Home Renovation Blog



Thoughts on home renovation and building in Hobart, Tasmania.
Before & after
Time lapse video
Parties Involved
Ten little surprises


We love the house, there are one or two small issues still to be resolved.
Budget overruns (we expected some, but these were a lot more than we expected) have meant that we will have to wait quite a while before doing the landscaping...

Before & after:



January 2012

September 2012

Time lapse video:

By luck, our neighbours needed to rent their house short-term at precisely the same time we needed to move out. This meant that every morning I was able to take a photo from the same position. Every Saturday morning I would painstakingly align a week's worth of images, eventually resulting in this time-lapse video:

(If your browser doesn't support/allow embedding, here is a direct link to the YouTube video.)

Parties involved:

Architect: David Wakefield and Associates, DW+A; Hobart

David and his team (Xavier, Alicia) are architects with flair and vision
Great job listening to and incorporating our ideas and requirements
Overshot our initial budget by rather a lot...

Builder: Cunic Constructions; Mornington

The Cunic team (Harry, Daniel, Ethan) are very capable, conscientious, hard-working and friendly
Went beyond the call of duty on several occasions.
Quoted allowances for provisional items very meagre, which combined with our inexperience led to a few surprises...

Cabinetry: Lifestyle Wardrobes & Bathrooms (& Kitchens); Moonah

Friendly team (Mal, Dirk, Rob)
Fabulous kitchen & wardrobe, reasonable price, meticulous construction and installation
Shower screens look great but were not the best choice function wise...

Ten little surprises for the novice home renovator:

Up front, I want to make this clear: we are not knocking the architect or the builder.

As I wrote above, David Wakefield and the team at DW+A are architects with flair and vision.

In their defence, during the design process, we made lots of changes,
these obviously contributed to the final cost blowout

And again, the Cunic team (Harry, Daniel, Ethan) are very capable, conscientious, hard-working and friendly, going beyond the call of duty on several occasions.

Bulding a house is a very complex endeavour, with lots of conflicting priorities.
There are unpredictable factors like weather, illness, contractor scheduling, material cost changes.
They can't run the operation at a loss, or they'll go out of business.
And I'll be the first to admit, having to deal with stressed owers probably doesn't make it any easier...

The problem is that since we'd never done this before, we were naive, and that meant a lot of little surprises, adding to what is already a stressful time.
If you're contemplating a major renovation (or building a new home) the following few points may give you a heads up, and save you from some of that stress.

#1 Budget? What budget?

Our brief to the architects was for a renovation/rebuild with a budget of, well let's just call it X
After a few rounds of consultation, we were very happy with the design, and sought quotes from builders.
All quotes were over 150% of X, putting the project out of reach.
(Architect was hoping that the economic downturn would cause builders to quote competitively.)
   Architect selected a builder for us, and after consultation with him, made a series cost-saving adjustments to the design.
   This was done free of charge, but with an honour agreement to give the contract to that builder.
   New quote: 135% of X

#2 Double garage (suitable for one vehicle only)

Three weeks into the build we noticed two holes being cut in middle of driveway, obviously for deck support columns.
The engineer had mandated a poured-concrete deck, which required two columns midway along.
(This was not evident to a layman's perusing of the technical drawings.)
Perhaps the engineer had not been on site? Those columns would have prevented anything larger than a motorcycle from getting into the second half of the garage.
   Plan changed for a timber and cement sheeting deck which would not require mid-span posts.
   Extra cost: $11K

#3 Champagne kitchen on a (watered-down, lite) beer budget

Builder's quote allowed just under $14K for kitchen, laundry & study cabinetry.
Builder's recommended joiner, after consultation (in which we went for the budget range of stone benchtops), came up with a quote of almost $29K - more than double.
Builder's contract stipulated that they would charge 10% of any excess over their allowance.
We signed the contract, we knew of this provision.
But we were inexperienced, had no knowledge of what kitchens were worth.
This practice rewards outrageous under-allowing for provisional items, and thus rewards builders for providing unrealistic, low, competitive-looking quotes.
It rewards incompetence, and (to a stressed owner) it would also raise suspicions of motive.
   We went and found another joinery company, and took on the job outside the builder's remit.
   The builder permitted us to do this, and cooperated with the external contractor.

#4 Kitchen demarcation dispute

Kitchen cabinetry contractor would not drill a hole through the wall for the range hood vent - it's structural, that's the builder's job.
Builder says: it's the cabinetry companay's job
   Builder does it, for an extra $478.00 - over half the price of the range hood itself!

#5 Inadequate allowances, Part II

Plumbing fittings, lighting & tiles
All had allowances that would have covered very basic, budget items.
Our tastes were largely middle-of-the-range, and exceeded pretty much every allowance.
   The builder was flexible enough to take many of these items off the schedule, and allowed us to purchase and provide them ourselves.
   (saving us that 10% surcharge)

#6 Inadequate allowances, Part III - The Whitegoods, or "When is a microwave not a microwave?"

An allowance of $4K was given for whitegoods, even though twice during consultation we stated that we would need more.
(Once again, we did sign the contract...)
Since kitchen cabinetry was being done external to the main build, we asked for these items to be taken off the schedule.
The builder permitted this, and everything looked rosy...
...until it was time to install the microwave.
The microwave, chosen to match the oven it was mounted above, had a grill element, and required a dedicated 15A circuit.
A spare 15A circuit had not been provided by the electrician, furthermore the plastering was complete and the cabinetry installed.
The builder was very keen on referring to this item as a "second compact oven", and very reluctant to call it a microwave.
   We will just have to remember that if we are using the grill in the microwave, we can't use the kettle or toaster.

#7 It's not my fault for being tall (or slow)!

Two mirrored shaving cabinets were set into the wall above the ensuite basin.
At a certain point in the process I noticed that the top of the mirror was below my eye-line.
When I pointed this out, I was told that I should have noticed this earlier. Obviously true.
   The builder charged $883 to relocate the cabinets (including that magic 10% charge) - about twice the cost of the cabinets themselves.

#8 Vergolas don't come that wide

The architect's plans called for an operable sun shade over the front deck.
It turns out, they don't come in that size. Plus you can't have a span that wide without support unless (and I quote) you have a "Sydney harbour bridge" sort of construction.
   Two strips of fixed sun shade at either end, plus a post in the middle.
   A small compromise, a great result

#9 Those Rotting Old Joists and the Flying Trapezoid

The contact allowed for "a Modwood deck at the rear".
The contact did not say "conditional upon using the existing joists, which we assume are in good condition"
Said joists were sadly not in good condition. Kerching... $1364.
The contact did not say "conditional upon using the existing foundations, necessitating a trapezoidal deck"
   What if we wanted a rectangular one? Add $3415 (including the magic 10%!)
   No thanks.
   After seeing the trapezoid, it's not so bad after all.

#10 Too late to cancel the order

Shower screens: we indicated the styles we'd like, high-end in the ensuite, budget in the bathroom.
For the bathroom we specified "or equivalent from the high-end mob, if not too expensive"
Less than a week before the finish, we get a notice of variation, saying that
   (a) the shower screens are $2813 over the allowance (including the magic 10%)
   (b) they've been ordered weeks earlier and it's too late to cancel
   The high-end mob offered the bathroom screen at cost.


All content Copyright 2012 Trevor Magnusson