Building quote info

How and when should you get your renovation or new home project quoted?

The saying goes that renovating and building costs twice as much and takes twice as long as you expect.

However, in my experience, what happens is this.

Homeowners in fact start their project expecting that it will take half as long, and cost half as much as it actually will.

I don’t know how expectations and reality got so far apart. Perhaps it’s a diet of reality TV programs and big shed hardware stores. In my experience, most homeowners will have a brief … and a budget that is 50 – 75% of where it needs to be, to achieve that brief. And then they want it done pronto.

So there’s this readjustment that happens as they move along their journey, and find out (often with total shock) that their expectations and reality don’t match.

The worst thing is that homeowners often wait far too long to get to this point of readjustment.

They hope on a train towards their destination, without checking that they’re on the right train. It’s only several stops along their trip that they check, and discover they’re on an express train to somewhere they didn’t mean to go.

So, how do you avoid this? How do you avoid the hurt of derailing a train (ie your project) and it ending in disaster?

Simple. Get your expectations meeting reality as early as possible. If you can readjust early, then you can hop on the best train for you.

Part of this is working out the cost of your renovation or new home. Homeowners often feel this is a one-step process, however it’s definitely not.

This is how I recommend you find out what it will cost you to build or renovate your home … and when. And then manage your budget and spending along the way.

#1  At the very start it may seem strange to set your budget at the start. Especially given you possibly haven’t even put pen to paper, talked to a designer or got any ideas about what your renovation or new home might look like.Your budget, though, is a key part of your brief. It’s a fundamental component of how to approach your project overall, and strategies to adopt in its design and construction.


Don’t ignore it. Don’t start without one. Don’t keep it a secret from your designers and potential team members. If you want, talk about it in a ‘range’ rather than an exact figure.


Use online budget calculators and real estate tools to see rough cost guides. Understand what adds value in your area.


The ability of those you work with to give you useful and helpful advice relies on the information you give them. Give them good, reliable information. Then you should get good, reliable advice to help you move forward on your project.


Build trust as well. As a designer, I can always tell when a client is hiding their ‘real’ project budget from me, and feeding me another. A good designer is not out to overspend your budget. They can only work with what you brief them though. Trust them, listen to their advice, and build a partnership with them. It will deliver the best results for your project.


#2  To choose the best design concept to move forward with

Imagine a triangle, pointing downwards. You’re standing on the VERY wide edge of it, and your finished project is at the pointy end.

As you start your journey, there are LOADS of options. So much to consider and choose from.

Your ability to choose the simplest, most suitable path to that pointy end relies on this. You understanding and weighing up all the options available to you, and taking the best path for you.

Perhaps you’re trying to choose the best floor plan solution, the type of materials you want to build from, or the style you want your home to emulate.

Understanding the financial cost of these choices can be a good way to make decisions for your project.

At the beginning, perhaps you’re weighing up different design options. Should you do a single storey? A double storey? Add that extra living room now, or later? Do you do a skillion roof … or a gable? Can you afford that void?

Get costing advice early by showing design options to local builders or other professionals. Their estimates will be ball-parks, but they’re a great way to assess which option is preferable to pursue.

It’s also a great way to start collaborative relationships with these professionals to assist your project along the way.

#3  Before you lodge for Council Approval (DA, Development Application, Development Approval)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and seen this scenario.

  1. Homeowner works with design professional or builder on the design for their new home or renovation … for weeks, or months.
  2. Professional develops design into package of drawings for Council lodgement … for weeks or months.
  3. Homeowner submits to Council and waits for Development Approval … for weeks or months.
  4. Homeowner then goes to Quantity Surveyor, Building Estimator, or Builder to get project estimated or quoted … usually weeks.
  5. Homeowner finds that approved project is well over budget.
  6. Homeowner, now totally demoralised, feels like chucking in the towel and scrapping the whole thing
  7. OR Homeowner spends several more weeks and months (and more money) changing the design to bring it back on budget, get an amended Council Approval, and then get ready to start.
  8. Homeowner is now delayed, bruised and battered – and wallet quite a bit emptier.

Get your project formally quoted before you lodge for Council Approval.


To lodge for Council Approval, you should have reached quite a high level of design resolution.


It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to pull together a package of information so you can brief a Quantity Surveyor or Builder. They can then provide you with some decent cost advice.


This enables you to adjust designs to suit BEFORE submitting to Council and wasting all that energy, time and effort further down the road.



#4  Before you get Building Approval (BA) or Construction Certificate (CC)

There is usually a lot of design and detail resolution between achieving Council Approval, and lodging drawings for Building Approval or Construction Certificate.


By this stage, you’ll have got advice from a Structural Engineer, and other consultants. They’ll have advised (and even done drawings) for how to build the project so it is structurally sound, and meets building regulations.


You’ve chosen materials. Potentially you’ve designed some interior elements like the kitchens and bathrooms. Your selections may not be finalised, but you’re getting a good idea of what you may choose and work with.


And, your landscape design (depending on the requirements of your approval authority) may also be getting resolved.


Get another cost estimate, cost revision or formal quote.


Sometimes this can be the point you actually get your project formally tendered by a selection of builders. They’ll often include allowances against all the finishes and fixtures you’ll be choosing.


Are you still on budget? Adjust to suit before you lodge your drawings.


#5  Before you sign a contract with a builder

Most builders will provide a contract sum that includes quoted work, provisional sums and PC (or prime cost) item allowances.


This is where so many homeowners get into trouble. They don’t check that the PC item allowances and provisional sums are actually enough for what they want in their project.


Worse still, they don’t understand how PC item allowances and provisional sums even work. (This website has a good definition of these terms).


Or, they adjust them to reduce the contract sum – without checking that they’ll cover the work they’re supposed to.


Calculate these amounts in your contract with real $ amounts for your selections and scope of work. For example, real quotes for electrical work against a real lighting plan. Not an allowance for electrical work based on an estimate of number of light fittings and power points.


It will help avoid cost blowouts during construction when these allowances aren’t enough.


#6  During the construction project

I recommend homeowners, or their representative, attend site weekly and meet with their builder.


During these meetings, track how the budget is going, and what choices and payments are coming up.


Track your costs on an on-going basis. Don’t spend your savings before they’re fully realised. This will help you deliver your project at its anticipated cost.


#7  Before making the final payment

Hopefully you, or someone working for you (who’s not the builder) has been tracking payments and variation claims throughout the project. And hopefully you, or they, have also been checking that the builder is completing the work they’re charging for.


So, in making that final payment for the contract, be sure that all work is completed to the standard and scope as agreed in your contract.


In my opinion, you shouldn’t hold your builder to ransom with this final payment. The builder is a person, running a business.


However, that final payment is really the last point of real recourse you have on your project. So be sure that all contracted work is complete and defect free.


A final word

I see homeowners behave like it’s a foregone conclusion that their project will blow budget and timelines. Renovating and building doesn’t have to be that way.

The renovating and building journey is not a one-step process. It’s a step-by-step journey of discovery and selection. Sometimes you only have 2 options. Sometimes you have 200. Sometimes you may feel like you’re crawling, and at other times it feels like big jumps towards the finish line.

The most straight-forward way to avoid nasty surprises on your reno or new home journey is to start with good information and a reliable team. Then you can also work to make informed choices as you go. Checking and adjusting along the way.

Revisiting your design, your budget and your timeline at each of these stages will help you do this, and make the best choices for you … your budget, your site and your life. That’s the way you create the best home for you.