Building a new home is a major endeavour, no matter when you do it. It can be especially daunting if it’s your first home! You may be finding it difficult to know where to start, and have never bought a house before, you may not even know what questions to ask along the way.
The first home building experience can be a rollercoaster journey full of highs and lows, with times of excitement and anticipation, and moments of overwhelm and uncertainty. To help make it easier, we have put together a few of our tried and tested tips, developed over our many years of home building experience to help you know what to do and what to expect.
- Financing your project
Finance is the very first thing to look at for any home or land buying endeavour. Knowing if you will be eligible for a loan, and how much you can borrow, are defining factors in the home building process.
Getting pre-approval from a lender is the best way to start planning. Pre-approval involves a lender looking at your financial situation and giving you a pre-approved estimate of what you will be able to borrow. This does not necessarily mean you have been approved for the loan, but it gives you a good guideline of the limit you have while you find your land and design your house. The approval comes later when you have found the land you want to buy and a quote for building costs to present to the lender.
Make sure you check out what grants and financial incentives are available to you as well. As a first home buyer, you might be eligible for government grants and incentives that will benefit you. For example, in NSW if you are building a new home as your first home, you may be eligible to receive $10k towards your loan, and other exemptions on stamp duty. These incentives vary from state to state, so make sure you check what is relevant to your area.
A helpful tip when it comes to financing your building project is to allocate an additional reserve of savings in your budget. It is very common to have unexpected costs pop up when building a house, particularly near the end of the process. If you are paying rent while you build, it can be especially important if the timeline on your build blows out, as can often happen through something as simple as weather events. This will also help cover your moving costs when it comes time to move into your home.
- Finding the Right Block
Some people may choose to select a house and land package for ease, or because they have found exactly what they are looking for while browsing display homes and online developer sites. It is extremely common, however, to find your own block of land and design your own home. If you are choosing your own land and then designing your house, make sure you find your land first. A common first home builder mistake is to get carried away with designing the home before you’ve found your block of land.
Display home shopping and house designing may be fun, but you need a house that will work on your block of land. You can’t change the block of land you end up with to suit your designs, but you can make designs work around a block of land.
When you are looking for a block of land, you need to consider a variety of factors such as:
- Unless the land is obviously in housing development, any area of ‘unimproved’ land will be zoned by the local council for a particular purpose and you will need to check what its intended use is. If it is not zoned for residential building, then applications to change the zoning can be timely, costly and even unsuccessful.
- Make sure you consider your lifestyle and family needs when choosing a suburb and area to build your home. Think of what you need both now and long term in the future, for however long you intend to stay in the house. Think about what is important to you. It may be things like the distance to shopping areas, health facilities, schools, or local parks and playgrounds.
- If you are in an area that is in the early phases of development, make sure you check the master plans for the area see what will be there in the future. Those plans will affect both your experience living in the house and its future resale value.
- Block Type
- Consider the gradient of the land. Flat blocks are much easier to build on. Sloping blocks are not impossible to build on by any means, but there are additional processes and costs involved with a sloping block that you need to consider.
- Is there water, power and sewerage connected to the block? You will usually need these arranged before you can start building.
- Is the block of land big enough for the type of home you want to build? While we definitely recommend you choose the block before designing your home, the size of the home you intend to build will have an influence on the size of land you will need to purchase.
- Selecting a builder
The building process is a complex task, and unless you are a qualified builder, you will need to engage a builder and their services to get the job done. DIY projects can be popular, but there are a lot of approvals and licenses you will have to get, and hoops to jump through to get to your end goal. For your first home especially, the best way to approach it is to find a builder that will take care of all the details for you.
How do you find that builder? Do your research. Start with their website and see what projects, case studies and reviews they have. Then go wider and do an internet search to see what reviews are out there. Ask your friends and family for recommendations also. Your overall goal is to make sure the building team you are working with is well established, reputable, and trustworthy.
Some things to check and questions to ask include:
- Are they a licenced, trade-certified builder?
- How long will the build take, and are there any provisions if it takes longer?
- What is and isn’t included in the build? What extras, fixtures and fittings are included, and what will you have to work out yourself?
- What is their communication process? Do you have someone easily contactable throughout the building process?
- If you are choosing a pre-designed home, ask what is involved if you want to modify the plan or make small changes to the home design.
- What warranty and guarantees do they offer on their work?
- Designing your home
Designing the home is often the building phase new home builders find the most fun and exciting. It is also a crucial part of the process that requires detailed planning and careful thought.
Unless there is a home package or display home that you are ready to take as-is, one of the best ways to approach the design of your home is to make two lists: the ‘must-have’ list, and the ‘ideal inclusions’ list. The ‘must-have’ list includes your non-negotiables that you want in your new home – the things you can’t live without. The ‘ideal inclusions’ list is a list of things you’d like to have if your budget allows. Having this separation will especially help you stick to the budget if your budget is tight.
Another helpful thing to create when designing your home is an inspiration board of designs, colours, styles and houses you like. This is where display homes can be useful, as you can browse through different floor plans, bathrooms, kitchens, and facades to see what things you like and don’t like. You may end up taking a kitchen from one plan, and a bathroom from another to build your perfect home. If you’re experienced in the building industry, you may prefer to put together a proper design brief for your builders, but otherwise, Pinterest boards and lists are a common source of design direction.
Some key things to consider when designing your home are:
- What size and type of home do you want? How many bedrooms, studies, media rooms, bathrooms, garage spaces do you need? Do you want a single-story house or would you prefer multiple levels?
- What style do you want your house to be? Picking this early will help you build a house with a cohesive design all the way through it.
- Keep functionality a priority. It is one of the most important aspects of your long-term comfort and property value. Think about having the dining room close to the kitchen so you don’t have to carry food through unrelated areas. Or think about having the laundry near the bathroom where the clothes pile up. Talk to designers, family, and friends to see what they think – you’ll find people often have a list of all the things they’ve learned the hard way in past houses they’ve lived in!
- Consider the orientation of your home and block. Where will the sun come up and the natural light comes in? Natural light is a crucial consideration and can also affect your home’s energy rating. You also want to make sure any large windows or views you plan on having face the right way and maximise the potential of your block. You don’t want your main living area’s natural light source looking straight into your neighbours’ houses, putting you and your family on display!
- If you are in a developed area, you will need to check if there are any pre-existing developer guidelines or requirements for the style, type, or size of the home you want to build.
- The Building Process
This is an exciting time where you get to see all your dreams and plans come together. Planning is everything, but once you move from planning to building, there are five main stages you can expect the build to go through. They are:
- Slab stage – laying the foundation of your home
- Frame Stage – the support structure of your home is built
- Brick Stage – the windows, bricks and roof are complete
- Fix out Stage – plasterboard is installed; timber trims are on.
- Final Stage – your home is almost complete
- Collect your keys and move in!
At the end of the day, planning is everything, and the devil is in the details. This is why four out of our five areas of advice happen BEFORE the actual building starts. All the time and energy that goes into the preparation may be stressful, but it will be worth it! Building your first home is a life-changing experience!