To the ends of the earth

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Building in NZ - From building consent to foundations

 Getting the building consent proved not quite as straightforward as I expected. The working drawings done for the Council took almost double the time my builder had orignally told me, delaying things. The council then requested additional drawings for the chimney, despite the fact they have not requested them for the same type of chimney before for other clients.

I have the temerity to want shoulders on my cute little 'traditional' chimney. Silly me for not wanting the usual 'box' shape. Council farms this consent work out to various organisations so there's not a lot of consistency and it takes more time. Council staff themselves are probably not doing a lot of pouring over your drawings.

There was a further delay and also expense because, again, I was selfish enough to want to access my section via a driveway. You what? Yep, my house is NEAR an intersection (not on it) so I was told I would need a Resource Consent. Is it no wonder we love to hate council bureaucracy? I'm in a modern subdivision. You'd think that council consent for a subdivision to go ahead would assume homeowners would be able to build their driveways automatically. Nope.

Following the issuing of the consent a surveyor was sent to survey the section ready for excavation and to take GPS coordinates. Lucky for me, I suppose, I am unemployed and very motivated to avoid mistakes. I did a drive-by of my section to see what the surveyor was up to. No-one was there. I drove on and found a surveyor nearby busily doing his thing with his equipment on another section so I got out of the car and said
 "Are you sure you are surveying the right property? I'm expecting a surveyor for my land today, there's the truck with the digger on it parked beside the fence."
"Oh yes, it's all fine, I've got the coordinates here," said the very young guy who seemed to talk about the hooss rather than the house, determined to ignore me. Well, what could I do?

I got back in my car and drove away but I felt very uneasy. "Stuff it! I said to myself, better an embarassment or confrontation than an expensive, delaying cockup." I drove back to the guy and said "I really think you should check because my surveyor is missing, this section you are on has not been sold. See, no SOLD sticker." I stood my ground. He walked away and called his office. I couldn't hear what was said but he came back and said "Yeah you are probably right but I would have worked it out eventually," he nonchalantly quipped. My jaw dropped.

Later, I drove past to see him checking the GPS coordinates on MY section. I phoned my builder and informed them of the mistake. Almost half the day had been lost. They really appreciated my vigilance as a day lost stuffs up all subsequent trades booked in. Construction is so busy in Rolleston you can't risk a tradie being unavailable because the schedule changed. I had no confidence in the surveyor and told my builder so. "Someone needs to check his work, I don't want my house positioned incorrectly."
The builder came back to me and said it was the first time they had had a problem with that surveying company which was very sorry and embarassed. I was now feeling nervous about everything.

 Surveying done, the excavators fired up the digger and started carving into my virgin ground. What a lot of earth gets unearthed. As predicted, there were quite a few stones in it but less than I expected.
The excavators mark out the house footprint, dig down and then have an engineer test the ground all over where your foundations are going to go. Bad news, the engineer said that the  foundations would have to be excavated a lot deeper than originally planned. This will require significant extra costs to me as the contract always has an 'out' regarding increased costs for foundations since one cannot know the soil issues in advance of excavation.

Important note: If you need cables/conduit for outside lighting your builder needs to know your exterior lighting plan well in advance so pipes can be put in before the slab is poured. The plumber will also come and put sticky-out pipes into the base before they pour for your water supply/toilet/shower. If you are having a tiled shower you will see the shape of it in the pour. You will also see the rebate in the concrete for your eventual garage door.

Gradually the foundations took shape. After digging the soil out metal is piled in and compacted until the levels are right. Then sand. The boxing is done and a polythene moisture barrier is laid out on top and up the sides. On top of this reinforcing rods and placeholders are laid. Another inspection is done and then you are allowed to pour.

My foundation is a single-pour slab. I am told this can knock a couple of days off the foundation stage otherwise two separate pours take more time and are more ugly with a seam running around the foundations.

For more detailed info on NZ residential foundations go to:
 https://builderscrack.co.nz/blog/2015/03/04/house-foundations-pros-cons-3-different-types/
http://www.seismicresilience.org.nz/topics/foundations/residential-foundations/nzs-3604-type-foundations/http://www.seismicresilience.org.nz/topics/foundations/residential-foundations/nzs-3604-type-foundations/
https://www.renovate.org.nz/1970s/foundations-and-subfloors/foundations-original-details/concrete-slab-floor-construction/https://www.renovate.org.nz/1970s/foundations-and-subfloors/foundations-original-details/concrete-slab-floor-construction/
http://www.seismicresilience.org.nz/topics/foundations/residential-foundations/shallow-foundations-residential/http://www.seismicresilience.org.nz/topics/foundations/residential-foundations/shallow-foundations-residential/

Patience is required at this stage because it takes quite some time. You've got to get it right. The foundation guys were great and explained things to me. Some houses use a 'raft' system of polystyrene instead of heaps of metal and sand, especially to counter earthquakes but my guys said "This house is so solid now it's not going to budge unless there's a cataclysm." Solid as... And look how tidy and smooth my slab is, better than many.

Slab poured. OK, the boxing comes off now, slab is polished, and then expansion joints need to be cut in.  I am informed that winter's not a bad time of year to pour a slab as it slows drying thus increasing hardness. A shower of rain arrived to help keep things slowly curing.

Another council inspection and off we go for the drainlayer who takes more than a week to dig (agghh, Battle of the Somme returns) and lay pipes. Very messy and lots of stony ground dug up. He lays a base under the pipes so they don't sink then fills things in but I have useless earth left over. More dollar signs = get rid of it later. Really, when you build you have NO idea how much you will pay even with a fixed price contract.

The end of this stage has incurred days of delays due to the guy working alone and a day of rain mucking up inspection appointments, then backfill.
Next stage is exciting; the framing goes up.
















Saturday, 30 June 2018

Teaching English in France - a hiding to nowhere

There are many, many folks, young and older, teaching English as a second language around the world. It's an attractive idea if you want to keep employed, travel, and like teaching.
In order to be taken seriously when applying online for these teaching jobs you MUST do your homework on your preferred countries and have the following:
  • An undergraduate degree (preferably in an English-related field though some countries accept teachers with any kind of Bachelor degree. Masters is even better
  • An international TESOL certificate to prove you have seriously studied the pedagogy and done a residential course of at least 120 hours including substantial teaching practice. Online courses for this have limited value and are usually considered inferior or irrelevant.
  • A native speaker or equivalent
  • A clean driver license
  • A clean police record
  • Copies and originals of passport, degrees and certificates, Skype address 
  • And don't get old or you're screwed for most countries
You set up alerts on job sites like tefl.com and build a profile. Make sure you have the legal right to teach in your chosen country. A country like France rarely advertises - at least its language schools rarely do as it's highly competitive and the pay is poor. If you are aged less than 30 you could try applying here http://www.ciep.fr/en/foreign-language-assistants-in-france/eligibility-criteria
At best you might get a visa for a one-year stint otherwise if you are not an EU citizen you will be out of luck and will not be hired by anyone.

The best-paying jobs are those at French Universities but the rules and regulations block most of us because we are not 'fonctionnaires'; we are not from or in the French system and those privileged block those who aren't. It's a nasty little system which has no interest in how good a teacher you are. You win a post for one year as a lecteur or up to two years as a Maitre de Langue but you can never have this type of job again, anywhere. They are generally designed for Masters or PhD students to earn some money while completing their degree. It's very hard to break into this. Some teachers who are qualified and experienced like me get through a crack but it's rare. You will spend your life in a constant state of anxiety about how to find enough hours to live on and worrying if you will get paid.

If you are lucky enough to get one of these jobs you will be fed the crap jobs by the people who can never lose their cushy jobs. So often I spent my summer holidays planning for courses I was told I was taking only to find they had given the course to someone else less qualified or had changed or deleted the course without telling me.  All my courses were bespoke-designed by me, no matter if it was for Masters in Chemistry or Computers or Biotechnology, Sport or Business Administration, Translation of French Literature or Masters in Pharmacy, Water Technology or Marketing.

A pregnant teacher who had no qualifications or experience in communications was teaching a course on Intercultural Communication. I was asked to take it on while she was on maternity leave. I designed a new course with  research-based activities which the students loved. They loved it so much they asked the administration to keep me for the rest of the year. The administration was surprised by the student delegation (usually students have little good to say about their teachers) but agreed to that minus 4 hours of exams at the end as they 'weren't allowed' to give me the full set of hours. When the original teacher came back she had no idea how to mark the work as she had no idea of communications in the real world that wasn't in the crutch of an old text book she used. I was obliged to send her information and videos on basic topics so she could understand. I was heartbroken she got to keep the course and I didn't though the students weren't happy

The administration of university courses and teaching staff can be appallingly unprofessional. I'm speaking from experience. One of my Masters courses administrators told me I was now teaching at a distance, two late enrolment students were resident in Spain and I must adjust my evaluations and assignments for them accordingly. This was 5 weeks after my face-to-face course had started. Double the workload for me but no extra money.

Often the university would insist I evaluate students who had never attended the course nor done any assignments via a 30 minute interview. I fail to see how students can be assessed for the language course if they have never attended it but I had to pull my head in and let them pass to make the university look good. For me, this happened so often I have no respect for any French university degree. Students are allowed to pass a course they never attended. Extra unpaid work for the poor teacher.

Oh, and you will have to supply your own equipment if you want to teach remotely as expected in the 21st century. You will probably not have a whiteboard (blackboard only in most of my courses) so my clothes were ruined with chalk dust. NO laptop or video projector so I had to supply my own. No internet to log onto the web in the classrooms, the blackout curtains would be lying ripped and broken on the floor for years. I would have to lug a suitcase of stuff up and down stairs as there were no lifts or those there were frequently not working. This damaged my personal sensitive electronics.

Too often the university would run out of money for photocopying essential worksheets - remember there were no textbooks supplied so part time teachers must supply all student materials. France deserves third world status but the money had been creatively pilfered or 'mis-managed' by a previous president for her pet projects. The classroom walls and ceilings had sheets of paint cracked and breaking off, reinforcing rods in internal structural columns were exposed because the concrete was disintegrating. What would YOU think of that?

The teachers find themselves doing the sort of admin tasks you would expect of the course administrators. The teachers are expendable, the employers know they are expendable and treat them as such because they can get away with anything, including not paying the teachers, which brings us to the plight of the vacataire.
 A vacataire is a supply teacher, brought in to teach a course of a few hours during a semester. There is no job security or holiday pay etc. You can't apply for these jobs unless: you have a principal non-teaching job of 900 hours per year or a principal teaching job of 300 hours per year. These hours don't seem like much. That's because these jobs only pay for face-to-face class time, not exam setting and marking, assignment marking, nor lesson preparation. You also have to supply all the teaching resources yourself. You will only get paid, at best, at the end of each half-year semester.

Many of these jobs might only offer you 4 hours or less per week. You will not be paid for prep or what can be extensive commuter time and money whizzing from one pathetic little job to another. If you accept a job on a Tuesday from 10am -12pm during a semester you might not be required every Tuesday but your calendar is now committed to that time so you can't get work elsewhere to fill in the blanks. During my last year in France teaching at tertiary level and elsewhere I had to juggle 6 employers, all with their timetables, widely different locations, different forms of administration and online systems. I was travelling 25 hours per week, non-paid just for the privilege of working multiple tiny jobs. The red-tape with HR is truly horrifying. They have so many stupid rules to block people working and the rules change all the time.

To work in Paris 4 hours a week for just a few weeks at just one employer I had to drive 35 mins to a train, wait then tackle the one-hour train trip, mostly standing with my suitcase full of equipment, to Paris, disembark and walk to the Metro which is up and down considerable numbers of stairs to catch a line, change lines, then walk to the employer. 2.5 hours EACH way. Hardly profitable but this is the desperate situation for teachers like I was.

I have recently discovered that many educational institutions have a rule that they won't employ teachers who are teachers/teaching. You have to have some other occupation and not be currently teaching anywhere. It's madness. No wonder the French are the most crap at language learning.

Keep in mind you are unlikely to be paid for the three-month summer holidays as there are no courses over that time. You probably won't be paid if your students are suddenly sent to do something else on the timetabled session. You never know where you are. You are helpless. But there's another issue becoming more and more serious for vacataires and short contract teachers. Not being employed legally and not, sometimes never, being paid.

Universities and Grand Ecoles are doing this more and more. Complaints are becoming commonplace about even the most prestigious institutions known for turning out high level politicians and civil servants.

Here's what a few suffering teachers have to say in our recent teachers' forum:
The whole experience there was chaotic, stressful and unpleasant. I never got a security pass and had to always ask reception to let me and my students into class which started at 8am. I finally got my work email in week 11 and prior to that had no easy way of contacting my students (55 of them in total). I was given a job after a phone interview and was never given any course guidance until right at the end when I had to submit an exam paper which I did (3 versions). We agreed I would correct and grade these exams after the Xmas holidays. However on my return from Xmas holidays, I found out they had given my classes to another teacher who had not even contacted me about what I had taught my two groups.

Since vacataires in France do not, can not, will not organize, abuse of all sorts occurs. We are expendable and replaceable in the eyes of many administrators. 

We tried at *&^% and we tried at (*&^% and were met with little solidarity amongst our brethren and even less so from the salaried employees of these schools. There is really nowhere that I know of that you can take your grievances other than to the Prudhommes or a lawyer...Sorry to sound so glum but this has been my 18 year experience.
As a part-time or "adjunct" professor you're easily the last hired, most overworked, last paid. Totally unfair, of course. And it happens when you yourself, in a low-income pay bracket, may be in specially desperate need of your pay.  I've seen part-time people wait from six months to upwards of two years to be paid for their university work. Or never be paid at all.
Its HR department is an absolute shambles and you'll waste endless time and energy to get paid. I taught an M2 course in the first semester 2017-2018 (September - December 2017) and got paid end of May 2018 after...
- I had written a formal complaint to l’Académie de Paris;

- reported its administrative incompetence to the Ministry of Higher Education;

- threatened to go to the police and file a complaint.
In proper English this is called gross incompetence and vile disdain for hardworking teaching professionals. How come a university in a first country can't get its act together?
Let me simplify this: could you give me the name of ONE pastry shop in Paris that allows me to take away a tarte normande and possibly pay six months later? 

Some employers insist you must be self-employed as they refuse to pay the social charges part of your wage which a principal employer must do. They don't want the paperwork either. Unfortunately, becoming self-employed will not solve this problem as most employers require that you have had a certain level of income and paid taxes as an autoentrepreneur for the past THREE years.When the rules around employing vacataires became too impossible to work around I sought a position at an independent (not aligned to the STATE) language school on a CDII.

In theory it's a permanent position contract with zero hours. Whatever hours they promise to give you in the contract (yes, unlike the vacataires you have a contract) they have an automatic 'out' from delivering, citing reduced client demand if it suits. I thought I would be able to work almost full-time. They promised me as much work as I wanted in the areas of corporate work, language intensives for teenagers, training nurses in hospitals etc. It was all bullshit sugar-coated. If an adult student didn't turn up for their lesson I didn't get paid. My first week I worked 30 hours in front of the classes or individuals. Remember, I didn't get paid for the hundreds of hours spent planning or marking or doing admin. Those 30 hours never happened again. By the time I had to leave I was only getting 5 hours a week. Impossible to live like this despite the fact I'm very good at what I do. 

"Everything you guys have complained about is true.  I've worked in Higher Ed here in France & across Europe for many years and seen what you've described, and worse, first hand.   I've seen cases where it's taken one or two full years for people working as part-timers, as "vacataire université" or "chargé de cours", to get paid. A few times I've seen people put in a whole year of work and never get paid. Yes, and specifically within the Paris university system & often elsewhere -- part timers are incredibly exploited, chronically neglected."

So, thinking of teaching ESL or TESOL in France? You have been warned.
In addition you can check out this:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3325192/The-slavery-of-teaching-English.html

 
I would like to say that my time teaching 4 hours a week in the Faculté de Pharmacie at Paris-Sud was the best teaching experience I had. Lovely staff, professional and well-organised but the changing rules for employing non-permanent teachers are making finding quality teachers almost impossible. The State doesn't want outsiders and has been manouvring us out over recent years.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Building in NZ - The building consent process



You have decided to get a builder to build your house and take care of the process, rather than project manage it yourself. After learning about all the stuff that can go wrong during and after building I was happy to leave it to Landmark Homes. If you try to do things yourself you will have to:
  • Check quotes, suppliers' quantities and prices
  • get building consent forms (and resource forms if needed)
  • Order materials and create the construction programme
  • Arrange insurance against theft, fire etc
  • Provide necessary health and safety plan for the site
  • Ensure building compliance inspections are completed
  • Order materials and book sub-trades and ensure all is well timed
  • Check materials and return damaged goods, check correct colours
  • Apply for  Code Compliance Certificate on completion
  • Pay all accounts
  • Chase up sub trades for maintenance requirements
  • As the head contractor you will be liable for all building defects for the next 10 years. 
No way did I want that amount of stress, lacking the knowledge to do it anyway.

Your building consent info including detailed working drawings, drainage etc should comply with the council's building requirements otherwise you will need to apply for a resource consent. That will add time and money to your project so make sure space between your house and boundary fences comply, that your garage is the correct distance from the road, that recession plane requirements are met.  Two story homes add complications.

My neighbour is building a garage which is longer than the average and close to the sunny boundary for my house so required a resource consent. As part of that his builder was required to notify me and get my written approval before the consent process could continue. This slowed things down for them. at this stage avoid making any changes to walls or windows or you may need to start, expensively, again.

These days in Selwyn District your builder lodges the building consent electronically directly with the council. You, the owner, do nothing. Below are two links on the AlphaOne process. Your council should complete your lodging within 20 working days so long as you have supplied all necessary information. If council comes back to your builder requesting additional info the clock stops and then restarts once council receives that info. I really hope there will be no delays with my consent. It has already been delayed at the beginning by the engineering requirement for a soak pit more than 5m deep.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4qheUzmwlM
  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj7y91_q3VQ

Selwyn are trialling a no deposit fee trial. No, it doesn't mean your consent is free, just that you can get on with the process before being hit with the bill. They say...

No Deposit Fee Trial From 1 January 2018 we will not be asking for a deposit fee at the time of lodging your building consent application. We are taking the opportunity to trial a ‘no deposit’ approach to streamline workflows.
What does this means for you?
  • No upfront cost when lodging the application.
  • Complete applications start the statutory clock straight away and are queued for processing (note – all applications will still be vetted for completeness).
  • One invoice for all associated fees upon issue of your building consent.
This new system should make things easier for my builder, I hope. On a wet Queen's Birthday weekend I am sitting around anxiously twiddling my thumbs, writing, dreaming impatiently for the right to start building 7 months after my first inquiries. As you can see, we're ready to go.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Building in NZ - From contract to build


 So you've agreed on the price for the shell with your builder. Remember that unless it is a turnkey house and land package you will have other significant costs such as driveway hard landscaping, soft landscaping, window treatments, TV aerials, outside lighting options,  fencing, special indoor lighting that is not downlights, a hearth for your logfire, other interior decor items which may include mirrors and splashbacks, upholstery, furniture. While the total house build as quoted by your builder may seem OK you must contend with PC sums not covering the true costs, as well as the aforementioned essential stuff you will need which is not handled by your builder. These other costs are where it gets scarey.

 Not very timely communication from your builder will add to your stress. If you are unemployed, like me, a week or more of no communication of progress or answers to your written emails could result in sleepless nights. I found that good communication prior to signing the contract diminished once the contract was signed. Your sales rep will have handed things over to the office from now on.

Now you have to wait for your builder to get all the consent documentation together. That includes identifying any problems with the site (they should request a PIM Project Information Memorandum), and the working drawings done by an architect, engineering stuff. Your builder needs to know specific requirements for the relevant council building consent processes. Each council is different in what they want.

I was told this process would take 4 weeks, as I signed the contract. Then I was told 4-5 weeks. So far I have been waiting two months. Apparently there is no connected stormwater in Rolleston (poor environmental management by Selwyn DC and primitive in my opinion, lacks vision) so you have to use a soakpit. The PIM says mine must be more than 5 metres deep. Good grief and that seems to be posing an engineering problem. Hardly an unusual problem in Rolleston I would have thought but the main Faringdon sewer which is 3.5m deep runs across the easement on my section. And so I wait for news while my rent rapidly reduces the money available for my new house. I wonder how my new neigbour, who must have the same stormwater problems but is actually building, solved the engineering problem. So I'm waiting for the consent application. After that it may take a month to go through the consenting process before I can start building. Winter... agghhh! Not ideal.

You visit the suppliers used by your builder. This helps communication (in theory) and sometimes it's fun choosing what you want though most of us get a limited choice because of weak PC sums that make the build cost 'look' more reasonable for our budgets. It's a juggling act between your builder, their suppliers and you as to how to give you close to what you want, close to your budget.
Warning: Too often prices are quoted without GST. Then you get the real bill. Awful.

You will visit:
  • The heat pump supplier
  • the logfire supplier
  • the tile supplier for bathrooms etc
  • The flooring specialist for carpet and hard flooring
  • The interior designer to determine exterior and interior colour schemes
  • The kitchen manufacturer.
This later is key. You choose the layout, door profiles, confirm appliances, handles and knobs, lighting, storage types, sink types, pantry types. Your space and budget will definitely limit what you can do. They may also be supplying your wardrobes, laundry cabinetry and other similar stuff.

Landmark Homes have given me free consultations with an interior designer for my interior/exterior paint choices. The designers can also be useful in getting window treatment quotes that help personalise your new home. They can also project manage the installation. This can prove worthwhile as they get their revenue from a margin from the suppliers they use.

Landmark also gave me a free consultation with a landscape designer but I had to pay over $740 for the plan. The plan is required to get consent from the developer. I designed the garden layout and plantings myself but lacked the software to produce a professional plan. You must factor this cost in.

What else I have done while waiting:
  • Found someone who could build me a fibrous plaster fire-proof fire-surround for my logfire to give the room a traditional look of a mantlepiece. Quote will have to wait until I have working drawings
  • Purchased bedlinen that works with my colour choices
  • Purchased some living room curtain material of sprigged flowers which was being deleted in the UK. The only fabric that could give me the French country look I want. Excellent service from Millers Homeworld Christchurch. The indent orders took only one week to arrive from the UK.
  • Visited trellis suppliers to see what my options are
  • Took advantage of free instore consultations with Resene colour specialists

 
  • Decided on my interior lighting plan. This will need to be confirmed with the electrician when we do a walk-through once the walls are up. 
  • Checked out fence stain colours (Mitre 10 Mega is my second home) and types of lawn
  • Sourced an ornate framed mirror for the bathroom which could be treated against dampness and wired with a demister http://www.trendymirrors.co.nz/mirrors/framed-traditional-mirrors/ornate-framed/i016-michaelangelo-2/
  • Purchased some chandeliers in a French style (not easy to find, even online). Any lighting you buy must have a certificate stating it complies to NZ standards or your builder's electrician will refuse to install it.
  • Trying to find other essential but inexpensive items via Salvation Army but so far nothing useful there.
Current challenges: Posting my old brass 5 candle chandelier from France to a company in Auckland who can rewire it and supply compliance documentation. Jean-Claude said not to waste money on it but for me it's sentimental, having come from my bedroom in France and it's the real macoy.
The other is trying to repaint a modern version of a French style chandelier. It came only in black. Ghastly; too harsh and industrial for my soft decor so am trying to get a guy to repaint it in an antique style with softer colours. He hasn't got the hang of that yet. It looks pretty awful at present but at least it is not black.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Building in NZ - Pre-Contract

This is my journey from purchasing a section to signing a building contract in NZ. I hope you'll find it useful.

It would have been better if I could have afforded an architect to build me what I want (a French-inspired home) but such costs were quite beyond me. They can be 15% of the total build. With an architect's plans you can shop around for the best price amongst builders. The best option for me was to find a quality builder with a good range of plans, one of which might suit.

It sounds simple but I can assure you that if you want other than a bog-standard box it is not. House and land packages/turnkey deals are the easiest but my chosen builder didn't have anything on offer so I chose my section and then chose my builder based on the fact they were the only ones with a plan that resembled something I might like.

Why I liked their plan:
There was natural light coming directly into the kitchen and I could stand at my sink and look out on my garden. These days the trend is to put the kitchen in the middle of the house with no natural light, only whatever light would come in from the dining or living areas. In short, you need to use electricity to light your kitchen any time you want to work in it, they are so dark. Not very sustainable in my opinion. I live in a duplex currently which is exactly like that. It's consequently dark and cold to live in.
I also liked the plan because it had elements of 'character' such as great indoor-outdoor flow to multiple patios and pergolas which climbers could climb, wind and ultimately drizzle down - think grapes, wisteria and roses. There was also a European-shaped external chimney much as you might find in an old cottage in France or England. I wanted street appeal and friends had suggested I use one of my bedrooms as an Airbnb to help meet my living costs. Tick!

After careful thought I felt the current plan used up too much of the section on driveway, robbing me of garden space. This single aspect meant we had to work out how to reorganise the garage, the entranceway and the bnb. Driveways are scarily expensive folks. Keep them minimal, especially if you want tinted exposed aggregate to look a bit classier and to eliminate the horrendous glare from raw, white concrete.

Danger: the minute your builder makes a drawing of your ideas they become your builders ideas and thus copyrighted. You can't take your own ideas to another builder and ask them to come up with something that meets your needs ie trot your plan around for pricing. Other builders get nervous about legal ramifications of 'shopping plans'. They all want to propose one of their standard plans which of course don't meet your needs. They then have to come up with something different that is not like the first builder's ideas so they can't be accused of plagiarism. For a 3-bedroom house it's hard to come up with something original. None of them wants to design something from scratch for you no matter what their marketing says. They feel safer using their own plans, most of which are boring to me. My builder is expensive but the barriers to going with someone else really dissuaded me from changing. i found seeing my ideas with the builder's logo irkesome. They've got you by the curlies. I checked with a building design copyright lawyer who said I'd better stick with my expensive builder to be safe.

Bear in mind your design must meet stringent developer covenants if they are in place. These are a list of materials you are 'allowed' to build with and what style. You must have street appeal. No heat pump condensers may be seen from the street. Take care with positioning of solar panels, raintanks etc. Nothing 'ugly' facing the street please. Covenants dictate your colours, pets, exact fence type, activities you can indulge in and size of home. I am forced to build a 200m2 home just for me. Ridiculous!

OK, you've got your layout pretty much sorted so your builder provides a rendering of what it might look like. Exciting! They should show you how the house is positioned on the site to profit from the sun. Do you want most spare land in front on the street or, like me you prefer your space to be private around the back? Your site layout should show any easments, boundaries. distance to road and neighbours, recession planes because your council will need to be happy with your choices. See, it's not just about you.

Next your builder will draft a sales proposal consisting of basic specifications for the house and a total cost. I wanted a fixed price. OK except that in reality it's not, really. So many things are NOT included such as driveways letterbox, fences. landscaping, sometimes spashbacks, logfire surrounds and hearths, curtains. Sometimes your builder will decide to change the specs because they can't build the house for your budget. This is disappointing and results in uncomfortable but necessary negotiations as you make trade-offs. I sacrificed the security system and doorbell so I could have 2.2m internal doors to match my 2.7m stud. That extra height makes  a big difference in the whole feel of my home.

Beware the PC sums. Your builder doesn't know your tastes so they decide on the specs for plumbing, electricals, flooring, tiling, heating and attach a guestimate for costs. Go around every supplier checking that the PC sums are realistic or you could get hit with thousands of dollars of additional costs.

You get the Sales Proposal and they should also send you a blank copy of the contract and the Residential Building Guide support documents. I had my lawyer check this even though it was a standard Masterbuild contract. Your builder MUST supply these documents in advance of you signing.

You will be sent an Authority to Proceed to concept plan drawings to sign and which you must pay for. They say the drawings are included in the cost if you decide to go ahead and build the house but how would you know? The cost of the house was the same before I signed and paid for the drawings as when I later signed the contract to go ahead and build. I queried it but - how can you know? For me the house price hadn't reduced $2400. Building is not a transparent process and these are not the working drawings.

Your builder should also apply for a Project Information Memorandum from the council to see what the state of the section is for building on. Geo reports are not enough, even if supplied free by your developer. Your section might need special testing even though the council knows the foundation category. In my case the equivalent of TC1.

Note: talk to others who have built. Listen to their horror stories and learn from them, pick yourself up off the floor and keep going.

Next post: signing the contract and what you need to do while you are waiting to start building.
















Sunday, 8 April 2018

Building in NZ - The section

To build or not to build. That's the question many of us ask ourselves when trying to get out of the rental noose around our necks.

With no job offers and no income coming in I was obliged to sell my aging house in Pakuranga, Auckland and look for somewhere more affordable. Flat land? Less than $200,000 for a decent section with services? Near all the usual metropolitan services for aging folks and those who still need a job? Those criteria narrow New Zealand down quite a bit.

Hello Rolleston; not too far from Christchurch but far enough away in case of more earthquakes. Too far from the sea to be threatened by tsunamis. Limited snow, can be a bit windy at times.

I spent a lot of time meeting real estate agents and viewing existing homes: modern and souless with apalling excuses for gardens. I might have chosen one before I went to France but I've come back different, or maybe I'm more ME. I don't fit emotionally into a 'normal, modern' kiwi house and I really need MY kind of intensive garden. The later is rare to find these days. All up, I was bored and despairing with what was on offer. To get anything like what I wanted I would have to build and still make a lot of compromises. I knew it was not going to be an easy option and it was going to be $100,000 more expensive than an existing bog-standard home. But it could be unique.

I found a section in December 2017 during a brief trip to Rolleston. I sat down with the real estate agent to see what was available. Most sections had gone in the subdivision I was looking for but I was assured a section down a right of way was as good as any other and that title for the first stage would be released the following month. My section should be available for building in April even though the official word was July. "July is too late." I said. "No problem", he said, the good weather had them well on track for me to get title in April.

Just before Christmas he put a LOT of pressure on me to sign the contract. I had already received a copy of the contract and sent that on to my expensive Auckland lawyer. She had concerns over the vagueness in many areas and the lack of transparency concerning ALL the partners selling off the subdivision. I had concerns about how much money I might be up for to pay for the right of way and vehicle crossing. The developer was also charging $400 to approve my building plan. And then there was the $2500 bond in case of damage. Costs after costs.

The estate agent started getting aggressive with me and accusing my lawyer of stalling and ripping me off financially just to drag out the process and cost me more money than necessary. "I've had enough of this," raged the agent. I told him to calm down, I was the client, the one with the money and my lawyer was doing her job protecting me; necessary since the developers' lawyer hadn't even seen a copy of the contract written up by the agent. Christmas came and went and I made preparations to move from Auckland to Rolleston; stressful after an international move only 6 weeks earlier.

Down in Rolleston I checked out the subdivision containing my section. It was a dust bowl, a physical mess and little progress had been made. There was NO WAY the estate agent had been honest about title. I hate dishonesty and agression so I pulled the plug on the deal. It had cost me $2400 because the contract had so many holes in it my lawyer had been obliged to put in extra effort.. An expensive mistake but perhaps it would have been worse if I had persisted.

I found a more professional developer in another subdivision who was releasing the last of its stages. Timing is tricky with subdivisions. They take a long time to develop, depend on suppliers and the weather and finance. Getting title means you have to pay the balance of the section cost so you can then build on it. Prior to that you pay a deposit to hold it, usually 10%. This developer was quite relaxed about giving my lawyer and me extra time to feel comfortable with my decision before paying the deposit. Hughes Development is completing their major subdivision at Faringdon, Rolleston. It's massive with 24 stages and hundreds of homes. My section is in stage 22 and I'm hoping for title any day, even though I'm not yet ready to build because I need specific documentation for developer approval before I even submit my plans to Selwyn District Council.

Faringdon is a nicely done subdivision with recreational areas and facilities and VERY strict covenants. If you are building take heed of the covenants. These are the restrictions the developer puts on your building design, exterior colour scheme, landscaping, fencing, indeed anything you want to do that can be seen from the street and what activities you can do on your section. It's a pain in the butt and slows the whole documentation process down.

Unfortunately for me I have an easment running across one side of my section. I am not allowed to build any structures on the easement so that is quite restrictive in positioning my house. Along one side of stage 22 is the new Faringdon underground sewer. Chances are there won't be any problems in my lifetime but if there were they have the right to come onto my property and dig up my garden, destroying plants and trees to get at the problem down below. My lawyer said easements are common and aren't worth worrying about as it's rare that it causes a problem. Still, it did give me pause for thought. There are so many issues when building from the minute the idea of building a French-inspired home pops into one's mind.

Right now the pegs are in, the grass has germinated, the road is finished and the street lights are up, the deposit is paid, I'm trying to get my 'ducks in a row' for developer approval asap.

Next post: what's involved in getting developer approval and what hoops do you go through getting to the stage of signing a building contract.

Section tips in a subdivision:
  1. Get a Land Information Memorandum from the council to see what condition the land is in, if there have been hazardous substances. The developer may provide one free on their website. Otherwise you'll pay at lease a couple of hundred dollars.
  2. Check the developer covenants. they are there to protect your investment but can be quite restrictive in an urban environment.
  3. Check out homes in the area and see if people look after their properties
  4. What is the path of the sun? Will your preferred plan sit correctly on the section?
  5. Is your section on the best side of the road for sun? Many have the sun heating the garage instead of the living areas. Take care with this one as the rest of the house will be cold.
  6. Is there a bus service and what future developments will arise nearby? Talk to the planning section of your council.
  7. How long do you expect to be in this house/area - this will determine what you need nearby.
  8. Have you got fast broadband installed in the subdivision?
  9. Climate? Wind? Possible natural disasters?