What to expect when you’re building new

If you’ve never built before, it can be a daunting commitment. If you want the experience to be a positive one, here are some questions to ask upfront before you choose to enter the design-and-build relationship.

1. At a high level, how does your overall process – from commencement to completion of work – operate? What is required of the client at each stage?

The best thing to do if you’re thinking of building with Box™ is to get in touch as we offer a mini workshop to prospective clients. It’s free and it walks you through the process from site constraints to forming a brief. We also model the likely total project cost using historic data as our baseline. We will identify the key milestones and you’ll get an understanding as to whether we are a good fit for your project.

2. How do you go through the initial requirements and design process?

By using a combination of desktop research, site visits and, of course, meeting the client. Every site, brief and budget is unique. And so are people! These need to be aligned to our values and proposition. It’s the only way for a prospective client to work out if we’re able to offer what you are hoping to get.

3. What are the key drivers of cost and the easiest way to keep costs down?

The biggest variable is siteworks: from the access to setting down the slab (or building on poles). This is something we get a grip on early in the process as it is the biggest area of risk. We look at the earthworks required, what the driveway will be and the general infrastructure. To keep costs down, clients need to have a flexible approach and be open to different ways of achieving a goal. Not being too rigid and holding on to too many preconceived ideas can save on costs. For example, it can be a lot more expensive to integrate a double garage [involving costly siteworks] – so be open to a design that detaches the garage from the house. Be open to us challenging you on the size you require the house to be as well. A lot of people think they need more floorspace based on the home they currently live in, but our argument is that a well-designed house with good light, proportion and space may seem just as big.

4. How does your invoicing/payments system work?

We usually bill in arrears monthly based on the work completed. But we will work in with your lender and the structure of your loan. Some banks operate a system of milestone payments (for example once the slab is down, the framing up, roof on, and house is watertight). We comply with the lender’s requirements under our registered Master Builders contract. 

5. How do you deal with post-design changes?  

We are very keen to minimise or even eliminate post-design changes and we put in the hard yards to make sure every detail is covered. It’s a lot of work but it is the only way we can give an accurate projection on costs. In our experience, though, it is human nature to want to change some things once you see them right there in front of you. That is to be expected. Minor tweaks are normal and will be handled between the client and the design manager. Generally, these are implementation details (for example moving a light switch) and can be accommodated free of extra charges and discussed at regular meetings. A costed change comes about when clients want to add in a feature, upgrade a product or alter the design in some way. This will be priced up and then signed off by the client.

6. Do you have any recommendations for the type of land to purchase?

A dream site has easy access and a readymade buildable platform. But those are not always available in the right location for the right price! Our advice to clients is always to spend as much money on the site as you can. You should love the land you’re buying because you can’t change it, whereas a house can be adapted to any section. Always account for the cost of siteworks on your chosen property to see how much you would have left over for the build. We can help clients with this: if you find a site you’re considering, we can look at it online and in photos, consult the property file and flag any issues that might cost you a small fortune! 

7. What do you see as the characteristics of a ‘good’ client?

Good clients are constructive in their relationship with us and usually very trusting. That is not to say they don’t ask fair questions, but they recognise our role and our expertise – we’ve done a lot of work in this arena – and trust that we are giving them fair and professional advice. They realise that building a home is a journey and that there will be ups and downs. They see things in a broader context and don’t get too stressed out about the tiny details. They understand that this is construction, and issues will arise, but that they will also be ironed out over the course of the build. Because Box™ has designers and builders under the same umbrella, we own our mistakes and take the responsibility of fixing them. A good client is someone who understands that when things are rushed, that’s when mistakes happen. They realise that, while to slow it down might mean missing a deadline, things need to be taken at the right pace. A good client is someone who enjoys the process, who is positive and open-minded, who understands that, when it comes to building, it isn’t all black and white; there are some grey areas. Each location, each house is different, but things will be worked through and, at the end of the day, you’re going to get a cracking house. 

8. What are the most common things that can go wrong?

There is a difference between what is common and what is critical. Things that tend to go wrong are usually operational and don’t have huge consequences – such as getting a specification for a paint colour incorrect or a level wrong. What is important and more problematic if it goes awry is ascertaining the right budget. That’s why, in the prototype stage, we have processes to flag all the things that could go wrong which would have serious impacts on the budget. We make sure to identify risks and cost implications. Most of these relate to the wraparound aspects of the project, rather than the house itself, things such as site stability, land issues with natural hazards such as flooding or archaeological finds, and resource consent hurdles. Because Box™ is both architect and builder on the project, we look at design and construction holistically, at how it impacts the budget and the quality of the result. There is a naturally co-operative relationship rather than the adversarial one that sometimes occurs when parties are not operating under the same banner. This is another important buffer to what can and does go wrong.