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To the ends of the earth

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?














Saturday, 24 March 2018

To Market! To market!

I greatly enjoyed visiting local French markets when I lived in France but to my surprise New Zealand has made more of a move into this than it had 8 years ago and there are many farmers' markets scattered about as well as major 'city' ones. The advantage of being back in NZ is my new-found tendancy to strike up conversations with the merchants. Well, it's so much easier in English.

But back, for a moment, to the last market I went to in France and the first one I ever went to as a French resident; the one at Rambouillet. It's spread out along the main street on a Saturday and there's a smaller one outside the Mairie on Wednesday mornings.

My last Saturday in France was spent here, on my own, enjoying the smells and sights and sounds and saying goodbye to my favourite country: the man carving a huge block of chocolate into a sculpture; the couple who repair chair backs and seats, especially those in willow and rattan; the olives and cheap imported clothing. It's a somewhat dying skill repairing old seats though many's the home with such old chairs still in existence in some garage or attic, needing tender loving care in order to give another 50 years good service.
I moved on to one of the clothing merchants, rummaged a bit and then tried to point out to the guy minding it that his sweat tops were pretty useless as the message had a very silly spelling mistake in it. Can you spot it? I loved the markets in France because they were culturally interesting to me. There was always something new, something so very 'French'.

It can be interesting to attend NZ markets and sometimes you can find something worthwhile but the cultural aspects don't interest me at all. The merchants, on the other hand are worth stopping and speaking with and giving them some encouragement.

On Saturdays there is the Lyttelton farmers' market in the centre of this port town on the other side of the tunnel from Christchurch. The first thing I noticed was the bread. Artisan bread seems to be having a resurgence in NZ whereas it's a dying art in France. I can't comment on or compare the quality but certainly an effort is being made to provide something other than supermarket pap here. Specialist foods and condiments are sprouting up everywhere adding interest and a dash of sophistication to kiwi palates. The takeways were rather kiwi such as the deer meat and the bacon butties. Other products are innovations on European products such as the salts, olive oils (NZ produces good olive oil), goat cheeses and dried sausages. 
There are great choices in garlic, beer and even lavender. I was disappointed in the lavender seller's attitude. I went up to him and started chatting with the man on deck who wasn't all that affable. I explained I'd just come back from France. " Oh, France have you? France, I hate it". Have you been there?" I asked. "No"," he snapped. Taken-aback I asked why he hated France? " I hate the French. They're all the same, you can't trust them, dishonest pack," he said. " Well, I'm French and I'm not dishonest so maybe you should rethink your opinion," I said, moving sadly away. He was unapologetic. Canterbury seems to be increasing its Lavender production but I won't be keen to buy the brand he was badly representing.

There was a poet selling his handmade covered poems and a wine producer who, when I asked what made her wines special, said "Well we grow them and produce them all ourselves." When pressed for details she had no answer. Good grief! Why would I bother to spend money on her product? Clearly, she doesn't know or care.
 Other products I found interesting and of good quality were cereals, seasonings and goat cheese. "Ah, you'd know a thing or two about these cheeses," the producer said to me after learning I was back from  France. I tried a morsel. The initial taste was pleasing but rapidly disappeared on my palate. It lacked staying power. He welcomed my feedback and I moved on to the succulents seller, the boutique beers, the garlic specialist and a garden ornaments manufacturer. Creative, commerical. Hat's off to most of the marketers. I wish you a prosperous result for your efforts.































Friday, 23 February 2018

A taste of childhood

On a hot Canterbury NZ day, after a meeting with my future home builder I took a detour from my route home and drove down streets from my childhood. I expected change after so many decades, I expected changes after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Much of the suburb was unrecognisable visually, except for the street names which had an odd haunting quality to them. Haunting because they had been such a big part of my growing up as I biked down them when young, yet had been changed so much, There was a disconnection with everything that should have felt nostalgic. The disconnection was enormous. The suburb had radically changed in its street layout, the vegetation was very different, the houses seemed old and often ill-kempt.


Gone of course were the days when school children like me walked a very long circuitous route to get to school; past open ditches where each house had a wooden bridge to access their driveways. Entire blocks of poplars had disappeared.

I remembered watching the steam trains puffing smoke along the line of poplar trees while I stood on the dining room chairs to catch a view. I was probably 5 years old.

I remembered cycling to school on my bike, balancing my violin and trying to rub warm my fingers, chillblained and cracked by Christchurch frosts. Zephyr and Humber cars parked in the driveway.


My parents bought some land in what would become Casebrook but at that stage was still considered Northcote, Christchurch. They capitalised the family benefit and took advantage of 3% State Advance loans. The new subdivision had been a dairy farm and the land was very clayish. My parents got trailer loads of manure each year trying to improve the soil texture. I can remember a visit to the house under construction where I was afraid to walk on the floor beams in case I fell through between them. My mother cautioned me. She cautioned me about everything and the world seemed a dangerous place.

My bedroom was to the right of the angle at the front door between the two wings.


Back in the 50s, 60s and early 70s women often stayed home and amused themselves while the kids were at school. Kids got themselves there and back. They weren't ferried in cars.

After the subdivision was finished some merchants opened a little string of shops nearby, consisting of a grocery store (supermarkets didn't exist), a chemist and a fish and chippie shop. Chinese food and hamburgers had not yet reached New Zealand. I hated fish so sometimes I was allowed to order a meat pattie and chips.

 Every Friday night we ate a mince pie with tomato sauce while watching Clutch Cargo cartoons on TV. On Saturdays we ate fish and chips while watching Yoyage to the Bottom of the Sea or Bonanza or even Laramie, the Virginian, the High Chapperal. Westerns were big then and so was Doctor Who with those pesky, scary Darleks.

I was coming up to that little group of shops where a pie had been 50c and so was a big tablet of chocolate back then. Now there was a doctor's surgery where the dairy used to be, the dairy was in the middle and at the other end was a takeaway run by chinese folks. I parked and went in. On the board I found 'meat pattie' was an option so I ordered it. I popped next door and bought a bottle of BBQ sauce.

Two minutes later I was parked across the road from my childhood home, eating my pattie and chips from the paper, sauce splottered over the food. It was wonderful. The taste of the meat and onion and herbs was exactly as I'd experienced 55 years ago even though those cooking it were newish immigrants. How could that be? No matter. Those moments were sublime as I munched and regarded my old home. Rather changed it was. The garage Dad built had been altered, the front of the house had two new rooms added, the fireplace had gone, the garden was completely different and rather unkempt. The house needed some serious mainenance but I could see the driveway I used to weed, the path I used when I came home from school. The last time I was in that house was 1976, the day of my first wedding. I hadn't seen it since.

 Many of the lives that came and went there had extinguished. What had happened to John Smith, my first boyfriend? The two of us are photographed in front of the garage when we were both 15. I heard Graham Johns who lived down the road and attended Papanui High with me had made it big in music overseas, orchestras etc. I would have liked to catch up with him. Names are fading from my memory.

The Barnes lived across the road on the corner in the partly bricked house (see last photo). I didn't have much to do with them but my mother, who had plenty of time on her hands, used to fraternise.
I still have my old violin and inside the case is this address biroed in my hand, 12 Brockham St, Papanui. The suburb is now known as Casebrook.

This was just one little experience of 'coming back'. Many of the places I worked, had dates, lived ceased to exist after the earthquakes. It's very hard for me to drive around Christchurch and see so, so much loss of heritage, identity, facilities. There's resilience out there because there is no choice but I can see a lot of political incompetence and uncaring too.

It was just an hour, a drop in time but that taste of childhood gave me momentary grounding. I started the car and drove away from Christchurch. Perhaps there will be other personal revisitings.

Photos show: the house under construction in the mid 50s and what it was like in the 60s and 70s, and now; me staring at the Barnes' house on the corner of Cherry Place, my brother and I doing 'carpentry - the only time I was allowed to play with a hammer, just for the photo - because I was only a girl; dressed as Miss Muffit outside the front door 1959 (in those days fancy dress competitions were popular with competitive mothers); standing on the driveway in my Sunday best for church 1969, cooking sausages swimming in dripping, as we did in those days while wearing my obligatory 'pinnie'. Stick on decoration on walls was popular then too. It wasn't wallpaper and we used the same stuff to cover our school books. Here it was bright red lobsters. My mother had a thing about red and green and lilac.