Clients frequently ask about site costs: what are they, and how much will they be for my particular site. What makes this such a mystery is not only that “site costs” is a general term referring to any and all expenses incurred to prepare a lot for building; it is also because site costs are not mentioned in the initial quote of most volume builders, although in fact, they are one of the most profitable areas of the building process for these builders. If you have a sloping block, or a challenging block, this can turn into a three-headed monster.
Be aware that a volume builder’s first quote is usually a carrot to entice you further into the process, where you put some money down. The only price that matters is the one on the actual building contract. By the point that you are signing this contract, you may feel that you have invested too much to make a new plan. So educate yourself beforehand on site costs, and ask the right questions.
Generally, your first contact with a volume builder will be a salesperson with no experience in the building industry other than sales. They will shy away from questions about site costs. They probably don’t know the answers and will try to distract you from them, because their job is to get you to put a deposit down, usually at least $1000. Only after your initial deposit, and a preliminary investigation of the block and a soil survey, will you receive an estimate that includes site costs. On average, for a flat easy-to-build-on block, take the list price and add 20%. If your block has up to one metre of slope this will add $25,000 minimum in additional costs; and if the slope is over one metre you may be quoted site costs of $60-180,000. This probably indicates that the builder does not want the hassle of building on your block. But if you aren’t aware that there are affordable alternatives, you may feel that your dream is turning into a nightmare.
Volume builders charge such high site costs for sloping blocks because they build exclusively on concrete slabs, which require a flat footprint. To create a flat site on a block with more than a metre of fall means building serious retaining walls. These are expensive, so the builder always prefers to build on a flat block, and charges accordingly.
If you love your sloping block and are dreaming of a home that takes full advantage of the terrain, then the worst part of your nightmare will be what a volume builder will do to your block if they agree to build. When it comes to sloping blocks, Volume Builders dig a hole and bury a house in it. Your back door may open on a high ugly retaining wall a metre from your toes, without room for a laundry basket or a wheelbarrow. This destroys what would otherwise be a lovely block with beautiful aspect, and potential for terracing and landscaping. Any advantages with respect to elevation, view, and orientation to North are compromised.
So when you’re looking at a volume builder quote, remember there are big costs that are not front and centre, and those costs will rise in proportion to your slope. Also, be aware that you have alternatives. There are many small and medium size Custom Builders and Bespoke Builders who will approach your site with consideration for aspect, orientation, useability, and the landscaping that makes your home feel like “you”. If a concrete slab is appropriate, excavation will be handled with a view to the big picture. In many cases, a split level slab or a timber sub-floor will be a better solution.
Also, small to medium builders are more likely to factor site costs into their quotes from the start, because they work intimately with their customers and are directly accountable. So while volume builders look cheaper on the surface, in reality they often emerge as a more expensive and far less satisfying solution than other builders, especially on a sloping or challenging block. Tame that three-headed monster by finding out what your quote is concealing or revealing in regards to site costs on your sloping block, and make an informed choice as to which builder will serve you best.
Do you value integrity, communication and superb quality throughout the building process? Do you have a question about your block or dream home? John Kearney is a Melbourne Building Design and Construction Consultant who has been in the building industry for over 20 years. He is passionate about giving people a cost effective alternative to building in the areas they love, and specialises in solutions for difficult and sloping blocks. Find out more at http://slopingblocksolutions.com.au/ Tweet with John at SBSBuilder and Like his Facebook page to get tips, updates and a bit of humour!