Monthly Archives: June 2013

Update on our BAL

On Thursday the man from Bushfire Hazard Solutions went out to assess our block and give a second opinion on the BAL rating. We provided him with the Master Plan illustrations from Bunya, as well as the map of the our land release. These two illustrations show that the reserve immediately across from our block would have a footpath running through it, which suggested to us that it would be “managed land”. He questioned Bunya about the reserve for us, in particular how it would be planted and took that into consideration.

He got back to us on Friday with the results: even when he took a very conservative approach to the assessment he has given the block a rating of BAL 12.5. This is great news and certainly more believable than the original rating of BAL 40. We had been quoted $24 000 to satisfy BAL 40. BAL 12.5 will come in at $8000. So, a huge saving of $16 000!

It has cost us $120 for the assessment and verbal recommendation and it will cost us about $240 more to get a report written to submit to the CDC with our development applications. Possibly the best few hundred dollars we’ve spent so far.

Here is a photo of what the reserve immediatelyy across the road from us looks like today. I took the photo standing about where the boundary of the land is.

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This is what the reserve looks like byeond the road.

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The man that did the assessment for us also gave us a document with what the house will need to satisfy BAL 12.5 so I’ll let you know what that includes a little later on.

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The colour pack

When we accepted our tender and paid the next deposit to have the plans drawn up, Wisdom handed us our colour pack.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it definitely did not cross my mind that the colour pack would be on a USB. I think I was expecting something a little more tactile. You know, some brochures or colour swatches or something. Well, what we got was brochures saved onto the USB.

I know it’s low hanging fruit we’re talking about here, but it’s really annoying! Firstly, I can’t take them anywhere without a computer. I suppose I could try and put them on my tablet but that’s not the same. Also, I could print them but I doubt my little inkjet would give me accurate colours. Secondly, do you know how difficult it is to see what your roof tiles would look like next to your bricks which are next to your moroka if they’re all on separate PDFs?

If you do ever get over the fact that it’s all on an annoying USB, then good luck solving the mystery of what is and what isn’t part of the standard inclusions!

Here are my practical solutions to this annoying colour pack business:

1. Ask your builder for the actual, physical, hold in your hand, colour printed brochures. I bet they have a stash of them and they just aren’t telling you. Ours did. In fact, ask for two copies, that way you could cut one up and put the colours next to each other.

2. While you’re asking for the brochures, ask for a list of the “standard” or “included” ranges for each of your materials. You need to know which colour bricks are standard and which will cost you more.

3. Have a play on Envisage, which is an online tool that will help you visualise what your colour selections might look like. It’s pretty awesome.

4. If you can, go and visit each of the supplier’s show rooms before your designated colour selection day. You will only get a limited time to make your decisions on the day so it’s best you’ve seen it all before.

Ultimately, what nobody tells you is that choosing colours for your new house will only be fun and exciting for the first five minutes. After that, it’s seriously going to start doing your head in.

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Where did my BAL come from?

You should be aware of the fact that your new house will have to comply with various Australian Standards if you ever want to receive an occupation certificate allowing you to live in it.

In 2011, the Building Code of Australia was packaged together with the Plumbing Code of Australia and is now known as the National Construction Code. This hefty document sets out minimum standards for all building and plumbing installations right across Australia. The aim is to regulate the health, safety and amenity of buildings. As such, the codes are revised every so often to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest know how.

I’m sure you can remember that in late January and February 2009, a series of devastating bushfires swept through parts of Victoria and many people lost their lives and homes. After the dust had settled, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was set up with the task to investigate the cause and make recommendations. In the end they made 67 recommendations, one of which was directed at the Building Code of Australia. This resulted in some changes being made to Australian Standard: 3959 Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas 2009 (AS3959).

AS3959 now includes a requirement that all new or modified buildings reduce the risk of ignition from ember attack.

To do this, sites are assessed and assigned a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL). Each level corresponds to a particular level of risk. The standard also sets out what you would then need to do to mitigate or reduce that risk to an acceptable level. There are 6 BAL ratings. You can read all about them here.

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Most likely, your local council will have assigned a BAL rating to the site before you’ve purchased it. It’s probably in your land sales contract, but you could always ask the developer or your council directly for it.

For most of us, what we really want to know is how much is it going to cost? Well, depending on your BAL rating, the size of your house and your builder the answer could be a lot. Our land sales contract says our lot is a BAL 40. We were quoted $24 000 to make the two story house comply.

The problem we have is that the numbers aren’t adding up. Just looking at the site, I think a BAL 40 seems a bit extreme. There are some trees, but I wouldn’t say we were living next door to a forest or anything! I’ve since discovered that your BAL rating is often assigned to the whole development, not your individual lot, sometimes even before it has been cleared for subdivision. Suddenly, I want a second opinion!

So, after a bit of a google, I found an independent assessor who is happy to go to our site, have a look around and give us his/her opinion on what the BAL rating should be. If it’s good news, we can pay a second fee and they will prepare a formal report to go with the development application. Hopefully, in the long run it will save us some dollars. We are expecting to hear back from them this week, so I’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

If you’re interested in how the BAL rating is assigned, or would like to give it a go yourself, you can download the BAL Risk Assessment Application Kit.

Tender presentation

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “presentation”, I think of a room of people in boring clothes trying to stay attentive to a poorly formatted PowerPoint presentation that has way too many words in it, and not enough pictures.

Hold that thought. Now, replace the PowerPoint screen with a printed document. Got it? Yep,  congratulations! You’re at the tender presentation.

You walk in, sit down on one side of the table with the sales person on the other, and they proceed to read the tender document to you. Ours is 9 pages long and has 69 clauses.

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If your sales people have been good to you up to this point, there should be nothing in the tender that you don’t already know about. The document sets out what is included in the base price of your house, what is an additional charge or provisional allowance, and what is to be done by the owner of the property (you). It will also include “note only” clauses which are clauses the builder has put in to cover themselves for any unforeseen changes. An example of this is that the tender is subject to developer approval- if the council wants you to change something then you will pay for it, not the builder.

Most importantly, it should provide you with the initial estimate of the build price. As it is not the final estimate, you can probably expect it to go up before your construction starts.

Since the sales person is so kindly reading out all the clauses to you, you may as well ask questions if you have any.

Things to make sure you’re aware of:

  • who (either you or the builder) is responsible for what? For example, if there are trees to be removed who will be doing it? Who will pay the water and electricity bills during construction?
  • who will pay the council fees or bonds? Usually, the builder will pay “standard” fees for development approvals but the owner will pay any other fees.
  • is the tender inclusive of GST?
  • does the builder allow you to bring in your own tradespeople to do work during the build? (Probably not but you should be aware before you try it!)
  • does the builder allow you to visit site for inspections? If so, how often?
  • if you’re asked to pay a deposit for the next stage of the process then make sure its in line with what they are legally allowed to ask for. Check out NSW Fair Trading for information on that.
  • are all the “standard inclusions” in there? This may include any promotional packages or upgrades you have accepted.

Our tender was pretty straight forward. The builder has not had access to the site, so we know the tender could change once all the soil testing and surveying is done. The builder should be upfront about anything that may change the price.

For those interested in timing- our tender was presented 19 working days after we requested it, which is within the 4 weeks we were told to expect by the sales people.

The loophole

So, if you do happen to be in the situation where you have:

a)  your land contract in your hands, and

b)  you, like us, just realised you have been fooled because you didn’t realise you needed a build contract signed too,

there is one loophole you might want to try before you give up and resort to consoling yourself with a litre of ice-cream.

Try for an extension on your exchange of contracts date.

You need to do this before you’ve exchanged contracts. To do this you will need to get your conveyancer/solicitor to write to the developer (using the contact details on the front page of your contract) asking for an extension on the exchange. You will need to provide reasons for your extension. Some reasons could be (obviously, they won’t apply to everyone):

  • you’ve been unable to get a tender within the four weeks allocated and therefore do not have accurate information to provide to the bank for financing (it’s pretty common for a builder to take longer than four weeks to provide a tender). This is an especially good reason if you have selected one of the four preferred builders at Bunya and they haven’t been able to come through with the tender on time.
  •  if you have a corner block there are no design panel pre-approved designs from any of the preferred four builders. This may mean you can’t get a tender for your build on time.
  • if your land is unregistered you probably don’t have access to the block of land yet for any kind of independent assessments that may affect your final build price (this may include access for the builder to assess site contours, access for an independent bushfire report, access for independent soil testing… the list goes on!).

If I were you, I would ask for slightly more time than you need as you probably won’t get the amount of time you request. Be reasonable.

The benefit of gaining an extension for us has meant that we will be able to get a tender for the build price, therefore knowing if we can afford to pay for it all, before we’ve put down the 5% deposit on the land at exchange. 5% = a lot of money for us. It also means that settlement, in turn, will be delayed as the 60 days only starts from exchanging contracts. This means that we might just scrape in (if everything goes to plan) on having our build contract signed before settlement and we won’t need to pay interest to the developer for delaying settlement. Again, interest = a lot of money.

A caution: don’t get muddled up here and try to extend your settlement date after you’ve exchanged contracts because I doubt very much the developer will even consider it. You need to extend the exchange, not the settlement.

Hope that helps someone!

If you have any other good reasons for an extension and you’d like to share them please leave a reply.

Loopholes

How to buy at Bunya

Bunya is the name given to a new estate under construction in Western Sydney. Its located in the suburb of Bungarribee and the semi circle shaped development spans out off Doonside road. 

A nice little website, Bunya Living, has been put together by the developer. It includes some information about the land available, a map of the master plan and the all important information about how to buy at Bunya.

We read all the information keenly, but figured the lovely how to buy at Bunya guide was just that, a guide. We had planned to purchase a block of land and then pay some of it off while we thought about what kind of house we would like to build on it.

So, we lined up with everyone else to put down our reservation fee on a block and then we waited for the contract to arrive before we made any further decisions. The land is unregistered so we figured we had plenty of time.

But, when the contract did arrive we were shocked to see that to settle on the block of land you must prove to the developers that you have a contract to build on the land already signed.

Now, lets assume you receive your contract on day 1. The contracts must be exchanged no more than 30 days later and you need to pay a 5% deposit on the land. The count down to settlement (and the final payment) then starts and you get 60 days for that. So, a total of 90 days. Most builders take around the same amount of time, if not longer, to get to a stage where contracts can be signed. So in order have your build contract signed before settlement on the block of land… a miracle will be in order.

So, lesson one is this: the “guide” for how to by at Bunya is not just a guide.

To really ensure you keep the sleepless nights to a minimum you need to be ahead of the guide. If you can, getting a tender for a house plan before you reserve your block would probably be the best way forward. But since you don’t know which block you’ll get or if you’ll even get one at all- good luck with that!

In the beginning…

Hello!

We’re building a house and inviting you along for the journey.

This is the first time we’ve done this. Both building a house and writing a blog are new to us so we’re learning along the way.

Why are we building a house? Because we think its the right time for us and we’re sick of being renters. But why on earth would you build? Because we’re first home owners and we’ve been loured by the temptation of the first home owners grant. Of course we could have just brought off the plan or a brand new completed house to get the grant. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Why write a blog? Because when we were just starting out and trying to find information about how to build a house we discovered there isn’t a lot of information out there. We’ve decided to help fill the gap by writing about what we’ve learnt. Hopefully it will help someone else too.

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Enjoy!