Friday, November 28, 2008

My first decision.....

As discussed previously, building a house seems to be all about making decisions and after much thought, I have made my first decision and guess what ?.

every single person that I've met and told disagrees with it.

How cool is that ?. Here I am with an acute fear of stuffing this thing up and according to almost everyone around me, its the most stupidest decision I could possibly make.

Ahhh - the reasurance.....

So my decision is - I want an Upside Down House. Yup, its a dumb decision isn't it.

For those that don't know what that is, its a house with the living areas (including the kitchen) upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. Now in some areas (especially hilly ones) these houses are common as muck, generally with a smaller rumpus/ living area downstairs and all other rooms upstairs. Weirdly enough I grew up in an upside down house - because it was on the side of a hill.

My block however is completely flat - my reasons for doing that is that I think (well I'm not 3 metres tall am I) that upstairs will have a fabulous view and see no point having a view from the upstairs bedroom. The issue is that its not a conventional view, its of some ovals, a few horses (mine and other peoples), a nice hilly suburb filled with sparkly lights at night and to the left I MAY get a full view of the Dandenong Ranges. The right just gets sunsets - but its got a nice expanse of sky so I'll get to see heaps of the reds and oranges etc.

Now I hate stairs as much as the next person but whats the point of having a lovely view from the master bedroom ?. I go to sleep in the dark and for 6 months of the year I wake up in the dark too. Also views add big bikkies to the value of homes too - houses aren't advertised with "views of the neighbours back fence". Sure i'm not building this house with the intention of selling it but at some point the house will be sold and if I have any chance of recouping even half of the money I spend building then the view will help.... I hope....

So heres the "negatives" I've been informed about:.

* Stairs - Don't all two storey houses have stairs ?. Surely I'll have to go up and down stairs anyway ?.

* Lugging Shopping upstairs - Ok I'll pay this one but to be truthful lugging shopping about isn't fun regardless of where it is and where its going.

* Women find sleeping on the 2nd floor more reassuring - What a load of cods-whoolop. Does this mean theres millions of Australian Women scared of going to sleep each night as more than 70% of houses are only one storey.

* Its hard when you have children - See no-one can say "why" its harder to have an upside down house when you have kids, just that it is. However I don't have kids so its a mute point.

* Opening the Front Door - Another one I'll pay, having to go downstairs and back up to answer the door is a pain, however its not like it happens often. besides I'm planning on putting an intercom system with an electronic door opener so when its family, friends etc I can just click on a button.

Also there is a whole lot of different nuances associated with building a house of this style. To begin with the layout is tricky. What rooms do you have upstairs and what do you have downstairs ?. Also its a bit more expensive - this was surprising but it turns out the little things such as better sound insulation between floors (generally upstairs contains people sleeping, mine will be people living which is noiser.... supposedly), theres also more plumbing, more electrical wiring etc that all add's up.

On the plus side, the handful of people that have seen my block all seem to agree that an upside down house makes sense however for the most part people just think I'm wrong.

So - dear readers of this blog (well hopefully "readers" - the little counter goes up but really not sure if it means people are reading or bots are just trawling) over the next couple of days I'll put up picture of my "views" and lets see if the verdict is that I'm nuts - or not nuts ;).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nobody loves me......

So I had the land and needed a house so I did what I do best - I formulated a plan. Yup I was set, my plan turned into a dream and for a fleeting 10 days building a house seemed like fun.

My dream you see was based on Display Homes......

One Sunday after dropping Dad off at the Airport Mum and I went off to visit Mernda (needs to be pronounced Muuuuurnnnnnn 'da for the duration of all of my posts). For most Melbournians that have never considered building , they will probably never have heard of Mernda. This is because Mernda is "new" and by "new" read "middle of nowhere". This is not a bagging session of Mernda but at the moment its not really a suburb, its a paddock containing dozens of display homes and colourful flags directing people to the display homes. Its probably what Rowville looked like 20 years ago - and hey, look at that place now :).

So - up we rocked to Mernda and immediately were completely "wow'ed" by the display homes. Boy have they done new things with design now - there are new rooms for christ sake. The use of space is so much different and there are living area's coming out of the living areas. After the first 5 or so they all roll into each other so you start to get a bit jaded over the opulence. Mum and I started judging them on the size of the butlers pantry and we had a scoring system on the number of couches one could fit into one house (the record was 22 and it was only a 32 square house !!!). We were won over nonetheless and my dream was discovered - I was going to build a display house.

See for me the display house was the perfect scenario. Here I could point to a house, shut my eyes for 10 months and open them again and whoolla a house could be made. They also took care of most of the decisions. Sure I'd have to be involved but it mainly seemed to based on a 4 hour session at a secret location which they made it seem a bit like when James Bond goes and visits Q to pick up the cool things.

So I was all set - I was getting a lovely house, I just had to pick which one. So I poured over the brochures, I ummed and ahhed over layouts and toilet numbers and I made my decision. I was going to build with Henley.

To be fair to Henley they didn't muck me around - it took 20 minutes for them to reject me on all levels. Not only could they not fit the house I wanted on my block (it was 2 metres too long) they couldn't fit any of their designs on my block. They could of easily farted about, led me along and even asked for a deposit and soil test - but they didn't.

Next up was Metricon - I even made a special trip to Narre Warren to check out a particular design of theirs. The rejection with them took an extra day but on the same grounds - my block was too "unusually shaped".

And so it continued.....

Basically if you have heard of a building company - then they have rejected me. Not one of the top 10 big/volume builders !!! and yes I approached 10 builders - would touch my block. Its too hard a shape and none of them customise on the outside to the extent that would allow them to fit a house on my block.

I felt so deflated... it was all just getting too hard so I took the final option - I talked to an architect.

No offence to Architects but talking to an architect was the most expensive 30mins of my entire life. To begin with I went through Archicentre so paid about $1,500 odd for a "design consultation and rough sketches". In essence I got an awkward 30 min chat and then nothing else coz it was pointless for him to do "rough sketches" and I may as well pay him another $3k for usable drawings.

The only knowledge I did gain from the experience was that in his opinion it was going to cost me $500k to build.......

I didn't visit my block, google a builder or even think about building for the next 3 months.....

PHOTO: Google Earth Shot

PHOTO: Land Planning Permit

The Wrong Personality To Build.......

In order to build a house I think the key requirement is that you have to actually WANT to do it. Its not something you can just "wing" as I'm clearly finding out. See if you WANT to build a house chances are you have been thinking about it for a while, you have an understanding of what you desire and at least some words to communicate your wants with someone in the building industry.

You also have to CARE a lot. Its possible to fake the WANT by copying someone elses ideas but its not possible to fake caring. I've have had multiple discussions with people about building recently, one particular conversation lasted about 30 mins and the entire point of the discussion was that the lady thought it was wrong to team a round tap with a square basin. I have no idea how I managed to get into such a discussion but while not giving a rats about basins and taps I was completely in awe of the passion she felt towards such things. She had put in so much thought and cared so much and she wasn't even building.

So many people it seems have a dream house in their head. It may not be an entire house but pretty much everyone I know has "something" that they particularly want or like. I get told that its "exciting" that I'm building, that I'm "lucky" to be able to do it "my way" and I just find the entire concept frightening.

I think part of it begins where I am in 3 different mindsets when it comes to these sorts of decisions.

First off is the "accountant" in me. This is the mindset that points out this is a house and that its important not to overcapitalise, to build for quality not wow and that its basically just 4 walls and to get over myself.

The second mindset argues that its not a house its a "home" and this is the one opportunity in my life to develop an enviroment specific to my needs, desires and wants. This personality seems to like spa baths, window seats and walk in pantrys a lot.

Finally I am still half child and some things are just cool. Vacpans fall under the spell of the inner child, as do laundry chutes and the ultimate child want in life - a secret passage !!! Yup I know it sounds totally stupid but serious HOW COOL WOULD ONE BE.

So - 3 personalities and not one any use for chosing splashbacks....

I think building would be a lot easier if I didn't just like everything. The helpful comments I get from loved ones is "just build what you like". This is part of the problem coz I like everything !. Sure my dream house would be in the style of hogwarts (see above reference to childlike tendencies) but I would be quite happy in a californian bungalow, a tudor mansion, a 3 bedroom art deco or a 70's brick veneer with a lovely hydranga around the side.

The main fear is getting it all wrong. Yes yes I know that with building there is no right and wrong - but there is coz what if I don't like it at the end ?. Most people spend years dreaming up their perfect house - I'm winging it all and doing it in the style of clueless. A house is a collection of thousands of decisions, from room sizes, materials, layout, colours, styles, products, finishes etc. What are the key ones I have to get right ?. The usual logic of putting things I like together is a bit floored. I like chocolate, salt and vinegar chips and roast beef. Individually they all taste lovely but blend them all together in a blender and you'd have to pay me to eat it. Is building a house the same ?.

I have a whole pile of clothes in my wardrobe that fit into the "seemed a good idea at the time" pile. What if I make the same stupid mistakes with building a house ?. Its one thing to buy a white lace jacket and never wear it but who wants to spend hundreds of thousands on a house and think aka Pauline Hanson "I don't like it".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Block of Land.....

I didn't want to actually build a house. I thought about it a few years ago and after 30 seconds of soul searching I realised that not only could I not be bothered to build a house but I had the wrong personality to do it and it didn't seem cost effective.

So here I am 2 years later ....

with a block of land.

No I still can't be bothered building, my personality is still the same and yup it sure isn't cost effective. So how did I end up with the block ?. Well to cut to the chase – I fell in love….. with the position.

See its not about the house. I am still adamant that I don’t want to build a house but I am just as adamant that I want to live on my land. If the land had come with a 2 bedroom 70 year old asbestos shack I would happily be living in it now but it didn’t and since council won’t let me put a caravan on it I have to build a house.

Why did I fall in love with the land ? - Good question ye old empty space of the internet.

Well on the surface it doesn’t seem much. It’s a 505sqm flat bit of earth shaped like a trapezium with a dogleg in the outer Melbourne suburb of Wantirna. See ? it sounds exciting doesn’t it. Wow - flat …….I hear you say. Actually to most people it would sound like a complete pain in the butt. Its irregular in shape, its got 2 easements totaling nearly 200sqm of the land and its on reclaimed flood plains with the potential of a massive freeway on the back fence.

To me it is the most perfect piece of earth in the whole world and it was meant to be purchased by me.

To start with it was a little bit of fate that I actually got it. I knew about the block before it went on sale and I had the suburb on “land alert” on so that when it came up for sale I could buy it the same day. Now in all fairness I had been looking to buy a house for about 8 years. I purchased my unit about 14 years ago and it was only supposed to be a temporarily location till I found a house. Well 8 years of looking turned up nothing. It wasn’t that I was particularly fussy, its just the particular suburb I wanted to live in didn’t have very many houses for sale. Therefore having the money and being raring to go wasn’t a decision made rashly, it had been in the pipes for a while. So - the land was on alert, it was going to my work PC as well as my home PC and I was ready to strike.

I remember the day vividly. I was at work and I had a meeting scheduled with the owner of the company at 11:20am. If it strikes you that it was quite a precise time then when I tell you that the CEO of the company had a meeting at 11:00am, the CFO at 11:05, the COO at 11:10 and the NSW Ops Manager at 11:15 then you’ll probably understand what was happening. Yup at 11:20am I was informed that my job was being made redundant – as was all of the senior management team. As the HR manager my meeting took a little longer than everyone else’s as I was the last person the owner was going to tell as it was up to me to tell everyone else they were going too. So at the end of a very cheery meeting that took about 30 minutes I went back to my desk and there, in my inbox was a “Land Alert” and sure enough there was my dream block of land up for sale.

I actually started pissing myself laughing. I had been waiting for nearly 12 months for my block to go on the market and it did just that – in the 30 minutes that I lost my job. An hour earlier – FINE, even an hour later would of lost some of the irony but no it had to happen then.

So after the initial shock I made a phone call - this was a phone call I had weirdly enough practiced in my head. See I didn’t want to sound too keen but didn’t know how to find out what the layout was without seeming too knowledgeable about the area. It was a careful line I had to tread.

However I had just lost my job, my income was now squat and I was in no position to buy the land. But as an endless fan of hope and karma I called up and asked the questions anyway.

Now I’ll skip the next 2 weeks - but during that time the job was ending and my resume was at about 20 different locations and people were sniffing about. Sure there was nothing in writing but there were still people wanting to hire the jinx that is me - (6 failed companies, all were either sold, in receivership or closed – but that’s a whole other blog).

So with self confidence restored I picked up the phone and made the phone call. It went something like this :


Me: hi, calling up about the land in Wantirna.

Agent: Yup, all gone.

Me: The 9 blocks off XXXXXXX

Agent: Yup all went in the first week.

Me: Look are you sure they have all gone (ok sounding a little desperate)

Agent: I know where you mean – they are all sold

Me: Are you sure (I think I was crying)

Agent: Look I can take your name and number if anything falls through.

Me: That would be wonderful XXXXXXX


So that was it - I figured it was a particular mean act by karma to tease me like that but I moved on.

Then later that day I got a call.


Agent: You called about the land earlier.

Me: Yes.

Agent: One of the buyers has dropped out, there’s a block available.

Me: which one ? (keep in mind I only wanted one of the blocks, only one was a dream block, the others were just bits of land in a suburb).

Agent: Umm not sure (ruffles paper) does it matter, you sounded desperate ?.

Me: Umm yeah I’ll take it. How much ? (yup I asked this question after I agreed to buy the block and there was only a 14% chance that it was the block I wanted).

Agent: $XXXk the others all went for a $XXX higher but it’s the ugly block and we’ve made a good price on the others (??????? Yes the guy was that direct and while I was 90% sure that he was s**ting me about the price of the others it turns out that he wasn’t, I did seriously pay the cheapest).

Me: Ok so …. Can you find out which block it is.

Agent: yeah I’ll fax it through.


So - it was quite a long 20 minutes waiting for that fax…. But as I mentioned before I believed in hope and karma and sure enough 20 minutes later the fax printed off a piece of paper and with a map of the blocks on it and a big circle around the only one I wanted saying “this one”.

Why is the block so special ?. Well its just the most perfect spot - if your me. See I have a horse, I’ve had horses for the last 25 years and for the last 25 years either me or my mum have gotten in a car and driven 10 minutes there and 10 minutes back twice a day to see the horses. The horses live in the middle of suburbia and they need care and love and attention. They need feeding twice a day, rugs checked, water dealt with and its just a paddock so we don’t have water or power on, there’s no place to store food, its just a 6 acre bit of suburbia that I have spent the last 25 years of my life spending time at twice a day.

Rain hail or shine, twice a day every day of the year including Christmas day (and this doesn’t count the extra trips for sick horses etc.) This adds up to more than 20,000 trips and the distance doesn’t get easier with time. So my perfect block ? well exactly 3.5 metres of it touches my horse paddock. To some people this is semantics, to me it’s a lifeline.

No more needing to drive to the paddock – its an hour saved a day swapped to less than a 4 metre walk dependant upon where I put the back door.
I get my car back. I’m 34 years old and from the day I got my licence at 18 my carboot has contained a bucket of horse feed, a halter, lead rope, first aid kit, horse brushes and hoof oil.
I get a bit of my life back – I no longer have to work my days around daylight hours as I’ll be able to put a light over there so I can still feed them in the dark.

But the two main reasons….
My mum gets her life back. She’s in her 60’s now and everyday goes over and feeds horses for her daughters. She’s never ridden any horse she’s ever fed but has loved each and everyone of them.

I get to stop worrying. Anyone who’s had a sick animal or sick child knows what its like to worry when they are ill - it’s the same for a horse. Sure its just an animal but if its in pain you want to help and if its 20 minutes away its hard. I won’t have to do that soon, I’ll just need to look out the window.

So there’s the story of my perfect block – sure no-one else loves it but I sure do.