the fourth bedroom and add a study nook that will use corner sliding doors as a divider. We also decided to move the alfresco area as we didn’t like how close it came to the back fence (not shown), and wanted it to oversee the side yard better as that will be the kids’ main playing space.

The drafts-men (who are both really lovely women who see our vision), love our proposed changes and will work on getting the next draft to us asap. But we’re close. Significantly closer than we have ever had concept plans be before. I attribute this to the decision to use a good, private, local builder. This was in part because we have flood-affection, unusual setbacks and a period property that will require local council regulation knowledge, but mainly because they have a wonderful reputation. They aren’t cheap, but we decided that it’s better to pay the money for good service, especially at this time in our lives. It’s early days yet, and building is never smooth, so I’ll reserve full judgement. So far though they have been attentive, helpful and capable. Clouds are soon likely to stop the sun shining for a while though, so I will get back to making hay and will continue to update when I can. The pretties are to be decided soon enough, so stay tuned!

Change of Plans!

We hit a slight road bump. Gypsies by nature at the best of times, trying to make a final, perfect decision has been tricky. We started developing cold feet about our block of land when we joined local community noticeboards on Facebook. This was compounded as the DA’s started rolling in for the blocks around us. Our dream of a sleepy lakeside location soon gave way to the reality that somehow we had landed ourselves in the middle of loud two-story McMansions. A great place for busy (young) families who want the two-story builder-basic house with no garden. It’s possibly where we should be in life, but we just aren’t. We are tired, unwell and hurting. We need a quiet neighbourhood of modest homes that have buffers (gardens). This is why we have had no update for so long. A demanding medical schedule coupled with facing, yet again, the dilemma of where do we go? What do we do? Under strict psychologist instructions we “parked it,” and made no decision while we worked through what we NEEDED, versus wanted. In the end I found the strength to push through our immobilisation and start steering the ship towards a known safe harbour… My childhood neighbourhood. It is full of happy memories for me and is somewhere I feel safe and comfortable. It is now an ageing population and primarily attracts retirees with some young professionals and young families with older family in the area. It is tightly-held realestate-wise with houses often staying within families or selling off market. Even in this struggling Sydney market, the houses that do come on for sale sell quickly. We managed to buy one and we received the keys on Valentines Day. The drawback to the location is that it is full of charming workers cottages. A fact I love, but for large-home-loving Mick, it’s a tad daunting, made worse by the premium the houses go for, especially in the more sort-after streets (the ones I love).

So, we bit the bullet and have bought ourselves a 1950 fibro beauty on over 700m2 in a great street with only one direct neighbour (who also happens to be the previous owner!). Nowhere is perfect, and the future is still uncertain, but for now we are happy with our decision and we cannot wait to see the metamorphosis that is going to be taking place at our new home as we bring her, respectfully, into the modern age…

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The Builder and Design Brief

Our choice of builder has been an easy one. There are a LOT of builders to choose from and it can be a bamboozling decision. However, when you place huge importance on passive-solar and sustainable design, you’re really only left with one choice. We have decided to build with Rick Leighton of Green Homes Australia.

Rick’s values align perfectly with ours and he has, so far, been extremely flexible, helpful and accommodating. He has undertaken the almost impossible task of deciphering our wants and needs and attempting to make them work within the confines of our block and budget. He is currently putting together a design brief to take to his architect to get some concept plans drafted. Stay tuned as we await their arrival (a few weeks yet). In the meantime, here’s a rough idea we’ve given Rick…

In a nutshell, we are after a 4 bedroom, two living area, triple garage home with an attached, self-contained granny flat. The granny flat is for visiting out of town friends and family, and to enable me to work from home when I eventually return to work. It also provides a possible living option for my mother if/when the time comes and we lose Mick and my father (who also has cancer). And we’re also after a pool (our poor lucky builder).

We’re tricky clients in the sense that we actually appreciate a diverse range of building styles. After much deliberation, we have decided upon a modern look. We feel it best suits the area. We’ve given Rick photos of our previous build, which has an internal finish we love (see them here), but a facade guide that we were unable to achieve before due to restrictive design guidelines. We love timber, stone and glass both in a traditional and modern sense. To that end, here are some inspiration photos:

 

 

Decision Made

Many would call us mad for building now at all (see intro for an inkling as to why). BUT, building is something we enjoy. Genuinely. In fact, through the horror of Mick’s diagnosis, we were renovating a house for sale and I took a lot of refuge in making design decisions, coordinating trades and the sales process. Let the record state however, that we did not enjoy moving, and we thank our wonderful friends and family for their help with that. So, one last stand then. One final move to end them all! As comfortable as our rental home is, we need permanency. We also need something to take us into the future. And we welcome the challenge and distraction. We did carefully consider buying a ready-built house, but so few of them are built to a finished standard we like and almost none are built to an insulation standard we need. We’re sick of huge power bills, of being hot/cold in our home, of having not enough or too much light, and especially of hearing neighbourhood noise. We could share some horror stories of neighbours and their barking dogs and other disturbing noise and attitudes. Given that living on 40 acres isn’t an option, the next best thing is to build a bunker. Yes, we want to cocoon ourselves in insulation, triple glazing and airtightness (well, as much as possible at least). So, whilst we considered renovating and buying new, in the end it became clear that build we must!

With that settled, the next question was where. This has been tricky. To get a block size we want anywhere relatively close to hospitals, good schools and family was pretty much impossible. Did we mention we’re in Sydney? South-west specifically. Urban sprawl has left block sizes minuscule and expensive, unless they’re further south or in an undesirable locale such as backing onto major roads. The decision of where became a delicate balancing act of location versus size. In the end we have decided to compromise slightly on size, with a 600m2 block, to get a good location. Close to family, hospitals and good schools, with a fantastic view, we finally put a deposit on a block. And so begins the design phase of building…

Dream Block 2018
Our block! (From the lamppost to green box and back to the white pegs).
Dream Block 2018 View 1
The view! (It really is much better in real life… and without fencing…)

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to our new odyssey! If you’re just joining us, here is a quick recap of our (building) life to-date…

… the first step on the journey really was our custom Dominico we built with Fairmont Homes back in 2014. Catch up on it here.

After that we got married, fell pregnant and decided that we needed a new location to raise a family. And thus began our quest to find our place in the (built) world. We renovated two houses, bought and sold a block of land and rented for a while. (And had another baby).

Then came devastating news. One half of this awesome duo, Mick, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This makes the next leg of our journey absolutely vital to get right. It’s a focus for the short term, as well as a home we want to build for the long-term. To hold memories, and shelter in through the oncoming storm.

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