We at Gruen Eco Design are big believers of getting a builder on board early. There is no point in getting a beautiful design done and spending many months and lots of money just to find out during the tender process that what you have designed is just not affordable and well above your budget.

Ideally, as a starting point it makes sense to begin with your dream home. To include all the must haves and then all the things you want. Keeping in mind there is always room to remove and simplify items from your wants list.

However, getting costing advice and feedback from builders is unfortunately neither a straightforward nor a quick process.

Firstly, it can take a while for a builder to get back with some advice. This can often take 4-6 weeks. Keep in mind most of the good builders are extremely busy and sought after.

Also, if you get a builder to look at your plans during the design stage, they must make a lot of assumption. They are not yet fully informed of the structural components. Nor about what level of fixtures and fittings you will use. This means that builders will often put in a bit of an allowance for the unknown and add a little bit extra to account for this.

On the other hand, if you ask a builder for some initial advice they will only spend minimal time looking over the plans. Therefore some of the details and intricacies of a project could be overlooked. You will usually only get a rough overall figure with little detail as a more formal estimate can be time consuming.

If you are after detailed costing advice, there is also the option of engaging a builder for a more formal estimate. This means the builder will run actual sizes and materials through their estimating program.  Allowing them to come up with a more accurate cost. The price of this service varies from builder to builder.

Another option is to engage a quantity surveyor or estimator, to provide a more detailed estimation for a project.  This can often cost a bit less than getting an estimate from a builder.

No matter which method you decide on or who you engage, the costing advice you get at this stage will always be more of a guesstimate than a final figure. It will only account for building a home the standard way. By that I mean a construction where the builder manages everything.

However, if you intend to take on some tasks from the builder you can save a bit of money. For instance, if you supply fixtures and fittings yourself, you can shop for cheaper alternatives and save on the builder’s margin. Or whether your intention is to take on some of the actual works yourself (like painting the house), you can save quite a bit of money but it will be hard to quantify exactly how much money you could save.

Sadly, building costs keep rising each year and no matter if you are building a ‘standard’ custom designed home, or one following passive solar design or passive house principles. The build cost can quickly be between $3000 – $3500 per square meter even for a relatively simple and compact design. Whereas more complex and intricate designs can quickly jump to $4000 – $5000 per square meter. Which makes it crucial to be mindful about the size of your home and materials used in the design. 

When building on a budget I recommend using off-the shelf products and standard material sizes wherever possible. Making sure money is spent wisely on the performance of the house and not just on the bling items. Keep in mind light fittings or even bathrooms can be renovated or upgraded after a few years. But you will never touch your windows or insulation again. 

Often the builder’s estimates will come in higher than what you had hoped for. I know personally how devastating this can be, having gone through the same exercise with our builder. 

But this is the very reason why this reality check must happen before you begin. Now is the time to review and revise the design and make sure that what has been designed is actually affordable and ultimately sustainable for you and your family. This often means making compromises. It can be very hard to let go of some of your dreams and wants.

It might either mean making the house smaller or letting go of some features you were keen on. Another alternative might be to stage the build to some extent. Getting the landscaping done at a later stage for instance. Or not finishing off some of the built-in furniture. 

Remember, whatever costing advice you receive at this stage will only be an estimate. There is usually scope to fine tune and bring the cost down. But in order to do this I strongly recommend getting a builder on board during the actual documentation process. Meaning while selecting structural elements and all the required build components and finishes of the house we can make sure with the builder that we are not only staying within budget, but rather trying to cut the build cost where possible. 

Don’t be too disheartened when the initial estimates from builders come in too high. This is fairly normal and where the actual work and fine tuning will start.