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

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