Over the last year I have received a number of calls from people considering renovating their home (not designed by me) which they have only recently built. My initial thought with each such call was: why do you need to renovate a house that’s only a few years old? A common theme emerged with each of these calls: they were all houses designed and built by building companies. The ones that you see advertised regularly, where you pick one of their pre-designed homes from a catalogue, as apposed to having a home designed for you.
The popularity of these ‘catalogue homes’ as I will call them, has risen steeply in the last 10 years. With land costs so high, they are a cheaper option. I know how expensive and prohibitive the costs of building a new home is to most. I can’t afford to design my perfect home at this point in time, so I do sympathise with this issue. The flip side is that you get what you pay for. I hope in reading this blog post I can prevent you from calling me after five years in your catalogue home, and saying: “Darren can you fix it?”
Firstly, how are these houses cheaper?:
1) They aren’t architect designed, so the cost of an architect is removed.
2) They aren’t designed to suit your property, so the time spent on design is minimal.
3) Being mass-produced and built to the lowest allowable standard is the biggest factor as to why they are so cheap. Materials and labour costs are similar to everyone. To build a cheap home works like this: buy the cheapest materials, and put in the least amount of labour. The result: problem after problem.
After just a few years living in their catalogue homes, I’m receiving these calls as their houses aren’t suiting their needs. In thinking about this I realized it’s because these companies play on emotion to win buyers. The display homes always have rooms they don’t need, whilst their actual needs go unaddressed. It is why I’m always hearing the same comments from these owners. “We have”:
– “a theatre room, that we rarely use”.
– “a second open TV area upstairs, that we also never use”. – Because TV’s are noisy and they are next to rooms that people are sleeping in.
– “We have a big enough table in our meals area so we never use our dinning room”.
– “We have an outdoor undercover area with a full kitchen/BBQ, however it’s too hot to sit out there in summer, and to cold in winter so we don’t use that either”…
All this space that’s rarely used, at the expense of the space you actually need most. It’s why they always say to me:
– “We need more space”.
-“The kids bedrooms are too small we can’t fit a desk.”
-“We don’t get enough sunlight” – because your house is not designed for your site. The chances your living spaces facing the right way are slim. Also windows are one of the most expensive components in building a home, these companies reduce the amount of them, as a way to reduce their costs.
In contrast when using an architect, they ask questions to get their clients to think about their current and future needs. In my experience clients have not considered what I ask of them before. It is just like an accountant gets you thinking about your finances in a way you would not have done on your own. In uncovering clients needs and lifestyle requirements, a design can be tailored to them, and equally as important the uniqueness of their property to ensure an abundance of natural light, maximum energy efficiency, and privacy by sitting and positioning around neighbouring windows etc. Furthermore, the design considers how to adapt to your families growing demands. You then avoid needing to pour more money into a renovation a few years later. Ironically the money people save by not using an architect in the first place, they end up spending on a renovation soon after.
Lastly, catalogue houses are replicated all over town, they aren’t unique and are instead a commodity. Only items that are unique, have a value higher than everything else. No matter how much money you later throw at a catalogue house, you are still left with a poorly built home, with many compromises that can never be fixed. My advice is buy an existing house that will work for you, until such time you can afford to have one designed for you.