Owner Builder – Your Questions Answered!


I love to be able to help you! It’s the reason why i started this blog and my Instagram account in the first place. To be able to share what we have learnt through our building experiences. So what better way to help you than for you to hit me with your more pressing building questions! I’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked, and popped them below.

So here we go, this is what you want to know!

Budget, budget, budget! It’s that dirty word when your building. You want to block it out when some gorgeous appliance catches your eye…however, at the end of the day, your budget is a really, really important part of your build. You need to be smart, sensible and safe when it comes to where you splurge and where you save.

Initially, i think it is really important to set your boundaries before you start, so you know where you want to sit by the end of the build. Some questions you’ll definitely want to ask yourself include:

  • What is a comfortable amount you want to stay under?
  • What elements in your home are non-nogotiable…and what elements can you sacrifice? (i’ll talk about this more in another blog – it’s a goodie!).
  • Do you have any room for movement within your budget – or is it firm?

Once you have got these figured out, you have a starting point. It’s time to get started on your spreadsheet! Entering your quotes and keeping track of what you have paid, and what you haven’t is ESSENTIAL. If you don’t know what bills you’ve already spent, it is impossible to know how much you have left to play with. So referring back to that spreadsheet was a really important thing for us to do as we went. Some trades came in cheaper that what we had been quoted for, and entering that info into our spreadsheet meant that we knew we could afford to spend in other areas. For example, our exterior moulding came in at $1000 under what we had allowed for, so we decided to use that money to concrete in a winder driveway which is really convenient for us.

If you want to stay under budget, it is essential that you become besties with your spreadsheet and only overspend in areas if you know you have saved in others.

Need a good spreadsheet? Here is mine! This is what i used throughout the build to keep on top of things…you can download it below!

To be able to complete an owner build independently, there are specific requirements that you need to be able to meet in order to get your Owner Builder Permit. One of these requirements is that you’ve participated in training and successfully completed the units. There are a few ways you can do this – online with a registered provider, or as a face-to-face workshop delivered by a registered provider (make sure it is with professional and registered providers. You don’t want to waste time and money, only to find out that you need to do it again because they aren’t certified).

We opted to do the online training. Due to the fact that Dave already held a White Card (WH&S) and had a carpentry qualification, it meant that he could be accredited and not have to complete some of the training. This saved a lot of time. The information that you gain through this course is not a ‘How To’ for owner building. It really just makes sure you are aware of your obligations as the site foreman in terms of safe workplace conditions, and are aware of the legal requirements for your build.

Due to the fact that Dave works in the industry and this was our third build, we were very well prepared for the ‘how to’ owner build. It was more of the legalities, paperwork, ordering and financial responsibilities that made this different and more challenging to our other builds.

In terms of recommending an ‘Owner Builder Course’, i really am not in a position to be able to, as i have no experience. My biggest recommendation would be to talk to as many people as you can who have been there before you. Ask them about their experience with owner builder, their challenges, how they overcame them and anything they wish they had done differently or known before they started. I think advice like this really is invaluable!

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, something tends to crop up and bite you in the budget, so a contingency plan is ESSENTIAL. In fact, if you’re borrowing any finance, your bank just might insist you have one.

We included a 10% contingency plan into our budget. Thankfully we didn’t need to use it, but it was really reassuring to now that the money was available to use if an emergency arose. My budgeting tool does the hard work for you, and automatically includes this for you!

It’s hard! I can tell you, I walk into any shop and within second and without looking at price tags, I’ve managed to find myself in love with the most expensive tile or lighting fixture! What can I say, it’s a real skill. But it’s also super difficult when you’re trying to stay within in fixed budget!

Firstly, when you are planning your build, you need to decide on elements that are negotiable and non-negotiable. (as mentioned above).

Your negotiable’s are the things you’d LOVE in your build, but could live without if you had to. If you needed to cut back, the things on your negotiable list could be struck off and saved for another build down the track. As hard as it is, you can’t always have everything – there need to be a line in the sand. An example of this – I would have LOVED to have ship-lap ceilings featured throughout the whole build. However, that would have sent our budget spiraling out of control, so we had to reign it in and put them just in our entrance hallway.

Your non-noegotiables are the things that you MUST have in your home. It’s not an option to not have them, and if push comes to shove, then it stays, and something else goes. For me, my huge fixed window in by bathroom and free standing bath were non-negotiabes. They were pieces that really took our bathroom to the next level and they had to stay regardless.

So t answer your question, if there was something that really took my fancy and really tempted me to include, I went back to my negotiable and non-negotiable lists to see where they fit in. Was I willing to give up something in order to have them? My freestanding bath and fixed window was far more important to me than a ship-lap ceiling. Having my lists made it much easier to be able to make this distinction!

Also knowing that this is not our forever home really helped when it came to sticking to our budget. At some point down the track we will sell this house and build again. By then we will hopefully be in a position to put everything on the non-negotiable list that we want. For this build, if it didn’t add value to the home when we eventually sell, it sat in our negotiable list. So knowing what your intentions are with the build also really helps.

Remember our painter? That nearly killed us on this build!

One of the hardest parts is finding trades that treat your home and the building process with the respect it deserves. For us, these 4 walls will be the place we experience some of our highest moments as a family, and also possibly our lowest. We will make memories here and grow and love and learn. To SOME tradies, (definitely not all, there are some AMAZING and skilled trades out there!), it is literally only bricks, gyprock and a roof and they don’t care as much as you wish they did. Having really high expectations and then not having them met is hard. And Dave knew a lot of these trades on a personal and professional level, which can sometimes make things a little more awkward to deal with. But our motto the whole way through was to be respectful, appreciative and courteous with the way we dealt with everyone and this, I believe, made it much easier when it came to having the difficult conversations.

On a personal level, the hours upon hours upon hours that went into this build from both of us was enormous. Dave did the whole build after hours, meaning that he would work his full 10 hour days and then head straight to the block to work on our own build. There were weeks when we would see each other here and there and only communicated over the phone. The organisation was also huge on my behalf. I would find myself on my laptop all day and into the early hours of the morning working through the budget, paying bills, entering receipts, ordering products, checking orders and making sure the correct quantities arrived (this is just the tip of the iceberg – there is so much behind the scenes that is involved!). So time was definitely a real issue for us.

Defining our roles was also a little difficult (I put that delicately, right?!). Being married to the builder meant that his thoughts and needs had to come into the equation when managing the planning and design elements. In a usual build, you just tell your builder what you want, and needless of their personal opinion, they make it happen! I’ll be real with you. Dave and I had many arguments over this house. I think this is a true testament to how passionate we both are about this whole process. Being able to include what you both want can be a real struggle. And the struggle was real. Thankfully, we are also both really stubborn and the things we went to war about have really made a huge difference to the finish of this house, so they were important conversations/arguments to have!

Without a doubt, the thing that made this whole process easier was the fact that Dave works within this trade. He knows who to use and who to steer away from (with one massive exception, but let’s not go there!). He knew the process like the back of his hand, so knew what order to be booking in trades for it to flow and be completed in a timely way. He also had knowledge of pricing, which was fab when we were getting quotes back in – it was easy to tell where we were getting more bang for our buck. Obviously, not everyone has a husband who is in the building industry, so I would be doing a lot of asking around. Ask other people who have built before and see if they have any knowledge and experience they can share with you. Ask them about the trades they use and if they have any recommendations. Word of mouth is so important!

Another aspect that i found quite easy was sourcing products that I loved that would suit our home. I spend a lot of my free time doing this anyway because i love it, so I really knew what i was looking for! If you’re thinking about building, start looking for your inspiration. There are literally so many places to feel inspired. Jump on Pinterest and start pinning. Start buying magazines and tearing out images that you love, or make you feel a certain way. Flick through some coffee table books. Think about the places you have traveled to that made you feel calm and relaxed. What was it that you loved about those places? This is how you want your home to feel.

Staying on top of our budget was also really easy, because we used our Budgeting Tool! I would check in on this daily and update regularly. Leaving everything to the last minute makes it REALLY hard to keep on track. Download it below to get you started on yours!

I always said that I would be real with you…..and the simple answer is…..NO! Not for us. And this is the way that we chose to go about it. For us, we wanted to build a beautiful home and do as much of the work as we could ourselves. This allowed us to have compete control over the finishes (we aren’t fussy AT ALL…..) while also being able to save money on the cost of the build. Dave completing all of the carpentry, us laying the flooring, installing the wardrobe cabinetry etc would all happen on weekends and after work, so the chance for us to be able to do all of this wile still go away for weekends, go for Sunday drives etc was impossible. We wanted to get our house built as quickly as we could so we didn’t have to rent for a second longer (you all know how much i HATE renting!). Getting the house built this was also meant that when it was finished we cold really focus on doing things together a a family again, This was the way we chose to do it, which came with a lot of sacrifices, but it has paid off in so many different ways in the end.

Everyone is different and will prioritise different things. It is definitely possible to owner build and still have a life. It will just mean that you would have to be ridiculously orgainised with you time and the build would take a lot longer to complete. But the bonus is that you still get to enjoy time and experiences together. No-one can tell you which way is right, you have to do what feels good for you and your family!

Yesterday! Getting finance for an owner builder project through a bank can be really difficult. In fact, we only found one of the big banks who were willing to take us on. You can go through mortgage brokers, and this is something that we looked into, but for us, sticking with a big bank made the most sense for our financial situation.

Why was it so difficult? Owner Building is considered a really high risk for a bank. If something happens to you, and you are not able to complete the build, and therefore unable to make the repayments, the bank would have a huge amount of difficulty selling a half finished build project to get their money back. The bank we chose to go through (translate that to – the only big bank at the time that was doing Owner Builder Loans) required us to have 80% of the money for the build, and they would loan us the other 20%. Sounds crazy, right?

So honestly, the more money you have saved, or the more investments you have, the better your chances are for getting finance for an owner build. Building through a builder….that’s a different story and FAR less demanding in terms of the money you need to be able to produce up front. We have learnt to be really smart with our money and i’d be happy to share what we have learnt in another blog (let me know below if this is something you wold be interested in!).

YES! I actually look back at a lot of the block designs, and as much as i really appreciated them at the time for their originality and bold designs….I often wonder if the owners are still as content living there today. This can be a really fine line when it comes to trends….will you still love them tomorrow? (or 5 years down the track?)

My natural inclination when we are building has been to create a really neutral pallet that can be easily updated through different styles of furniture, paint choice, lighting fixtures, door handles etc. Because this is not our forever home, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t isolating future buyers by doing anything that would turn them off (in your face paint colours, really lairy carpet or bold design accents). Having said that, this needs to be a home that I am happy to live in, so it needed to reflect my personal style. I adore classic design so we installed a lot of wall panelling, used engineered stone throughout the house, painted in smooth whites and installed light oak style flooring etc.

At the end of the day, if you love something, can’t stop thinking about it and it works in with your overall design theme of your home (again with the design boarding!) – do it for you! A tap or a vanity, a wall colour or a door handle can be easily changed down the track!

Yes, yes, YES! A million times over!

If it was solely up to me, we would already be in the planning stages of the next one! We have loved this process, despite the highs and the lows, and would definitely undertake an Owner Builder journey again. Next time we build, we will stay in this house until the next one is ready to move into. Renting is something we both decided we would NEVER do again. It just isn’t for us and our family, and the downfalls unfortunately outweigh any of the upsides (this is our personal experience, and you are absolutely entitled to work this our based on your own experiences).

It has always been a dream of Dave’s to build his own home, so it’s time to start building some new dreams and new goals! Who knows where the future will take us. It’s exciting to think about it! And you can bet your bottom dollar that it will involve some hammering, drop sawing, spreadsheets and a few design boards thrown in for kicks!

I hope you’ve been able to gain something fro this blog. I could literally write for hours and hours about our experience and still only scratch the surface. Please let me know in the comments below if there is anything else you’d like me to touch on, I am more than happy to answer your questions and help in any way that I can!

Much love,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s