Consulting an architect to design a bespoke home means you should end up with a superior result in terms of spatial performance and aesthetics, but it also often means that your budget is well and truly blown!  “It always costs more and takes longer” seems to be the inevitable lament of the first-time home builder.  So here are some ideas to ensure a sound financial framework:

Be clear on your brief and your budget

Unless you know what you want, and how much you can afford, you’ll be directionless and more likely to be convinced to spend more.  The brief should include a spatial set of criteria (for example, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms) but should also embrace the emotional aspects of building.  How do you envision using the spaces?  What is the feeling you’re trying to evoke?

Identify a design-and-build team early on in the process

It’s not advisable to move too far along the design path without having a quantity surveyor on board.  Don’t wait until the job goes out to tender to find out your ‘dream’ home is just pie-in-the-sky imaginings you could never afford.

While you will have to pay extra for the services of a quantity surveyor, at least you’ll know your design is going to work for your budget.  Having a builder on board from the outset is also a wise idea because it means the design is likely to work in practice, not just in theory.  And it will save on expensive changes to your plans further down the track.

The alternative to interviewing likely candidates and gathering your own team together is to hire a building company that works alongside an architect.  They’ll have a range of tried-and-tested designs – and an accurate idea of what they cost.

Choose an architect that understands your vision.  Many generic home building firms bring in architectural designers (not architects) to draw up their plans.  The emphasis is on efficiency of construction, which can come at the expense of good design.  So, if you particularly value the services of an architect, this may not be the route for you.

Get a contract with certainty of cost

Fix as many of the construction costs as you can.  Substantial earthworks are, generally speaking, the only item that cannot be fixed.

Be very clear on the exclusions in a contract but don’t allow too many (see above).  Read the contract carefully and make sure every item is quantified and priced. ‘PC sum’ on a contract stands for ‘prime cost sum’ or ‘provisional cost’ sum.  This usually means the builder has been too lazy to cost the job properly so they are simply inserting a ‘round-about’ figure.  Be wary.  If the items cost more, you as the client will be paying the extra.

A good contract leaves no doubt as to the brand, colour, quantity and specifications of every product.  Some even contain photographs of items – from louvre windows to loo-roll holders!

Be pedantic.  Ask: do the quantities of tiles, tap-ware and light-fittings match up with the design? Usually it’s the owner or builder who ends up paying for design errors or omissions.  Negotiate a contract so that the end cost to you – the client – is fixed and any mix-up is left to argue out between the builder and architect.

If you choose to work with an architect, make sure they are engaged to do site observations and contract administration.  That way they are the ones who will fight any battles with builders, suppliers and so on.  However, by far the easiest option is to hire a company that has architect, quantity surveyor, builder, interior designer and landscape designer on board.  This turn-key design service means that if anything goes wrong, there’s only one company to point the finger at!

Budget-friendly design ideas 

Bigger ideas in smaller spaces:  Saving money on home design comes down to a mind-shift; it’s about choosing quality over quantity.  That’s where a design-and-build company that has experience in this area comes into its own.  An architect can plan a home so that there is no wasted space, rooms with odd proportions that make furniture placement difficult or ‘dead’ areas such as corridors.  Tricks such as using high mono-pitch roofs and full-height joinery allow a feeling of spaciousness within a more compact footprint.

The future is modular:  Modular design is a philosophy of building that allows a balance between quality architecture and certainty of cost.  Basically, it is about designing to specific dimensions which are increments of standard material sizes.  This means there will be less material waste to landfill which is not only an eco-friendly way to build but also saves money.  The client is not paying twice: once to buy the material and again to dispose of the off-cuts!

Prefab is kind on the pocket:  Using some prefabricated elements for the build will make the home less expensive, too.  That’s because these will be standardised components that are made in a factory – instead of time-consuming bespoke one-offs.  Having some prefabricated parts delivered to site and then assembled also cuts down on the man-hours required to construct a home.

Box Living is an architectural and modular home design company based in Auckland, running projects throughout New Zealand.

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