Knockdown and rebuild: project home pros and cons

03 May 11 01:30PM EST
Post by Corinna Horrigan
House plans illustration

We’d finally chosen our house. It wasn’t quite our dream house – who can afford that – but we felt we could make changes that would bring it close. Even on project homes, you can make changes to the floor plan within certain constraints and usually at extra cost, so you definitely need to allow for a bit extra when budgeting – actually, quite a bit extra.

One of the major constraints is not moving any of the structural walls, so it’s worth finding out at the beginning which ones those are. There may not be many - the long narrow house we chose had only one interior structural wall, though it was a very long one. Of course, most changes you’re likely to make cost extra. And some unexpected (to us, anyway) things were extra. For example, it cost us extra to have eaves put on the house as the basic version has none. Considering the environmental advantages of eaves in our climate, I found it surprising that they weren’t compulsory. I’ll discuss the environmental requirements in a later post.

If the changes you make are major, it may knock it out of being a project home into a custom design. That means that the saving in time and material cost that getting a project home give you may not apply and costs are likely to go up dramatically.

There are a lot of other decisions you have to make at this point which will affect the final cost. For example, the level of inclusions that you want – you usually get two or three levels to choose from. The inclusions are everything that is included in the building of the house, so a lot of them are the same across all levels. However, a higher level of inclusion will give you a greater range of bricks and tiles to choose from; stone bench tops instead of laminate; more decorative cornices and architraves and better kitchen appliances. Even with the basic package, you can always upgrade individual things if you’re prepared to pay extra.

But even at the highest level, the choice may not include the versions that you want and this is a point at which it’s difficult to do the math. For example, say I take the basic package because I think I can manage with that for most of the things and just pay for one or two things at a higher level. At what point would it have saved me money to have chosen the next level up? When we decided we wanted a different front door? When we upgraded the garage doors? When we wanted a particular bath tile that wasn’t in our range? But some of these may not have been available in the next range either so would still cost you extra. And, of course, all you have to go on to make these decisions is a massive wad of brochures and the information provided by the consultant and no real indication of cost of individual upgrades.

I found this process particularly frustrating because I didn’t really have all the information I needed to be confident that I’d made the right decisions. The occasional comment from the people we dealt with about how much we’d done our homework wasn’t completely reassuring.

Kitchen appliances are also part of the inclusions. As it happened, we’d renovated our kitchen only three years before and had spent a lot of time and money on the appliances. And, being a CHOICE tester, I’m a bit choosy about my appliances and here there was no choice. However, you can have your own appliances put into the kitchen and you will get a bit of a discount on the cost of the house, but don’t expect it to be anything near what the appliances would be worth. If you don’t take the cost reduction, you can get the appliances delivered and sell them privately.

I’m interested to hear about your experiences with project homes. Did you find changing some of the inclusions ended up costing more than you expected?

Next post, Corinna will talk about plans, BASIX and NatHERS and environmental considerations.


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