Building on a Budget

By Fiona McPherson from FMA/Black Hut Design

Managing your building budget can be daunting but there are some great ways to keep costs down and your budget on track. We had a chat with our friend Fiona McPherson from FMA and Black Hut Design about building on a budget. Here’s what she had to say...

With all that has happened this year and the resulting economic uncertainty we are getting more and more enquiries from people who have a design for a home that is unaffordable or are about to start the design process and are worried about costs blowing out. If you are thinking of building or altering your home, there are some very effective ways of managing your budget that I can share that will help you avoid your budget blowing out.

How do you keep your design within a budget from the start?

Know the difference between what you need and what you want. I ask my clients to draw a circle around five things that they can’t live without. We use this as a talisman to right the ship if we get blown off course. For me this was warm, dry, sunny, volume and solar panels no matter what. There are thousands of individual decisions you have to make as the client, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals along the way. If you have clarity around what is truly important, you won’t regret letting go of the things that don’t matter.

How do you keep the fittings and fixtures budget in control?

If building on a budget is the goal, jumping up the ladder with every finishing decision will blow your budget entirely. If you are like me, (red wine taste on a vinegar budget), I can guarantee you, taps in the next price bracket up will be sleeker, have great features and be the one you REALLY REALLY want. Choose your builder early, they can chart your course and send you in the direction of what you can afford. Try to stick to it. If you only look at things you can afford you won’t miss the one you haven’t seen. Concentrate on durability and enduring style rather than trend. Like all consumer goods, the latest trend will set you back more moola.

Do you disclose your budget or keep it to yourself?

Disclose your budget to your designer at the start. Within your design team include a professional to price check your design. This is not the job of your architectural team; we get super excited about design and have a thousand ideas! We can blow your money as fast as a trip to a casino if you leave us unchecked. A reality check as early as possible is essential. Not all builders are created equal, builders like Blue Summit Construction can price check and will make sure you know where you are at, every step of the way. If you feel like you can’t honestly share your budget; you are working with the wrong people - choose someone you can trust and identify with. Communicate openly and honestly even when it’s a conversation you don’t want to have.

How do you keep track of add-ons along the way?

Remember if you add something, along the way, get your wallet out to pay for it. You wouldn’t go to the supermarket with a list of ten things, pick up twenty and expect the extra ten to be free (especially if it’s a cauliflower). Too often we expect builders to build a bridge between design and budget. They probably could, they are pretty good at building and problem solving, but you should be paying them for the service. Set some boundaries at the start of your project and ask your team to tell you if changes you suggest will add cost. 

What is the best way to choose a design and build team?

I came across a quote yesterday from Franklin D Roosevelt which is fitting for these turbulent times: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. Undertaking a building project for the first time will result in a steep learning curve, no doubt some stress, and possibly baked beans for dinner at the end for a while. If you choose an experienced team of people, with the same values as you and listen to them, you won’t need to worry about the smoothness of the water. If your personality allows others to steer you, maybe you can take your hand off the tiller sometimes and just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Fiona McPherson from Fiona McPerson Architecture and Black Hut Design has 25 years of experience in architecture in New Zealand and England.