What impacts the timeline for a renovation or new build?

What impacts the timeline for a renovation or new build project?

Learn more about what will impact your timeline here, and how to save time overall.

As I was working on the rebuild of HOME Method, and really diving into it (“Heads down, bums up!” my Mum would say!) I thought a lot about timelines for building and renovation projects, and how to simplify the steps for members even more.

One of the trickiest things when it comes to doing a custom new build or renovation project – and one of the hardest things to wrap your head around as a newbie – is the number of variables that can change your personal project journey.

HOME Method captures the steps that any project needs to take, whoever you’re working with, or whatever your dreams, location or budget. And it provides a framework for members to learn how to ask the right questions, seek out the needed information, and shape their own project journey as a result.

However, for some, that process can be a 6 month journey. And for others it can be 3 years.

The very, same journey.

So what changes timelines? And what are the variables to consider?

And then what are the consistent dots you need to join, regardless of what you’re doing?

Let’s look at this quickly.

These are some of the things that can impact your timeline, or change the order in which you need to do things.

The specific challenges of your site and location

If you have a bushfire overlay, a particularly strict Council, big issues on your site with services or infrastructure, or anything that makes your site and your plans for it more nuanced, then it can mean you need more input from professionals, potentially have more applications / approvals, and a lengthier timeframe.

It can mean more departments of council, or even external agencies, need to be consulted as part of your approval process too (and often those departments won’t view things simultaneously!)

Finance timing

A few members have been discovering the differences between states in terms of when finance can be finalised.

In some locations, you need a fully completed and signed contract (with insurance paid) before your bank will finalise your mortgage. That seems crazy, doesn’t it?

But it’s why you need your bank manager or broker on speed dial, and totally across what you’re doing with your builder, so you know you can get all the people and money lined up as soon as that contract is signed.

For others, they need a Building Permit, or Building Approval, but don’t need the contract to be signed to achieve it.

Yet, the Building Permit can take some time to achieve, and so sitting and twiddling your thumbs waiting for it, to then turn around and wait (twiddling your thumbs again) whilst your bank processes your loan application, can be frustrating.

So streamlining and seeing what can be overlapped becomes helpful at that point.

This leads me to my next point …

Pause points and holding patterns

There can be lots of times in a project journey when you’re waiting for someone to finish their phase of work, or an approval to be processed, before you can move onto the next stage or step.

With some of these pause points (and some can be 6 or more months, for example, with a long DA approval timeframe), you can also make a risk assessment as to whether you can continue specific work whilst you wait – knowing that you may have to undo some or all of that work if you don’t get good news about what you were waiting on.

In many projects I’ve worked on, we’ve made a call about whether to continue working towards our Building Approval whilst waiting for our Development Approval.

The benefit has been that, if you can do this, all the Building Approval documentation can be prepared and then submitted as soon as your DA comes through. The risk is that the DA comes through with a bunch of conditions or issues that impact all the documentation you’ve spent weeks or months doing.

These overlaps, or where you’re trying to crunch time by working on something else before finalising the previous step, need to be risk managed with expert input and eyes wide open. But they can reduce timelines considerably.

The regulations of where you live

There are some interesting requirements based on where you live, and the kind of project you’re planning.

If you’re working through a traditional design – bid – build process, where you work with an architect or designer to develop your design, draw it all up, go through the approvals, and then tender it out to builders, then you may find you have to choose a builder before submitting your Building Approval or Building Permit, because you need a builder’s name on your approval submission.

In other locations, and certain project types, this isn’t the case.

In some locations, you need a specific professional to lodge certain documentation for you before everything is finalised.

In some locations, you can do all the submissions yourself – or you’re actually required to, but you’re still sourcing what you need from the various professionals you’re working with.

In some locations, your council can require specific paperwork and payments related to the construction phase itself, and the fees and requirements for those won’t be resolved until you’ve finalised your building costs and can advise them. Which you don’t necessarily have nailed down until you have your final contract sum. But your budget will most likely need to know what these fees are, so you can factor them in before you finalise your contract sum with your builder.

And depending on the methodology you’re using for your project (architect-run, or designer-run, or builder-run with your own design, or design-build, or off-the-plan, or you’re project managing all of it, or another approach), that can change the order in which things will happen, and who is responsible for handling the steps.

Yep, it’s a lot.

Figuring out your own project pathway is a great early step in any project.

Identifying timelines will help you nut out what’s achievable, and how it will fit in with your overall life. Especially when you’re working around milestones like Christmas or the impending arrival of a bub, etc.

If you’re working with professionals, I would encourage you to push this back onto them as well.

Ask them to step you through what’s ahead, the timelines involved, and what’s feasible in delivering your future home. They’re the ones that do it all the time, and I find homeowners don’t rely on them enough sometimes.

Whoever you’re working with, you don’t have to figure this all out on your own.

I have two main goals with HOME Method.

The first is this: to unlock in you who your future home needs you to be, so you can sit in the driver’s seat of your project.

This means giving you the education and knowledge to ask the right questions, choose the right team, get intentional about the home that you want to create, and demand better of those you’re working with.

This gives you the confidence you need in order to know you’ve got this, and can create the outcome you seek to achieve. Even with the challenges and hiccups that come your way. (Plus you have a safe place to turn to when you need it too).

The second is this: to give you a framework so you can see the whole picture before you start, with the tools to then tailor that framework to your own project journey.

So you can then create that timeline for yourself, plug in your own project’s specifics, and tap into the collective journeys of other members who may have just done the same thing in a location right near you (which is what’s happening in the group right now!)

Now, what are the consistent dots to join for any project?

Well, that’s what HOME Method really steps you through.

But if you’re looking for some early help, check out my podcast episodes on the phases that any project will go through, and I share commonly made mistakes so you can avoid them in your project. There are 4 in total, and an episode on each (plus a free PDF transcript download as well). 

These are the 4 phases, and episodes:

Pre-Design Phase Design PhasePre-Build PhaseBuild Phase

I hope you find it super helpful information.

Amelia, UA x

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

Building A Quality Dream Home | Undercover Architect Member Review

Naomi wanted to embark on the process of building a quality dream home.

However, she knew that when it came to building her dream home, there had to be a better way than what was being presented to her.

Initially, she was referred to the “Get it Right with Undercover Architect” podcast by a friend. And from there, she knew that investing in Undercover Architect’s courses was the best next step.

This gave her the tools as well as the confidence to embark on the construction of her new dream home.

Naomi is a member of HOME method and Home Design Masterclass.

I’m Naomi. We’re living in Goulburn, New South Wales. So not quite .. a lovely rural town, quite a large town. We have children, but they’ve all flown the nest. 

So looking at I suppose what, what will be the empty nesters dream, I now get a house that has everything that I want without having to worry about all the requirements of children and what have you. In the current COVID environment, my family’s joking that I’m building a luxury bunker in Goulburn with all the mod-cons that I can lock myself down and, and not have to socialise with everybody else. But it’ll just be the two of us.

Yeah, nice, nice veggie garden at the back. Nice… So we’re looking at a Passive House possibly. So after suffering the smoke of the fires over last summer, and the lockdown of COVID, and working from home, the luxury bunker sounds pretty good to me.

What concerns did you have before you started?

Um, so taking on a well… I never thought I’d build, I always thought I’d renovate. I was always looking at older houses to renovate. And because of a change in circumstances, my partner doesn’t like older houses, so the compromise was that we would look at building something. And if I was going to build I was going to get exactly what I wanted. 

But first of all, the question is, what do I want? What’s possible? And how do you get what you want? 

I didn’t like any of the … I don’t like the style of the kit homes, the proportions and the quality. So I was looking at how do you get a quality house that will survive, be the design I like, so it has to be, you know, still attractive. But is a quality build and isn’t going to break the bank. So this was not something that I can do on an endless budget.

So I had to be very mindful of getting the right people because the quality, work with, with quality designers and quality builders. But how do you identify those? This is not something I’d ever done before. Never thought I’d do it. And didn’t feel comfortable just handing over that sort of responsibility and, and trust to somebody else. Wanted to, to drive the process myself. 

So I wanted to be highly involved and get, well, if I was going to spend all that money, I wanted to have my dream home. I wanted to make sure that it actually still … I knew there were all those building codes and all that sort of side of it. So I needed to find out, to arm myself with the information I needed, to tackle that and identify the gaps where I needed to bring in experts to help me.

Yeah, and the thought of choosing everything. The thought and, and I’ve had friends who have even built with kit, with bulk providers. And the stories are told of not only having to choose everything in the house in a short period of time, but also the blow out budgets and the stress that’s caused. 

And I suppose you know, in my work, my professional life, I know that you can manage these, these big projects effectively. I couldn’t understand why you couldn’t do it with a home. That it had to be, it’s not like people have never built houses before. It had to be possible. So there had to be a better way of doing it, than just putting your trust in somebody and then yes, not having that … I don’t like handing over control, I like to have the, if it’s going to be my house. I want to make sure that it’s done my way. But yeah, it wasn’t as if we could just sort of … haven’t got endless time and endless money. 

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

I discovered Undercover Architect because I have about an hour and a half commute to work each morning and each evening. And so I have been devouring podcasts like you wouldn’t believe. And so when I decided to even potentially dip my toe in the water of building a house, I then went looking for information and was so lucky to stumble across Undercover Architect. 

And I think I managed to devour a few years worth of podcasts within a few months, because, you know, it was a great way to, to, you know, make the drive more enjoyable. But I absolutely, it was so easy to listen to and so informative, and it just sort of immersed me in, in sort of that world, and certainly gave me a lot more confidence that was possible. 

And so once I discovered what was possible through the podcast, I then just started dipping into some of the courses and really starting to get into some of the more detailed work, which is really good.

Did you explore any other options before joining Undercover Architect?

I did find a few other podcasts. They weren’t as easy to listen to on the drive. And they, they didn’t seem to, to cover as many, as much detail. I must admit,

I really, really loved the way Amelia approaches, how she explains. There’s, there’s no mucking around. There’s no sugarcoating it. She’s very frank, but she’s very practical. 

I really like I suppose I related to the way she thought. It was always a combination of, you know, the block determines the way how the build goes. The block determines that, the orientation. You just, you design with the block. You’re not just plunking a house on top of it. 

Even though design was the, the aesthetics was really important. It was the practicalities, it was the materials, it was the … And so all of that seemed to really resonate with me. 

And I have sort of tried, also dipped into other podcasts, on to some of their other websites, and they’ve, they’ve never been as easy to understand. Or never been as practical or comprehensive as UA. 

So it’s, I must admit, even though I’ve sort of still tried to compare, because I, you know, put all your eggs into one basket. Never, never been as good. So I’ve always had to come back to what Amelia’s put forward.

What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

Um, I suppose I really liked, and I actually know someone else who’s done the courses too, so there was certainly a recommendation from a friend. And, and certainly, what I experienced with the podcasts, I wanted to arm myself even more. I wanted to start .. before I … and I probably will still work with an architect, but I wanted to do sort of some first designs first. 

So I’d gone through the thought process, but I didn’t think I could just do that on my own. I wanted the way Amelia sort of stepped you through with some of the podcasts, I thought that the courses would be good value.

And I do genuinely believe that by doing that myself, I will actually save money because I’ll be more focused. So I’m taking this time before I talk to an architect and a builder to really get my own thoughts straight. 

I think the courses really helped me do that. So it’s really honing in on, what do I need to know? What questions do I need to ask? What do I really want? 

So that I don’t then waste money and time and someone else’s effort on a treadmill, trying to work that out on paid time. So that was sort of the … and after the first sort, of course, so I’m sort of, did some of the small ones, I really enjoyed it. So I’ve sort of dipped into other ones as well.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Absolutely. The stress I suppose just having the time to, there’s a methodology to it, which as an engineer I really like. 

So there is a clear process, there is a method. And it’s about uncovering the risks in the project first. It’s uncovering and being very clear on what you want. 

Because the clearer you are, you’re not going to waste money going down rabbit holes and making changes. I know in any project, the worst thing you can do for both time, a cost and a satisfaction point of view, is to change your mind halfway through. 

So in some ways all I’m doing is applying, you know what, you know, I’m applying the same methodology we’d on a, on a, on an aircraft design as you do to a house. I don’t see any reason why it should be any different. You don’t want to change the design on a plane halfway through or the wings will fall off. So it’s really important … and budget blows out. 

So, you know, I can see that this sort of methodology and approach works in, in other technical areas, why wouldn’t you do it on a house? So I just think it’s, just, it’s applying good methodology. 

And, and it also then very clearly shows you what are the technical trades or technical skills that the designers, whoever that you, it’s worth paying to bring on to your project. 

So I want to make sure that if I’m going to pay for experts, I pay for the right ones. And I can, I can actually evaluate what makes them the right ones. 

I think a lot of the work that Amelia goes through is actually helping you to identify the right people and not going down that worst case scenario of ending up working with somebody who’s either unethical, or just not the right person for you. 

So looking at not only the technical expertise, but the right fit. And I like the fact that she appreciates, and points out just how important that is building that right team. It’s about having the right way of, the same way of working in the same, the same approach. So how do you pick that person. 

Um, so certainly a lot of the things I’ve got that she’s gone through in the course and the podcast, helps you identify those people, because I was determined that I was going to enjoy the process. And so far, so good.

What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?

Yes, so certainly, I’ve now educated my …, like, going through everything from, I’m learning SketchUp, to different, you know, the apps you download to work out, you know, where the sun orientation is, and all of that. I sort of knew you needed to do that, but didn’t have the skills to do it. So I’ve been merrily working through all those sort of tools. 

The I shall possibly right down to, I probably wouldn’t have built, I think without, without sort of, without this process and without what Amelia has gone through, I think I probably would have still stuck with renovating. I don’t know that I would have actually gone … all the stories I’d heard were pretty negative. So I don’t know that I would have had the confidence to go for a full build. 

So I think that’s been a shift. I think it’s been a good one. And I think the other thing, too, is feeling really relaxed, just to take my time. Not be pushed into anything. Not let anybody else dictate the time frame or how it should be done. 

To be able to push back and say, “well, no, that’s… that’s… thank you for your opinion. That, that might be the design you like, but I don’t like that, and I don’t have to have that”. 

So I think giving, giving me that confidence to know, to, to spend the time to identify what I want, and then not accept anything else. And if anything, if it’s, if it’s not the right fit with the designer, to find another one.

Has the Undercover Architect course helped your budget?

Um, so I can’t say that I’ve necessarily compare that I’ve saved the money, because we’re still quite early in the process. 

But I absolutely can see that it will save me money. And it will save me stress, because I know I feel a lot more confident to find the right people, ask the right questions, do all the checks upfront. 

And make sure that we will get the outcome. Everything from the personal fit, to the right size business, to the way they design and even making sure that their business is secure. So they’re not going to go under halfway through. 

All of that sort of due diligence, it’s one thing knowing it needs to be done, it’s another thing knowing how to go about it. And certainly, I feel a lot more confident to do that. 

Certainly, I feel a lot more empowered to take charge of the process. And know when to, when to, to do it myself and when to hand over. So identifying what I can do and what I can’t do, and find the right team that can complement what I can’t do. So I think that, and doing all that work up front, I know from my professional life, that that will save me money and time and stress. 

So I’m very confident that I’ll have a better outcome. And I’m also very confident that that quality build will save me time, or save me money, more than anything, in the upkeep of the house too. 

So I think all, all around, it’s going to be a more efficient use of my time and money, and a much more enjoyable outcome. And I hope the process and the house at the end.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

So I think knowing how to ask the right questions is the big thing, and certainly Amelia, and it’s her experience. So first of all, when you have the benefit of somebody who’s gone, who’s lived this. This is her career, her life. She knows  what challenges you guys come up against. 

I hopefully will only ever do this once. I can’t say that I’m signing up for a second one right now. So I really value learning from that experience and having those tools and techniques and to be able to apply myself. So I do think that’s going to avoid a lot of the pitfalls. But even knowing that no project is without pitfalls, but I definitely know the benefit of having a good team. So when things go wrong, you’ve actually got the right people who are working together to solve those problems. 

And you know, I really value, I always the, the people I knew, the experience had always been, you get a builder and you make all the decisions on the fly, and that never quite felt right to me. But I didn’t realise there was another way.

This absolutely, the process through UA absolutely shows that you can make all those decisions up front. Have it all agreed on. Do all of the integration, all of the, the aligning and the, find all the efficiencies and make sure that everything works together. And then build. That had never been presented before. And it makes perfect sense to me. 

As I said, we do that in my professional career. Always. So I didn’t understand why you couldn’t do that with a house build. I’ve just worked out that that’s just not the normal, what’s done with the bulk builders. But it’s nice to know that you can take charge of it yourself and do it a different way.

What is the best thing about the Undercover Architect course?

I think it’s confidence. I do think there’s, when you don’t feel confident about something, you’re more likely to hand over control to somebody else. And so I just think the process of working with UA, it gives you the confidence to do it yourself. 

And so you’re more likely to get the outcome that you want because you’re not gifting the process to somebody else. This is my house and I should be taking responsibility for it. But I’m not a designer, so I don’t know it all. 

But I know I can, I can guide that process and I can be an active participant in it without … and having the confidence to do that.

What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?

I would absolutely recommend UA! It was one of the best things that I could… even contemplating doing a renovation or build, I could not imagine doing it without going through this process and understanding what’s possible and these tools. 

So I’d have no hesitation. I know it’s going to save me money. It’s absolutely saving me stress. And it will save time, both in the process and in the upkeep of my house afterwards. So, and if nothing else, even just listening to the podcast. 

There … It’s wonderful listening to all these experts who are passionate about their professions, whether it’s landscape gardeners or Passive House designers. It’s always nice listening to people who are highly skilled and passionate about what they do. 

So even as a personal sort of pursuit, it’s interesting, but the fact that I can apply it to my own build is really valuable.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience working with UA?

I suppose the only thing I’d say is, I really value the fact that Amelia stays current. 

She’s, she’s such an advocate within the industry. And the fact that she listens to the community and then goes looking for people who will answer the questions that, that, that people bring to her. 

So I know the recent series around building after bushfires is very current and very relevant. So thankfully we’re not building a bushfire zone, but the fact that she, that’s an emerging issue and she went looking for experts who are working on that, is really valuable to people who are now faced with that challenge.

Where is your construction budget being spent in your renovation or new build?

Where is your construction budget being spent in your renovation or new build?

And are you focussing your money saving efforts in the right place? Learn more here.

When it comes to the cost of your build, (whether renovating or building new), you’ll most likely find that it’s 50/50 …

50% materials and 50% labour.

(With the current price rises that have been occurring, which have been coming through at a rapid pace, this may have shifted a little. However, this is a statistic that has rung true for quite some time).

This may come as a surprise to you. However it’s worth thinking about, so you can focus your money saving efforts in the places it’ll have the most impact.

Many homeowners expend a lot of effort and time to whittle down their selections.

They work very hard to save $$ here and there on their lighting, tiling, joinery, windows and all the other material and product choices.

And that is understandable. Your finishes and fixtures are tangible things. You can see them, make enquiries about them, see price points online, and figure out the cost of them based on how much or how many you want to include in your future home.

So it can feel accessible to take control of your construction budget in these areas, and try to manage your costs yourself.

When I was part of the Senior Design Team at Mirvac Queensland,  at the outset of a project we would be briefed with a budget for all the interior fixtures and finishes. 

Working closely with the Construction and Estimating department, the Development Manager (who managed the project’s budget and determined its feasibility, much like you do as a client), would determine the benchmark of the project and what that meant for the finishes and fixtures budget. 

Based on the market they wanted to target the project to, and the kind of sale prices they were hoping to get, and benchmarked against other similar projects both in Mirvac and in the marketplace, that would drive the standard and type of finishes we (as the Design team) were briefed on.

Right from the outset, the Development team would have a target construction budget plugged into their feasibility. And the Construction team would determine whether this construction budget was achievable based on the site and the intended style of construction. 

Plugged into that budget were allowances for all the fixtures and finishes, aligned with the standard of finishes briefed by the Development team.

So we, as the Design team – and more specifically, the Interior Designer, would get told … “you have (say) $40/m2 for floor tiles, and we’ve allowed laying costs for a 600x600mm” and “you have ‘x’ amount for each of the bathroom fixtures”, and this went on for every single interior finish and fixture in the project. Door handles, carpet, tapware, light fittings. Everything.

And then we, as a Design team, would move along the design phase, juggling that budget. 

The Interior Designer would inevitably find an incredible tap they liked that was over the budget, so then they’d find a lower cost toilet to pay for the difference. Perhaps a more expensive tile was found, but it was only going to be a feature tile, so a more budget option was chosen for the main tile, to offset the cost overall.

This would go on for AGES. And, when you’re doing hundreds of apartments or houses at a time, it makes sense to do this. A $5 saving on a tile over that many square metres can make a big difference to the overall cost of the project.

Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Wheeling and dealing to scrimp and save where we could. 

One day, my boss said “Enough! We spend months and months, and so many meetings, discussing $5/m2 on a tile. Let’s look at how much of the TOTAL construction budget these finishes actually account for, and if we’re focussing our efforts in the best place.”

Interestingly, they only contributed for around 15% of the total construction budget. 

So, we started looking for (chunkier and bigger) ways we could change the design to save money in other areas that had a greater impact. 

Time is money when it comes to construction, and in Australia and New Zealand especially, labour costs are quite high.

So where could we reduce the labour requirements in the projects? Where could we make something simpler to build? Where could things be built faster, with less labour, and be more efficient overall?

Of course, these are big projects, so it makes sense. 

However, the same also applies to your individual renovation or new build.

Many homeowners will totally hone in on their finishes and fixtures and juggle their budget, seeing where they can scrimp and save to reduce their project costs.

However, they don’t look at where their project could be more simply built, or built faster, and big savings made in labour costs.

So, how can you do this?

(I mean, if you don’t build houses yourself, it can be challenging to figure out how to build simpler and faster, can’t it?!)

Getting a builder involved early in your project (during the design phase) can assist with identifying ways your intended design can be streamlined and built more efficiently.

A builder can work collaboratively with your designer or architect to be strategising about this as the design develops.

Using the PAC Process in your project, and working closely with your designer and builder, you’ll also be able to identify budget amounts for your fixtures and finishes early on. This will give you helpful constraints to work to, so you’re not aimlessly choosing your finishes and fixtures. 

Or if there’s a specific thing you do want, you can see how it will inform your overall construction budget in real time. 

Plus, when a builder and designer is working together, they will be able to identify opportunities to streamline structural design, speed of construction, and the amount of labour required, and improve the design where needed. 

As the design is being developed – not after it’s finished.

If you’re not using the PAC Process, then work out how you’ll build this into your design phase with other costing professionals and building experts, to help inform your design journey.

I know that, as an architect, I’m very used to value managing my projects as I design. 

I’m often told how surprised builders are that my designs are so ‘buildable’, whilst being functional, fantastic, family homes. 

It’s largely because of the training ground I’ve had in my career, where my designs were constantly being assessed for their value. The value they had in lifestyle and liveability, in financial return, and in lowering construction costs. 

I remember having a boss who used to drill into me: “Amelia, every line you draw is a material or product that has to be put into the back of a truck, brought to site, and carried by people or machinery, and put into place. How will that occur?”

Work with someone who is thinking about buildability whilst they design – but not limiting (or killing) the design outcome in the process.

Not every architect or designer has had similar career training to me. The fact that builders are so surprised at the buildability of my designs (and the many, many designs that I’ve seen myself) tells me this.

What else can you do?

Utilising readily available construction methodologies can also be helpful.

They’re well practiced by the many trades who use them, so that can make them faster. 

Some are even pre-fabricated in factories so they can come to site partially made, and installed or erected very quickly. Time is money in construction, so saving time saves money as well.

Reviewing access on site can save time in set up, and save in having to move things around and rearrange things during the build.

In speaking to builders, it can be crazy how much time is spent stacking and restacking products on tight sites over the course of a project, so that one trade can complete their work … only to have those products moved around again for the next phase of work.

Bring forward your decision making, so that your team can work as methodically, proactively and efficiently as possible – and plan for the work ahead of time.

Every person who has to stand around on site waiting for a decision, or redoing something due to a change or unanticipated situation is money you can avoid spending with proper planning and preparation.

There’s lots of ways labour can be saved with the right design approach.

And having a builder and architect / designer working closely together, and getting their brains and experience into your project planning right from the start, can unlock huge savings for you.

This ideally happens DURING your design phase, so you create the right design approach to facilitate this type of build. It’s far more challenging to apply this after the design is done.

So where is your construction budget being spent in your renovation or new build?

Saving time during your build, and creating a less labour-intensive design may save you way more $$$ than a tile reselection ever will.

Create a balanced approach to identify potential savings in your project. 

Remember – 50% materials, 50% labour.

And create the right team who can input their expertise when needed, to help you do this.

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

1970’s Home Renovation for a Family of 6 | Undercover Architect Member Review

Nichole and her husband wanted to undertake a renovation of their old home. She was not sure where to start with their 1970 old home renovation and felt taking the time to understand the home renovation process would be valuable.

She discovered Undercover Architect and immediately signed up for HOME Method, confident in knowing the money she spent would save them money by avoiding mistakes that come from renovating an old home.

Listen to Nichole’s story on how she became empowered through her learning and understanding of the build process.

Nichole is a member of HOME Method.

Hi, I’m Nichole. I live in Perth, Western Australia. My husband and I bought a 1970’s home, and we’ve got four children and it’s only a three bedroom house. So we knew straight away that we would want to try and add some more bedrooms and renovate. 

And we just didn’t know where to start. Because neither of us are in the building industry, and apart from doing a project home with a builder, where they pretty much handled everything, we’ve never really had much experience with the building industry before. 

So we were really looking for a bit of help to navigate our way and to work out what would be the best plan of attack.

What concerns did you have before you started?

Our specific concerns were not knowing where to start. Knowing that we wanted to get it right, because we didn’t want to spend a lot of money and then still not be happy with it. 

So we really wanted to be a bit more educated about the process of how you’d renovate and then be stepped through how to work with builders and things like that. 

So our biggest concern was not having knowledge of the building industry to begin with, so that we could make the sort of most of the money we’re going to spend on our renovation.

I think if you’re not empowered with knowledge, then you could easily spend your money in the wrong places and end up with something that you’re not happy with. So yeah, for us, it was really important to have that power that comes with the knowledge so that we’re making the right choice.

So we’ve been in the home for about three years now. And we did think that we would start sooner than this. But we did want to be in the home for a little while. Sort of get a feel for how we use the space we had and then know what wasn’t working and how we could streamline things. 

So the only time constraints really was getting the renovation done before our kids leave home. Because there’s nothing worse than you know, when you’ve got all these ideas, or you’d like something to be a certain way. And you don’t want to drag your feet too long, because they grow up so quickly. And before you know it … that you don’t need the space that you created. So we want to get on to it really soon now so that we can enjoy the house as a family.

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

I can’t quite remember how I discovered Amelia. It was probably through a Google search. I think I was looking for advice. 

So from there, I started listening to a lot of her podcasts and noticed that the website, that Undercover Architect offered online courses, and I thought that was perfect for my husband and I. That we could sit together and refine our goals and plans as we worked through the information that Amelia from Undercover Architect provided.

Did you explore any other options before joining Undercover Architect?

Well, we wanted to renovate and we knew that we were clueless, we didn’t know where to start looking basically. We didn’t consider anything in particular. We, I guess, we probably thought we might just contact a builder and get their advice on what we could or couldn’t do, perhaps with the property. But it just felt like we were working backwards to do that. 

And so I thought it would be best to understand the process better of like, how to come up with a good design for ourselves so that it would run more smoothly.

What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

After we’d been looking for a little while, and we’d been reading Amelia’s blog, and using the Undercover Architect website and the podcasts, I just really loved the way that she approached educating people and how beautifully she came across. And in a really kind, caring way that didn’t make you feel silly for not knowing it. 

And really helped you to feel like you could learn a lot and then could have that, you could have that knowledge that you could then take with you and have a great conversation with designers and builders, and have a great project.

And so when it came to do a paid course with Undercover Architect, I just felt like it was money really well invested. Because the amount that you pay for the course would well and truly cover all the mistakes you’re probably going to make because you didn’t know all that information. So for me, it just made sense that we were getting supported, and had a lot of knowledge at the same time.

So the money that we spend on the course was well and truly going to be money that we’re saving in the long run because we would be avoiding making mistakes with our renovation

What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?

So because of all the information that we’ve gathered from doing the Undercover Architecture course, it’s helped us to work out where would be the best spot to place things in our home, according to the orientation, which is something I hadn’t really thought of before. 

So it really helped us to refine our concepts of where we would put things in the home. Depending on where the sun rises and sets and how to best use the space that we’ve got.

How have you benefited from doing Undercover Architect’s courses?

So when it came to choosing a designer, the information that we had learned from Undercover Architect really helped us to have a checklist of things that we would like a designer to be able to help us with. 

And then, you know, it saved time, because we could quickly look at designer websites and sort of know quite quickly just from the information they provide, whether they’re really going to be a great fit for us or not, in terms of the service that we wanted. And so that saved time, so that we had a shortlist then, of designers that we would like to work with, and we contacted a few. 

And then with the answers that the designers came back with, the information that we’d learned from Undercover Architect then helped us to make a choice on who was going to be a great fit for our project.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

I feel that working with Amelia from Undercover Architect will really help us mostly to feel supported.

I really love the online Facebook group that she has, when you do join the course. So that you can ask questions, and her team and herself are so good at getting back to you with any questions that you might have about your project, as well as all the other members that are also going through the same thing as you or similar thing as you. 

So I really enjoyed that level of support that you continue to get once you’ve done an online course, because that’s what’s going to help us keep momentum during our project and see it through to completion.

Yeah, in the Facebook group in the community of Undercover Architect, people will often ask questions, or they’ll share some advice, or hiccup that they might have had that they want to give everyone a heads up on of how to avoid. 

So it really is a valuable resource so that you can ask questions, and also read and see that questions get answered just by seeing other people’s experiences.

What was the best thing about being an Undercover Architect course member?

I think the best thing for our project and for myself, has been the support and the knowledge that Amelia from Undercover Architect has given already, and that I can see she will continue to provide in the future. 

There’s a fortnightly question and answer that she does run with the Facebook group. So there’s continual support there. And so it’s that support that, is going to be the most valuable thing for us.

What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?

I’d say if you’re sitting on the fence about where you think it’s really worth it to do an online course with Undercover Architect, then really do it. Because we’ve found that there’s so much, and like Amelia does say, you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s been a real catch cry that’s made sense to me, because it’s so true.

As you get lead through all of the intricacies of the design and building phases of a project, if you’re not in the design or building industry yourself, you realise how much you need to know, so that you’ve got control and power over your project and to get it right. So it’s really invaluable. We’ve loved it. 

Amelia is such a beautiful person. She really does care about your project, and I really love that she is really keen to help as many people as she can. So we’ve really enjoyed it.

The best research when building or renovating

What’s the best research to do when building or renovating your family home?

Learn the best way to simplify your research journey. Read more here.

I recently read something on social media where a person embarking on their new build project wrote this:

“I have realised that a lot of the research and advice is scattered. Some of it is hidden amongst hours of podcasts, and others across multiple web pages with supplier advertising scattered throughout.”

I thought it was an interesting statement … and it’s a very true reality for anyone who wants to go it alone in their design, building and renovation journey.

I have shared a lot about the information that is available ‘out there’ about creating your future home. About how often I see people disappear down a google rabbit hole, only to come up for air months later with little to show for their efforts (except a lot of overwhelm and unrealistic project goals). 

I contribute a lot to the information that’s out there too, with the podcast, blog posts, youtube videos and social media we are regularly sharing here at Undercover Architect. (And this podcast episode about how to not get lost down a google rabbit hole may be a great first step for you!)

Interestingly, the exercise of research actually involves two angles: one is information gathering, and the other is theory testing.

When you’re building or renovating your home, especially when it’s the first time, information gathering makes sense. You need to collect knowledge, data and ideas so you can understand more about the process, who it involves and what you can expect.

Interestingly though, you’re most likely also theory testing. 

Because with all the media around us feeding us a version of renovating and building on an-almost-nightly-basis, I would hazard a guess that you have some (conscious or unconscious) theories about the process of building and renovating. And so your research will test whether those theories are well-founded, or need redressing.

How quickly those theories get tested and revised will depend on how long you stick with going it alone.

And you going it alone will also impact the time and effort it takes to gather reliable and trustworthy information you can rely upon.

I’m going to be really frank with you here (well, when have you known me to be anything else, hey?)

The longer you persevere with going it alone, your research will be a process of gathering scattered information from varying sources, and patching it together into something that is hopefully of use to you. 

It can be hugely time consuming, misleading before it’s clear and quite draining of your energy and emotion too.

Many feel this is the best way to go, though. And that they’ll save money by navigating their research solo. 

But it costs them in so many other ways. In time, confusion, stress, mis-information. 

And it can cost financially too, as inevitably, they don’t get to make the right choice the first time they make it. 

Solo research means a lot more happens via trial and error – because there’s no guidance from an insider (who’s done this over and over for other people like you) to light the simplest and most suitable pathway for you.

There’s also something to know about ‘free’ information.

And, hilariously, it’s taken me 7 years of working with homeowners (and being aware of myself too) to really learn and see this.

For me, having had to learn how to run an online business from scratch has meant mastering web sites, online graphics, blogging, podcasting, social media, SEO, Facebook, advertising, and all the detailed nitty gritty that goes along with that. UA HQ has always had a very small team. 

I behave entirely differently when I’m paying for advice, knowledge and the research I do … vs the stuff I can access for free.

Even when the paid stuff is something I’ve learned for free already (that’s crazy!)

And for over 7 years now, I’ve been putting out weekly free content. For over 4.5 years now, I’ve been creating a free podcast. 

Every week, on average, I write (me personally – I do all my own content) 10,000 words on designing, building and renovating, and put it out into the world. 

This is the thing about free research vs paid research though: Those that pay, pay attention.

There’s something fascinating about human psychology. When we have to pay for something, we are more likely to:

Research the person or company we’re going to give money to, to see if they’re trustworthy and their advice has valueDecide how badly we need that help or advice (ie how serious we are about taking action on it)Work harder to inform the advice that’s being given (so we can see its applicability to us more readily)Listen more intently to the adviceValue the advice differently because we’ve paid for itAnd take action on the advice we’re given

I’m sure you can think of examples where this has happened for you.

And interestingly, sometimes the investment has to stretch us a little for it to actually compel us to take action.

I know I’ve deliberately invested in things beyond what initially seemed comfortable to me – purely because it was the motivation I really needed to get the results I was chasing. Having made that investment was a great push to keep me disciplined and following through.

What I’ve found personally too, is that I can know I want to make a change, or pursue an ambition … and that the investment in a particular person or process is the next best step. But I hesitate, and stay in my solo research efforts instead. 

I tell myself I don’t have enough time right now to make the most of the investment, or I can still get the results I want on my own.

In those instances, I know the pain of things staying the same isn’t big enough to compel me to act … not just yet, anyway.

But more often than not … the pain of staying the same starts to get bigger than the pain of making a change. Or life delivers me a big kick in the butt, and the investment becomes necessary to take proper action on it.

Getting closer to 50 now, I’ve learned to try and not let things get that bad (took almost half a century, but better late than never, hey? LOL)

​​Because #murphyslaw … usually the butt kick is more financially expensive, or costly in other significant ways, than the investment would have been in the first place.

I’ve learned, it’s actually far easier, and far kinder to yourself, to move towards pleasure … than to move away from pain.

So where are you holding back from making a necessary investment in your research journey? Not just in building and renovating your home – but anywhere in your life?

Where are you fumbling through the research, and juggling a multitude of resources, to guide you on your maiden voyage? 

Want to know the best way to simplify your research journey instead?

Ask yourself: Where can I invest instead to have someone else’s proven methods show me the best way to travel my journey, and achieve the goals I want for myself?

Because then, perhaps you can tailor your research to just finding out who the best person or company is to trust with your journey. That’s immediately a lot less research to do!

And then you can save your time, money and stress, as they guide you and help you get to where you want to go.

Chances are, you’ll enjoy the journey a lot more by having someone in your corner, helping you stay on track and motivated. 

And you’ll achieve that goal you have for yourself far more simply as well.

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

Do you want to build or renovate?

You have seen the many articles on builders collapsing with material and trades prices going “through the roof”. Builders holding homeowners, with fixed price contracts to ransom if they don’t pay the extra variation, they won’t get the key to their homes.

There are no winners. The builder’s cost has hugely increased, and the homeowner must agree to pay the amount yet cannot get access or have their home built or complete.

What to do if you want to build or renovate? There is another option!

Owner Build, where you can control the project from start to finish. To make this easy to understand we have the process broken down into 4 key areas:

1. Project Management.

Can you or do you need to contract a Project Manager to manage the building process.

It is important that whether it is you or a project manager, who can be a Registered Builder who would provide you Warranty Insurance if the contract value is over your state’s minimum indemnity requirements, have the necessary skills to build the project.

2. Quantity estimates of your Project.

Contract a Quantity Surveyor to supply you the above with actual costings and purchase orders for you to use in obtaining quotes from suppliers and trades. This will give you a reference point in your negotiations with suppliers and an understanding of the trade’s costs.

3. Materials.

Now that you know what size timber you need, for example, you can approach suppliers seeking a fixed price. As the Quantity Estimator will have given you a building timeline, you will know what date you will need your supplies. Now comes the negotiations. All suppliers work on 30/60/90-day terms with builders, meaning they must pay for the materials before the builder pays them.

You will pay on delivery! This means the supplier is being paid before they pay their wholesaler/supplier. This helps their cash flow considerably and is a big incentive to want your business. You need to contract with your supplier that they need to deliver on a set date, and you will pay on delivery. This way suppliers can plan their purchases and you now have a fixed price.

4. Trades.

If you are in the trade, or your project manager will know trades and they need to be given a timeline and payment confirmation once their job is completed. Money in the hand is a big incentive. If you are borrowing the money you need to be aware of the drawdown process of the bank and how long between approval and when your money is in your account.

Construction and Public Liability Insurance is a must have. Please read through our website to increase your knowledge.

The post Do you want to build or renovate? appeared first on Australian Owner Builders.

Knockdown And Rebuild Project | Undercover Architect Member Review

Monique was initially doubtful of her plan to do a knockdown rebuild. However, with the guidance from Undercover Architect’s HOME Method, she gained the confidence and guidance she needed.

Monique had already completed the building plans for her new home, when she came across Amelia Lee and Undercover Architect. 

However, she lacked the confidence to proceed with her build. She was unsure of the quality of the work that she had done and whether her plans were solid. 

Through HOME Method she was able to easily identify the changes she needed to make, and she became more focused on creating a home to suit her family.

Monique is a member of HOME Method. 

I’m Monique, I am married with two children. We live in Sydney. And we are doing a knockdown rebuild. We’ve lived in our home for 15 years, so we want to stay in the area. And just basically, the house we live in now no longer suits us. So we need to do a knockdown rebuild.

We actually started this planning five years ago. And all that work’s been done and everything, almost ready. And then we got to question ourselves whether we were doing the right thing, whether everything has, you know, done, you know, everything. So we got to the point that we were sort of having doubts. 

And I said, no, I can’t do this. So we put that on hold, and then continue to just keep on looking for project homes and educating ourselves. 

And that’s when we come across the Undercover Architect. And I said, ‘oh, this is great’. That was like, maybe two years ago. So we decided we have to enrol ourselves, we need to get this going. Because the kids are growing up. 

So we enrolled in one of Amelia’s courses, so that’s how we started and just joining that course made us feel more confident and just knowing what to expect for this build, for this major, major project.

What concerns did you have before you started?

The major concern was really not knowing whether we are making the right choice. We’ve already done the project and the design and everything. But we started doubting, ‘hey, are we making the right choices?’ 

So we just need to know that, yes, we are on the right track, or we need to tweak some of our designs. 

And just joining the Undercover Architect has given us that much needed confidence. Just reinforcing that, yes, you are making the right choices. And some of our choices, also not so good, which we managed to make those changes along the way.

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

We discovered Undercover Architect from one of another podcasts that basically Amelia was, was introduced to us on. So from then on, because we’re very fond of podcasts, just listening to it to and from work. 

So I got into the Undercover Architect. So from then on, I just keep on listening and listening and just continue to educate myself. So basically from, she was introduced by another podcast that I was listening to.

Did you explore any other options before joining Undercover Architect?

Yes, we did. We’ve visited all the project homes in Sydney. Which we, which was quite overwhelming. So many builders to choose from. So we’re sort of confused which of these builders actually would suit us and would work with us. 

So during the joining the Undercover Architect has given us a checklist on how to choose the right builder that would suit us. So that even has empowered us to even, okay, keep going, keep going, we’re on the right track. And that’s it. Me, it makes the journey a lot easier. Be honest.

What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

Well, we just feel like we’re sort of constrained in time. And Amelia has offered us everything in that course, like how to get it right, and everything that you need to know for our project. So we just focus on that one, and, and having that course and Amelia’s help behind it, it just makes everything so, so smooth and easy.

The paid course has actually given us more detail. It goes into the nitty and gritty, and giving you all the, she’s given us the spreadsheet even, up to the specification of materials. What materials to choose, and what options we have, which we didn’t have that one in the normal podcast.

And joining the courses also has a members-only Facebook page, which we can throw all sorts of questions, and Amelia will give us every fortnight, a live question and answer, which is great. So having that support behind you while you’re having this big, big project and all these decisions to be made, and having that group is such a big help.

Has it been worthwhile doing Undercover Architect courses?

Yes. Oh, yes. I’ve recommended it to all my friends that are thinking of doing the build. I said, you’re not paying what the course is worth. It saves you a lot of headaches, and just avoiding those mistakes that you know, you’re likely to make anyway. So, yes, it’s well worth it.

What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?

I was more aware, working with the Undercover Architect, I was more aware of what is important. That I shouldn’t be looking or focusing my time and attention on what’s being shown in the project homes. Because those ones may not be suitable for our needs. 

So Amelia has actually given us some tips on understanding what your family needs. And what you have to make sure that it ticks all the boxes. Your home will basically be a place where all your needs and that suits you, for, as a forever home.

How have you benefited from doing Undercover Architect’s courses?

Knowing this is in terms of the design, and the, about installations as well. And in getting into those details, because sometimes the designer just doesn’t really explain much or doesn’t give you, doesn’t give you the, what is it that’s available. What, what else can you do. What are the other options that are available. They don’t really give that to you unless you ask. 

So having the knowledge from the course actually enables us to engage with the designer and ask them, can you do this? Or is this possible? And all those questions were basically what we’ve learned from the course. 

So we know what to ask them, and what are the options and whether, then we can make those decisions, that okay, this is right. It’s working. The decision is working. And it’s all going to be good.

Did it help you save time and money?

Oh, absolutely. It does. Because in the long run, if we didn’t make the, or we didn’t ask those questions, that it’s not a priority for the designer, they’re not really focused on … I’m referring more to the, making sure the home is comfortable, thermally comfortable, and, and, you know, it functions well. That’s, that’s not really, the designer wasn’t really more focused on that one. 

So I was the one that’s been pushing on that aspect, because I learned how important it is to have that tick that box. So that’s one thing we’ve learned from the course.

And just engaging the designer with, you know, those questions, and they, then they feel like, okay, you have some knowledge about this, then they’re more prepared to give you, you know, more information about those things. Just, just the way you ask. 

If you know how to ask the question, then they’re likely to be more engaging, because they know that you know something.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Well the course, the Undercover Architect has really helped us avoid those mistakes. 

Because during the course, Amelia actually signposts us, that hey, during this stage these are the most common mistakes. So knowing that, in advance, has helped us prepare or just don’t do it. Just don’t do it. So yes, it saves us a lot of money and time. 

Time really, is because you avoid that mistake. So you don’t have to spend time fixing that mistake, because you avoided it in the first place.

What is the best thing about the Undercover Architect course?

I think so far the best one is knowing that the design of our home is to maximised to our orientation of our block. 

And just knowing that the design, when this is all enough and is all finished, that the home will suit us in, in our functions well, in accordance to our needs as a family.

What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?

Well, all I can say is it saved us a lot of time and money, and has given us the confidence that we didn’t have, and actually helped us to keep going. 

Because every now and then you start to doubt your choices. 

So having the help and being in this course, enrolling in this course, has helped us make those choices a lot easier, because you’re making an informed decision.

Who would you recommend the UA courses for?

It’s pretty much for everyone who’s planning to do a build or renovation. You get the benefit of joining the course, because the course is pretty much like, covers everything you can think of. 

Before this course, I didn’t even realise how many choices we have to make. So just knowing what’s ahead of you has equipped me. 

Okay, by this stage, I have to make this choice. So way in advance I already know I have to make that choice. And I have all the time to research, so I can make an informed decision.

What have you learned because of this Undercover Architect course?

Well, because of the Undercover Architect, I feel more excited and actually looking forward for this project to finish. 

And I’m more like, okay, all the knowledge that I’ve learned, it gets tested. 

So that’s really the most empowering part of like, joining the course. Because you know. You know what to expect and it’s a lot easier to deal with when you’re in that really stressful, you know, time that you’re doing construction. 

And it just makes it a lot easier when you know what to expect, what’s ahead of you.

How to save money during the design phase

Want to know how to save money during the design phase?

Design with this in mind: how will you live, and how will your home be furnished? Learn more here.

It’s a goal for many homeowners to figure out how to save money during your renovation or new build.

And this can happen in a variety of ways.

Some review the people they hire and look to where they can save money in professional fees. For example, many feel that an architect is out of their budget for their project, because they want to save those fees for the construction costs. 

(And whilst I’m really passionate about helping you find and choose the right designer for you, regardless of their profession, please don’t assume an architect will be more expensive. Or that those fees are not an investment that will save you money and create a greater return on your investment. 

For some more info on who you should choose to design your project, whatever it is, check Episode 209 and Episode 210 of the podcast, or download the PDF transcripts).

Some review the builder they use. Saving money in this instance might mean working with a volume builder who operates at lower margins, but reduces the amount of customised design and detailing you can do. Or saving money might mean pushing the builder you do want to use, to reduce their margin. 

(In the research we’ve done inside Live Life Build, we’ve found that most builders doing custom renovation and building projects, need to charge a margin of around 16% – 18% to cover their business overheads. That does not include a profit margin – so a margin of 30% is not unusual for a custom builder to charge to run a sustainable business).

Some review the way their project is structured, and if there are parts of it they can do more cheaply than others, by trying to manage trades directly, or doing the work themselves. Or they believe they’ll save money by sourcing their materials and products directly, separating them from their building contract to avoid paying the builder’s margin on those items.

(DIY can save money, but it can also cost you more. Often DIY takes people a lot longer to execute, especially when being juggled with a normal schedule of work and family life. Mistakes mean you can have to redo work, or things are not as durable. If you want to separate trades or materials from your builder’s contract, I recommend listening to Episode 198 and Episode 199 of the podcast or download the PDF transcripts, to check you’re managing your risk).

And some review the materials and products they’re selecting to seek more budget options, lower cost items, or off-the shelf products they can source more inexpensively. This can certainly save money, however, if it’s done as an effort to reduce a builder’s quote, or it’s the only way you seek to save money, the savings can be marginal.

So what’s the best way to save money in your renovation or new build project? 

It’s in the decisions you make during the design phase.

And a lot of these decisions can be related to:

The size of home you designThe types of spaces you create in that homeWhat will be involved in structurally making your design workAnd what choices you make with your site to accommodate your home as well (and if you’ll be doing lots of excavation and retaining)

Let’s talk about size and spaces, because they’re actually what will make the biggest impact on saving money in your project or new build.

One of the big things I find many members of the HOME Method experience as they work through the course content online, is that it enables them to become incredibly intentional about their plans for the future home.

And as a result, they usually find they need less home than they had originally planned to create.

Less home … but far more efficiently designed, far more functional, and still creating an enriching, comfortable and sustainable place to live and experience. 

To get started on designing like this, you need to get really clear on how you want to live in your future home, and really interrogate the expectations and attachments you have to particular ideas, rooms, and spaces.

And be really honest with yourself too.

In the middle of the year, I was fortunate enough to get away with my family to far north Queensland for two weeks. (Going into week five of lockdown, I now feel SUPER fortunate we had that time away!) We attended the Laura Dance Festival, and travelled to Cape Tribulation, and spent time in Cairns either side. And during that time we spent eight days travelling in an RV together … my hubby, my three kids, and me. 

We had an awesome time together. And it gave me that precious time away to rethink, refocus, review a lot of things – including the reno plans hubby and I were making.

Since coming back, I’ve reframed the ideas about our planned renovation. Redesigned the scope so the spaces are smaller, we’re doing less to the house, and it’s a simpler project. I’ve reassessed the priorities, and designed from there.

And I’ve noticed it’s not easy. Especially whilst I’m able to sketch, and play with ideas, and push and pull lines around on the page.

It’s really easy to make the spaces a bit bigger. Or to disrupt that structure more. Or to remove that section of roof to open up for better views or a bit more space. 

It’s also really easy to be thinking: I have a business teaching people how to renovate and build. I’ve been doing this for over 25 years. Shouldn’t I do a bigger project, a more ‘showcase’ style of a project? One that really changes this home and makes its mark?

But does my family really need any of that? I don’t think so. 

My kids are itching for a room of their own. I’m itching for an office with a permanent setup for podcasting, video and writing that has stable internet. And we all would like an updated bathroom, with a bath! A kitchen with better storage, and a covered outdoor entertaining area that fits all of us for a meal.

What about regrets though? Will we regret that, if we’re going to do this project anyway, that we didn’t also make bigger changes, or add more space?

Maybe – but I don’t think so. I think we’ll all enjoy having the cash in the bank account (or, let’s be honest – less debt), to spend on other things (such as another holiday, fingers crossed), and less house to clean, run and maintain.

But it can be hard to keep that in focus. Especially when we’re swamped with imagery that shows 5m long kitchen island benches, and big butler’s pantries, and massive walls of glass, big open cathedral ceilings, and all the other ‘inspirational’ imagery. 

I know that as I’m designing, I’m constantly asking myself: what’s enough for us?

So, what’s enough home for you? 

One last thing I want to mention, that’s really critical in checking the space that is being created in your floor plan … as it’s being designed. And confirming that it’s functional, what you want, and sized appropriately for your lifestyle.

Don’t wait until you move into your finished house to figure out how you’ll use every single space in your home.

I see loads of designs online where there’s what I call “lazy space”. It’s space …

that’s leftover in a room

or in the middle of a poorly resolved floorplan

or was created to line up structure, or a roof, or an external wall, but doesn’t have an intended use

… and then the homeowner is left with figuring out how to make it functional.

What can often happen is that this doesn’t get realised until the homeowner moves in. The space had furniture on it on the plans, so they didn’t mentally engage with it (even though it wasn’t a space they asked for or thought they needed).

Or they’ve just delayed figuring it out until they can get a feel for it in real life and suss out how they might use it then.

And what can also happen is that the extra-space-with-no-real-use ends up diminishing the functionality of the home as a whole.

Whether it’s through creating a strange flow in the house, reducing the use and intimacy of specific rooms, or just being a space that becomes a dumping ground (because you don’t regularly use it in your everyday life, so the dumping doesn’t *really* get in the way – except to clutter up your home) … it has an impact on your whole experience of your home.

You pay for all the space you build … even the lazily designed space.

So be intentional about what you’ll use ALL the space for before you commit to building it.

And don’t wait until you’ve moved in to figure out how you’ll use your WHOLE home.

And this may sound harsh … but I see it all the time as people can’t wrap their heads around a long term lifestyle in their family home.

Don’t create a house for the imaginary person you might be if you just had all this extra space and things. Space for space’s sake sucks.

Get the support and guidance from an industry professional who has worked with countless clients like you. Tap into their knowledge of what you might need. They can help you future proof your home, without necessarily making it bigger, or adding extra rooms.

But mostly, get to know yourself. Get to know how you want to live. Do the research. Do the work.

Then YOU decide for yourself … because it’s your investment and your future.

What’s enough home for you?

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

Building A Small And Compact Home | Undercover Architect Member Review

When building a small and compact home, Kirsten turned to Undercover Architect for support and guidance.

Kirsten consciously decided to build a small home, based on compact home design and has found great support in Undercover Architect’s HOME Method.

Listen as Kirsten’s talks about how valuable the program is for her and how she feels that it was money well spent to access this help in her project (when compared to the cost of the mistakes she could’ve had without Amelia’s guidance).

Kirsten is a member of HOME Method.

Hi, my name is Kristen Pitot. I’m originally from South Africa. But we’ve been living in Sydney for 20 years and we recently bought a piece of land down south, in a small town called Moruyah, which is just, beautiful small town of 7,000 residents. We built a house in South Africa 20 years ago, but we had an architect friend who helped us along and did a lot of the grunt work. This is the first time we’re building in Australia, and so it’s a very different experience.

What type of project are you planning?

So our project is a small home. And people sometimes laugh when I tell them just how small. It’s not a tiny house, it’s not a house that can sort of all get folded away at night. But it is a very compact house. The square metre, which is going to be about 78 square metres. And it will have a bedroom and a small room, which is an office / slash guest room / study.

And we’re going this way because we’re on a tight budget and we also have no need for excess space, um, just more cleaning, more heating or cooling, all of those things. So we’re looking forward to having a compact space.

It’s a completely new build. The little block of land is untouched, and it’s got a lot of lovely native trees on it. And we still see kangaroos crossing it, and echidna. and a lot of birds, a lot of bird life. So we’re doing everything we can to not disrupt that property too much. The house is going to be on footings so that we don’t have to excavate into the land and turn over the soil and have as little in the way of concrete flooring as possible.

What were you concerned about before starting your new build journey?

Okay. So um, for whatever reason, I haven’t ever felt worried about the project. I’m not frightened. I’m not anxious. I don’t lie awake at night worrying. But on the other hand, so my partner and I are designing the house because it is a small house. There’s not a lot to design.

So we’ve designed the floor plan, but we sent it to a draftsman. And one night I woke up and I suddenly realised that we had designed the roof in such a way, we originally thought we’d have solar panels, so we thought the solar panels would sit here with the sun shining on, and then we realised that because we’ve got a lot of trees on the northern boundary, we weren’t going to get a lot of benefit from solar panels.

So we had decided to do solar panels. But we forgot to send it to the draftsman. And he drew up a building that was going to get no sunlight because the roof was at that angle. And I woke up the next morning and I thought, we’ve actually gone through this process, we spent a fair bit of money with the draftsman. And he’d never mentioned to us that there was going to be a huge problem.

So we took, we took the plans off him, we redesigned it, and we lifted the roof up at that angle so that we get a lot of the, we get as much as the northern, the winter sun as possible. And that in summer, we don’t get too much.

At that moment, I realised that we were being quite naive. And that we could have, we could have actually built that house, and then sat in that house going, I can’t believe we put the roof on back to front.

And I’d been subscribed to Amelia’s email for some time. And I used to just sort of check, check the headings, but not really take it any further. And then she sent an email out saying that she was going to be delivering a Q & A session on how to choose a builder. And so I tuned in that day.

I was really impressed by the breadth of advice that she gave, and how she responded to the questions that She gave a lot of very topical and relevant information.

And then I started to look a bit further and I saw how much information she had provided about every step of the building process. And I just thought it would be very worthwhile to sign up with Amelia to feel like we had somebody who was, was looking after us a little bit. Because that was a shock.

I realised that, you know, we’re not children, nobody was going to pick us up if we fell over. Nobody was there to hold our hand. And we were going in with blinkers on.

So that’s when we signed up with Amelia. And we started following her regular weekly feedback sessions. We were able to submit our own new design for her very personal feedback.

She’s very generous with her information, she doesn’t skint. She tells you everything she knows. And I think she knows everything. She has a really amazing amount of knowledge. And if she doesn’t know something, she will make a note of it and she will get back to you.

So she also has this Facebook page where you can post your questions. And she will go to the ends of the earth to find answers and to keep you informed with the latest availability of things. So for example, I decided I didn’t want to use a fire, a wood fired heater, due to the carbon emissions. And I mentioned that online and Amelia helped me source a whole lot of different options. So it’s been really great just to feel like she’s, you know, she’s looking out for us.

I think, I don’t know what it’s like around the rest of the world, but in Australia, a lot of homes have been built without the input of an architect. You can go straight to a draftsperson. And you can also become an owner builder and design your own house. And as I said, we decided to design our own little place because it is quite small and simple. But we just, you know, we didn’t have the benefit of the experience and sort of stylistic input of an architect. And that’s where it was almost like when we, when we, when we hooked up with Amelia, it was like we had our own architect as a bonus, which was terrific.

How have you benefited from doing Undercover Architect’s courses?

Well, I wasn’t, I wasn’t initially worried about the time it would take because there was no timeframe. We’re still a few years from retiring and needing to move into our place. So it didn’t matter. However, with shutdown, the Australian Government, the Federal Government, offered a subsidy to support the construction industry. Which is a very healthy $25,000. And, but you have to have signed your building contract by the 31st of December. And so suddenly, time has become very important.

And so this, this was another thing that was really helpful about Amelia, is that she gave me the confidence to consider myself the project manager about building. And, and also not, you know, not to be frightened of expecting the, the, the contractors or design team to, to meet deadlines and to not meet deadlines only, but also to say when they would have done, completed certain tasks.

So because of Amelia’s advice, directly due to Amelia’s advice, I am able to say in every email or every conversation, ‘when can we expect to have this by?’

And again, thanks to Amelia, I put together a spreadsheet, it’s not a Gantt chart, that’s fancy, but just a basic Excel spreadsheet with a timeline on it, which I repeatedly sent off to our draftsperson.

We’ve got a lovely man called Trevor King, who is a conservation designer. So he’s helping us with the overall look of the place. We’ve also got a man who’s helping us with some of the aspects around emissions and passive house design called Dick Clarke … So Dick, Trevor and our draftsperson, Mike Callahan, I call them the three wise men, and I send them the time line constantly, just to remind them that we need to have everything done by the 31st of December.

And I also said to them, look, if that’s unrealistic, let me know. But they’ve agreed that that’s realistic, so I feel comfortable to keep pushing them to remind them that we need to stick to those, those timeframes.

Did you consider joining any other course out there?

I didn’t ever come across other courses. There was no competition. I mean, it was just Amelia coming into my inbox. So the name Undercover Architect was really, really cute. I love her byline, your ally, you know. So I never realised, and this is part of the naivety as I mentioned earlier, I never realised that we needed somebody.

I didn’t think of doing courses because I didn’t think we needed courses. It was only after we made that, almost made that massive mistake with the roof, and that’s, it struck me that a bit of help would be good.

And it just so happened that Amelia was, was there. And so we got lucky.

What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

Um, I signed up for the paid course because I saw the value of everything else that Amelia was offering. So I said, as I mentioned earlier, I listened to the session she did on How To Find a Good Builder and What To Expect From a Builder, and because that was so well done, and then I started searching and, and listening to a couple of the podcasts.

And, you know, there were a couple of free downloads that she, she sends out as well. And they all just, they were chatty, they were personable, they were accessible. And so they, they made me confident that paying money to be a part of her course was, was going to be good value.

And, again, because we almost made such a huge mistake, that would have been, we would have regretted it forever. I just weighed up.

I said the cost of the course, you know, compared to what is the cost of making this huge mistake, it would be money well spent.

What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?

The first thing we did differently. Amelia suggested that in our particular situation where we, we have a property which is considered, BAL Flame Zone, which is a very high rating in the bushfire attack level. It means that we’re very vulnerable to bushfire attack. And Amelia suggested that we have a bushfire consultant on board. And that we should also bring together a team of people who could advise us. So that was the first thing we did.

She, in another one of her podcasts, was an interview with that man that I mentioned earlier, Dick Clarke, who is an expert in Passivhaus design. He is a highly awarded Passivhaus designer. And so we contacted Dick, and Dick helped us connect with Trevor King, who is the conservation designer. And Trevor helped us connect with Mike Callahan, who is a very experienced draftsman. And so we’ve got this group, this, this golden triangle of people to help us.

So it didn’t have to just be us and a company, you know, just trying to deal and talk to each other. And, and I think because these group of people that Amelia had kind of, had made connections with, they had the same kind of thinking as Amelia. So all three of them believe in, in a lot of communication, you know.

With the first draftsperson we had didn’t actually consider that we needed the builders, who were going to supply us with quotes, needed to know what our budget was. That was remarkable to me. So we got a, we got a quote back, which was double what we could afford.

But from the start, Dick, Trevor and Mike all had the same kind of philosophy as Amelia, which is just talk about these things, work them out, make sure everybody is thinking the same, the same way. So that was one thing that was very different.

Another thing as I mentioned before, what Amelia said, just gave me the confidence to feel like, not like, I’m an employer and you need to do what I want, but that I am contracting you for service and therefore I can be very clear about what our needs are and what we want.

And before that, I was always just really polite, and you know, oh, whatever you think’s best. And I guess it’s a little bit of a feminine trait.

Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?

Amelia has given us very helpful information. Just simple things like, what different people do along the line. What their responsibilities are, and whether or not you need to have that person as part of a team or not. So she’s demystified the whole architect, builder, draftsperson processes. She’s made it all quite accessible.

I think the best thing is knowing that there is this font of information. That there’s a Facebook page where not only can we ask Amelia for advice and information, but we can also bounce off each other and make use of each other’s experience.I guess in a, in a nutshell, I’d say, it’s just been really helpful to know you’re not alone. But there’s Amelia and this whole community of people all doing the same thing, asking the same questions, and able to help with the answers.

What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?

And well, I know what I’d say, because I have a couple of friends that are renovating. Nobody’s actually building like us, but I have like two, three friends at work who are renovating and I have told them, just sign up with Amelia, because it will really make such a difference for their project.

How to find and interview your designer or architect remotely

How do you interview and find your architect or designer remotely? 

And can you begin working with them if you can’t meet in person? Read my tips here.

Are you wanting to get started on your project, but struggling to think about working with a design professional over Zoom?

So, how do you go about finding an architect or designer when you need to interview and select through online interaction only?

Finding the right architect or designer can be a challenging process to navigate when you’re kicking off your project journey. And yet, it’s a really important step to take in starting!

And with the way the world has changed, many homeowners are working out how to find people remotely, connect with them remotely and even start their working relationship remotely. Which, when design, building and renovating feels like such an in-person thing, this can add a whole new dimension to your project experience.

For some, they’re holding off until it can be in-person, and hoping that will be sooner rather than later, and not put their project on hold for too long.

For others, they’re going ahead regardless and doing what they can to manage the challenges in that scenario.

And for many who are in regional locations, and don’t have architects and designers on their doorstep, finding an architect or designer who can work with them remotely is the status quo.

When I provided 1:1 design services for homeowners, I worked remotely, and never met them in person, or saw their house or site in person either.

Many, many of those designs went on to become completed homes, with the design changing very little as it moved through the approval, documentation and construction process with the local draftspeople, designers and builders they used. 

So it definitely is possible to design entire renovations and new builds without ever seeing the site or meeting in person.

How well it goes is dependent on a few factors: 

including the existing information you have available, such as an accurate site survey and (if renovating) measured drawings of the existing home; the skill and experience of the designer; and how involved and invested you are as a client (especially in providing comprehensive information about your site and home).

How do you interview an architect or designer as a good fit for your project if you can only meet them remotely? 

I actually think that having to handle the interview and selection process with an architect or designer remotely can present great opportunities.

For starters, it will prevent you from mining them for free advice as you walk them around your house, discussing what you want to do and what might be possible.

Because many homeowners make the mistake of, in that initial meeting, forgetting they’re trying to find a designer who listens, understands their goals, can communicate well, has shared values and an approach that shows support, education and guidance is key.

And instead, they judge the designer based on the quality of ideas they’re coming up with on the fly, with potentially little context in terms of budget, approvals and buildability.

Being online can mean you will naturally look harder for the connection and communication with your potential designer. Which can be a great way to start your working relationship with them.

I’ve got quite a few resources on how to have that first conversation with your potential designer, and to interview and select them too.

There’s this blog post, which will be helpful if you’re worried about looking foolish during that first conversation.

There’s this podcast episode on how to choose the right designer for you (and there’s also a full transcript of the episode too.

I know homeowners can feel worried that they won’t really know whether their designer is any good until after they’ve committed to pay them some $$$, so this is a great blog for more information on that.

And of course, I highly recommend listening to this podcast, or grabbing the free PDF download, to help you review your designer’s fee proposal, because it will give you a checklist of things to ensure it includes (so you can manage your risk).

Of course, I’ve done two podcast episodes on who you should use (architect, building designer or draftsperson), and whether your budget or project type dictates the best type of professional to work with. You can check out those here >>> Episode 209 is Part 1 and Episode 210 is Part 2

And if you’re planning to go to a design-construct company for that one-stop shop approach, I’d suggest listening to this podcast (or grabbing the PDF transcript) before you do, so you can protect yourself from some of the issues I see homeowners experience.

Can you get started on working together if you’re not able to meet in-person?

You definitely can, however it’s really about the type of service you’re hoping to access, the amount of information you can gather about your property, and how well the designer is used to working with their clients remotely.

To get a project started, you need accurate information about your site, which usually comes in the form of a site survey. You may already have one of these on record, or you’re able to commission one as a starting point.

If you’re renovating and extending, you’ll most likely need accurate measured drawings of your existing home. Again, you may have these on record, or your council may have them. Or you may need to commission them as part of working with your designer, or separately.

If you need to be your designer’s eyes on site, that is totally possible with photographs and videos, and even live walk-arounds.

Is it as good as being in person? Not really.

For some, it may be a short term solution, where amendments can be made when an in-person visit is possible.

For those wanting to use a designer who is not nearby, I find that many homeowners are willing to navigate through this to work with someone they really want to work with, rather than the person who can come to their site in-person.

I’ve always found that, as an architect, I can look at aerial maps, site surveys, house photographs and floor plans and understand a huge amount of information about a site, a house, its construction and other important information necessary to provide design services in a project.

And I’ve found that the clients I’ve worked with are always full of intel about their own homes and sites as well, which is incredibly useful to add to the process.

An experienced designer or architect can do this. But that’s the key – they need to be experienced on how to ‘read’ buildings, ‘read’ sites, and gather intel by looking at your house and land in this way (even being remote to you).

Is it as good as having them there in person? As I said, no. However, if it’s your only option for the person you want to work with, or the timing and situation you’re working in, there are other ways to fill the gap in your working relationship, and an experienced designer can guide you through this as well.​​

Inside my Get Started Guide, I have a 3 page checklist of how to find a designer. It includes a range of questions to ask yourself so you can prioritise what’s important to you in the designer you choose, and also help with what to look out for in your search.

And of course, if you’re choosing a builder, there is LOADS you can do in an online-only interaction to progress that. The Choose Your Builder mini-course includes a checklist of checks to do, and questions to ask, and many of those can be done over Zoom and in online research.

If you’ve put yourself in a holding pattern, waiting until you can meet in person to get your project up and running … or you’re struggling with finding a designer who seems like a good fit, your time can still be spent productively getting ready for your project.

This podcast episode is super helpful if you are itching to kick off, and want to know what information to pull together so you are ready to have productive conversations with potential designers.

And of course, it’s the perfect time to dive into my flagship program, the HOME Method, so you’re able to properly research your project journey, and then access help and support as you do dive in.

Just last night, a member shared that they’ve just had their first meeting design concept with the architect and builder they’ve chosen to work with (using the PAC Process I also teach).

They said …

“All the work and steps we have followed in the HOME Method have paid off. I couldn’t have asked for a more stress-free, enjoyable and financially confident design session … I know we are at the very start, but if the rest of the journey is even remotely like this, we are going to end up with a delightful home, that we can afford to build, and even enjoy the process!”

And that right there is the reason Undercover Architect exists, and why I love working closely with homeowners in educating and supporting them as well.

Because you can enjoy it.

And in fact, you should.

Finding the right designer (and team) to work with is a key step in this.

So get yourself ready, be informed, interview them well (even remotely), and choose them carefully.

Then the rest can be a whole lot of fun, as you see your home dreams become reality.

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

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