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Thinking Of Extending Your Home? Here's What You Should Know

In my job I continually meet people who say they have always thought about extending their home – but for some reason or other they hesitate to take the first step. Often they find it daunting because a) they presume that getting a quote for such a big project will be a nightmare in itself and/or b) they presume it will be out of their budget anyway. Or c) they’ve heard an extending horror story from friends and now they’re having reservations.

With close friends of mine now wanting to jump on the home extension train, I thought it would be timely to do an informative post on what you need to know about extending a home – and to get the lowdown from a reputable builder who’s done it many a time.

I asked husband-and-wife team Ralph and Sandra Brewer of Exactus Homes if they would do this with me and they were more than happy to oblige. Ralph is the owner and director; Sandra is their marketing manager. I met these guys years ago while I was writing stories on houses for the paper and have always admired their high standards and their lovely houses.

So let’s bust some common myths about extending a house.

1. Don’t be put off the by the idea because you find the prospect of getting quotes daunting – some builders can give you ballpark figures.

As a freelance writer and blogger, sometimes it is tricky for me just to quote for a blog post that requires a slightly more complicated brief than usual. So I completely understand why some people find it baffling that a builder can give a quote for something as big as a home addition! How can somehow just pop over to your house, listen to what you want to do to it and give you a rough figure for something so BIG?

Well, there are experienced builders who will be happy to give you a rough idea of costs at first – you can then get a more detailed estimate later (this one usually at a fee, as it requires a fair bit of work). Ralph says it never hurts to ask – you may even be surprised to find out what is achievable for your budget. “Many people are reluctant to contact a home extension and renovation builder because they don’t know what their renovation will cost,” he says. “We understand that it’s nearly impossible for a prospective client to understand the costs of renovating, so we are here to help you.”

2. It will probably take longer than you initially think.

I work as a contractor/freelancer and I have lots of friends who are also freelance or run their own small business, so I know I’m not the only one who this happens to. There have been times where I have quoted for a job, only to get a reply going, “Great! Can you write it tonight and send it to me by first thing tomorrow morning?” Um, I’m afraid I can’t.

It is funny how so many people imagine you will have a clear work schedule ready to begin and complete a project at the drop of a hat. Just like freelancers and contractors, most builders generally require some time to schedule your project into their calendar. But not only will they need to make time to slot in your project, there are other things that also need time to be sorted out when it comes to extending or renovating a house, says Ralph.

“Sadly for people who contact us in November, hoping to have their renovation done by Christmas, it’s usually bad news,” he tells me. “There’s quite a bit of planning that goes in to a home extension or major renovation. Firstly, you need to get an idea of what it will cost for what you want to achieve. This is something we give all prospective clients in our building process. Once you are happy with the approximate cost, our draftsperson or architect will draw up your plans.”

Plans are also often needed from engineers and other specialists as well. “Estimating a home extension takes a few weeks too, as actual quotes are sought from the myriad of trades that are involved in the project,” says Ralph. “Then if council permission is required, it will add time for their review and approval. Only then can a building project get underway - our clients agree, building feels like the fastest part of the process!”

3. It is best to be upfront about your budget and limitations with your builder.

Exactus Homes marketing manager Sandra Brewer says it is beneficial to all parties involved when home owners are open, rather than restrictive, about their finances and budget limits. “Whilst you might have reservations about sharing your finances with a builder, it works to your advantage if you are willing to discuss your budget,” he says. “After all, we are here to work with you to get the most value for your money. It’s sensible to have a limit, and then the home improvement can be designed to fit the financial budget you’ve set.”

4. A builder or designer might come up with a new design to extend your house that you hadn’t even thought about.

You might have lived in your house for years and have an idea of how you’d like your home addition to be laid out. Maybe you’ve even done some drawings and sketched out a few extra rooms. But I often find many people are pleasantly surprised when they get in a fresh pair of eyes in the form of a visit from an architect, designer or builder. Often a fresh pair of eyes can envision new plans you would never even have thought about.

Ralph says there are endless ways to design a home extension. “In fact, when we first visit clients and listen their ideas, we will often suggest an approach they’ve never thought of before,” he says. “For example, we had a client’s home on a corner block in Wembley Downs. We suggested moving their driveway from one street to the other, effectively gaining them over 50sqm of living space on the valuable northern side of the home. They were stunned – they had no idea their driveway could be repositioned.”

5. Be prepared that it can take a long time for council to approve your plans.

I have lost track of the number of home owners I have interviewed, even home owners who are designers and builders themselves, who have decided to extend or renovate with a deadline in mind, such as before a baby arrives – only to find that the house is nowhere near finished when the deadline comes up or the baby arrives.

These days there are more regulations than ever when it comes to renovating and extending houses (especially if you are working on a heritage-listed home, or planning a renovation or extension that deviates from the norm in your street).

Local councils are heavily invested in any changes that happen in their local community and Ralph says there are many rules that home renovators have to comply with. “A lot of the rules relate to impact on the neighbouring houses,” he says. “You might be surprised to know that where you once had a window positioned in your existing home is no longer allowed in a new renovation. The only solution is to work within the guidelines and to choose a builder who has experience in dealing with your local Council Planning department and the Residential Codes.”

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Testimonials I previously and will always use them for future work on my home. They do excellent work and are very pleasurable to work with. They are a great hard working crew that does impeccable work!

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