The Story of Shambles Manor (an exercise in owner-building)

Trying to help - probably just getting in the way.

Be careful what you wish for it might just happen!

For as long as I can remember I haven’t been able to drive past a display village without popping in, wandering through the delightfully styled rooms, marvelling at the space, loving the design.

When we moved to Port Macquarie I searched high and low but couldn’t find a house I liked, so I decided to build my own version of those picture perfect display homes.

How difficult could it be? You tell someone your ideas and budget they whip you up a design, a builder gets a few contractors in and in next to no time you are relaxing on your back deck enjoying your spacious new abode.

How wrong I was.

A former colleague, had built his own mudbrick home some years previously he warned it wasn’t an easy process, I ignored him.

My husband explained you always go over budget building a new home, there are a myriad of costs not accounted for, we couldn’t afford it, I ignored him.

My mother mentioned tales of building woes from friends she knew, I ignored her.

I waltzed into the chosen designer with my folder of pictures and ideas I’d been collecting for years. There were different versions of the hundreds of display homes I had traipsed through over the years, and photos I’d collected from the many home magazines I devoured each week.

I was adamant I wanted something different, not the traditional brick and tile, but something original, an “oh wow” look.

The designer delivered an “oh wow” house,  unfortunately it came with an “oh wow” price tag.  When the builder preparing the contract to build rang to inform me we were $100,000 over budget and still going I put the brakes on,  we can’t build this until we get the price down!

I ripped out the rumpus room, laundry/shower, spare bedroom and workshop from under the house,  the idea of having space for my mum to live with us if she needed to were put on hold, where did I put those brochures for the retirement home?

I delete windows and add in more cladding, cheaper than brick and rendering.

We try again, this time we come in $50,000 over budget, and we still haven’t costed in the pool the whole house was supposed to be built around! The gaping hole remains a feature.

I put the whole idea on hold, commit to renting a grungy two bedroom unit with our dogs fostered out with my Aunt next door, and wondering how the hell we are going to get out of this mess.  We’re now paying a mortgage on a block of land we can’t afford to build on as well as rent for a too-small flat we don’t like.

We give the plans to other builders,  they either come in at the same price as the first or refuse to return my calls, obviously the interesting angles in the house put them off!

We find a local builder who helps people owner build but with contractors doing most of the work, he does a budget, more cladding is added,  the interesting angles are pretty much gone, several extra features are removed .. and he delegates  many jobs to my husband.  He brings it in on budget but there’s no room for error.

We return to our bank who had previously approved our loan to build on the first budget  but they decide they would rather lend us the extra $100,000 to stay with the builder than give us less money as owner builders.  We head to a local credit union who agree to loan us what we need.

Finally we can start, then my husband gets chest pains.

Two air ambulance trips,  a failed stent repair to an artery and then a double by-pass,  now that we’ve got that out of the way,  we begin building!

It’s stressful, difficult work (just what you need after a double by-pass). There are problems at different points.We got through.

To this day we still have a lounge room window painted purple from where bored young kids broke in and threw paint around the whole house (e-glass is highly thermal and very eco-friendly but probably not meant to be painted – impossible to remove)

We move in with many things still to be done. We are embracing the “construction look” – I’m trying to get it featured in Home Beautiful so it becomes trendy to have no floorboards, unpainted walls, no landscaping and windows that still need architraves. Seriously if we can just get a celebrity to go for it we could have the latest “cool look”.

The house seems to devour money, lots of money, on a daily basis. There are still jobs to be done when my husband has to return to work and it becomes challenging to fit in the many tasks left to do around travelling time and long hours. He continues plugging away.

The house doesn’t currently match the image I had in my head but we take it a day at a time as we contort our lives to accommodate our extended mortgage. What the hell was I thinking?

Ever built? Would you do it again? Or perhaps you had a dream that didn’t quite go to plan?


12 thoughts on “The Story of Shambles Manor (an exercise in owner-building)

  1. Have never built….but my daughter has and she’d build again !! We were lucky enough in 1994 to walk into this house and go wow, love it, it was build for display..bought it on the spot. Now its time to renovate and update……

  2. Ok. Your story makes me scared to build. Ever. We are on our third house and we’ve majorly renovated all of them. To be honest, I’m tired of living in construction. Sometimes it just stinks and I dream of a day when I can build.

    • Just make sure you’ve got plenty of cash. Think if I did it again I would go a project home I could walk through and sign a set-price contract. Trying to be original is expensive and a time consuming process.

  3. Oh no. Good luck with things. And show us pictures!!

    By the way – did I ever tell you that my actual big people job is construction consultant? We help large corporations when their construction projects go over budget or over schedule. Strange, huh?

  4. I spent 19 years designing roof trusses and tweaking houses to accomodate trussed roofs. I’ve watched people suffer through horror stories of things gone wrong in construction, and I’ve watched others breeze through. (a lot has to do with the builder, some with the lot, some with the weather, etc. There are a lot of variables to contend with. I wish you the best of luck in getting your home finished, and hope you have many, many, years of happy memories waiting to be had in the near future.

  5. I to had a dream of building. I would take a pen and paper into display houses and carefully write the color combinations’s of the paint the interior decorators would use to create “that” look. I would collect the floor plans and carefully remodel them to suit my own ideas. Then the reality would hit when I brought my plans home to hubbysayno. He had many good reasons why we would never build. And we never did. But I feel that it is I who now has the last laugh. We have purchased two houses in the last 10 years. The first house was way to small and at the updating age, we were told by our overly cautious parents that no one’s first house is the dream house -They must have forgot we were adults, in our thirties with two kids and we both had full time professional jobs, we could afford a house in which we could all fit in. Because my plans of building were dreams, the present house we are in is at the 12 year mark. Of course, buying a house at the 12 year mark means updating, replacing, repairing, repainting, roof restoration. It is karma, that now as each little thing goes wrong with our house I can sit back and say.. no nothing lasts forever, if we had built that bran spanking new house we wouldn’t need to replace, repaint, repair, roof restore. We could enjoy the newness, move out at the ten year mark and leave all the maintenance to someone much more handy than us to do. So Janine, good on you for sticking to your dream, regardless of the cost and modifications the benefits are there.

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