Monday, 24 December 2012

End of Year Update: Progress & Lessons in Home Building

Thanks everyone for following this blog and the progress of our house build through the year. Sorry for the long end-of-year summary post.

What started out as a simple idea to document our experience during the construction of our home has really become a great way to interact with others who are presently going through a similar experience (be it with CG or any other builder) and even those considering to build. We have enjoyed being able to share many things we simply did not know or understand at the beginning of this process; many things we wish we knew from the start because they would have saved us valuable time and money and undue stress and worry.

So after five and half months of building, our house is structurally able to be locked up, the kitchen and stairs have been installed (but none of the items that create a home like toilets, sinks, basins, taps, benchtops, handles, etc) and all the plaster, doors, skirts and cornices are in place ready for internal painting.

Take a look!

Overall CG have been very good and most responsive to our concerns. Like any interaction, there will be disagreements and misunderstandings along the way. The main issues we face are probably a result of head office promises not being relayed clearly or effectively to our SS and his building team.

The first issue is our completion date, which has already been pushed back by about 4 weeks. We are doing everything we can to limit it being pushed back any more. The problem is our SS was never told that we had negotiated different contractual terms for our build period with head office sales and management. Our SS has told us that liquidated damages are there to compensate owners in the event the builder goes over the nominated build period. We understand this and this is part of the reason we also negotiated higher liquidated damages (luckily), however, we strongly feel that builders' miss the point here. At the start of this build, we believed that CG would complete our home in January 2013 ("and do everything possible to have us in before Christmas 2012") because this is what we were told'by one of its directors. Truth is that we were probably a bit naive, because according to our SS, there was never any chance of this happening.

Lesson: don't believe it when sales tell you they'll have you in your home by a certain date. Once you have signed, the build process will follow a standard schedule and take a standard amount of time and if it goes over, the builder will simply pay liquidated damages rather than re-allocate resources to meet contractual timelines.
Our advice. Negotiate a much higher liquidated damages before signing. An amount that will make the builder not want to overshoot contractual date of completion.

The second issue is our lower garage/laundry wall height. We've posted about this in the past (at the very start of this build in fact) - CG advised us that the local council had an objection with the height of the wall and that we had to drop the height of the garage/laundry as a result. We were reluctant due to the fact it created steps we did not want as well as an unsightly cavity sliding door. We did not think to question the notations for this variation. We should have, because we will now either have to accept that the house has a beautiful stained timber stair case that lands onto 2 steps that will be tiled, or pay extra money to upgrade to 2 stained timber steps (which is our preference, since it ties in with the rest of the house).

Lesson: do not assume anything. We naturally assumed (as probably any reasonable person would) that since the steps in the house were timber, the steps created as a result of a builder initiated variation, would be of the same material, therefore retaining a natural flow. This is not the case.
Our advice. Never assume that just because you've talked about it with your sales person, or seen it in the display home, that that's what you'll get. In fact, you will get what has been documented in your contract and if the contract doesn't spell the item out correctly, you will get the most cost effective option, rather than the option that makes reasonable sense.

The other very live issue we will need to manage in the new year is our slab rectification works. We're strong on this because the slab is vitally important to the overall long term integrity and performance of the house. It is the foundation on which everything else is built, and we expect the slab to be constructed absolutely correctly.

We're at a bit of a stalemate over the Christmas break. The slab rectification works were identified as defects in both the Frame and Pre-Plaster inspection reports conducted by our private building inspector. We're paid our building inspector good money to protect our interests during this build, so when he makes a recommendation, we'd be stupid not to follow it.

CG have countered these reports stating that, as a builder, they are satisfied the slab is fine and the rectification works that have taken place to date have been done correctly, effectively and entirely.

This is how the slab looks presently. Feel free to let us know your thoughts, especially if you have any experience in this area.

We're still not happy. We think there is still work to be done. We know that the the work pictured does not satisfy the rectification specifications detailed by the original design engineer. We know that CG have not followed our inspectors recommendations and we know that the relevant building surveyor has not inspected these works, nor certified them. We will talk to the relevant people about all of this in the new year.

With Christmas already here, these issues will go on hold until the new year. We really hope CG will be equally responsive to our concerns next year as they have been this year. With build time, the reality is we are where we are. Nothing can change this.

With the realisation that there is still a load of work that needs to be done, we are hoping that the remaining outstanding issues, that should already have been completed (but weren't because they were either missed or required rectification), will not disrupt and/or prevent the smooth and timely completion of the rest of the home - namely, painting, tiling, fixing off all the items inside the house, fixing off the plumbing and electrical, shelves, flooring, etc.

All in all, the Hyatt38 house looks fantastic on our block. We love the metal colour bond roof and the render colours we have chosen. The inside of the home is coming along too. We have been told by CG that they will wait until 7 or 8 of January to get a specific painter to do the painting because he does a great job. Let's hope this is the case. We can't wait to see the home fully painted with all the internal items fixed in place. We are also looking forward to seeing this home with it's tiles, floorboards and carpet.

Between now and completion, we will also start to obtain quotes and design ideas about landscaping, fencing, walls, decking and driveways. If you have experience (or know anyone that does) in any of these areas, we'd love to hear from you.

Finally, we have created an email account for any private communications. Feel free to continue to post comments to this blog and/or email us directly.

For now, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

For those currently building, good luck with getting your homes to completion and handover smoothly. For those considering building, watch this space. We have learnt so much from this experience and stand to learn loads more as our house nears completion and then is handed over to us. Hopefully, we can help you avoid many of the "learning experiences" we have experienced during our build process, as well as pre-build contract stage and post completion hand-over stage. And yes, we plan to continue this blog after our house has been handed over.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Kitchen & Stairs Installed

Kitchen went in yesterday and stairs started yesterday and finished today. Thought the carpenter was due back today, but he must be on the job tomorrow. Talked to our SS today who confirmed the slab rectification works will be complete "well before Christmas". Let's wait and see.

Apparently it takes 4 days (Fri, Mon, Tues, Wed) for plasterers to patch and sand, which we find very surprising since they hung the plaster for the entire house (ground and first floor and ceiling) in a day! We still feel the painting should at least be started before Christmas. In fact, there was actually enough time to finish the painting before Christmas!

The stairs look really good and they'll look fantastic when stained. The kitchen also looks good. Plenty of space. It will look great when fitted off with the benchtops, sinks, taps and appliances.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Meeting with our SS

The Monday meeting was postponed to today. So we met our SS early this morning and firstly, must say, it was disappointing to see that nothing at all was done yesterday. For a company supposedly trying their best to reach handover by the date stipulated in our contract, we feel plenty can be achieved in a day.

Take today (Tuesday) for example. The entire kitchen, all cabinets (vanities, laundry) and the stairs were all installed today (photos to come). This is an amazing amount of work. We're told the carpenter will be back tomorrow to finish off door frames, window frames, skirts and touch-ups and then the plasterers will return on Thurs/Fri to do their "patch and sand" which is essentially finishing off their work such that all surfaces are adequately prepared and ready for the painters. We are not sure then what else needs to be done before the painting commences and need to clarify why painting can not start next week. As it stands, our SS suggested the painting would commence in the first week on January, but we would hate to think CG have just written off next week.

We discussed the slab issues with our SS on-site today too. He was supposedly meeting with the concreter today to discuss the rectification. We also need to confirm if this happened. Our SS has assured us the slab faults will be rectified in accordance with the design engineers slab detail and we have once again requested a copy of the relevant building surveyor's inspection report and certification that the slab works have been completed and done entirely and correctly this time around.

The matter of the hebel and the hebel rebate over the slab is still a very live issue. Our private building inspector did not end up meeting with CG managementlast Friday and our SS, while sympathetic (he actually agrees with us that the hebel bottom finish and the matter of landscaping against the hebel panels are both areas of concern), says that this matter rests with CG management who are currently in the process of formulating a solution. At this stage, we will need to wait and see, but we will certainly be seeking an answer before we sign off on fix.

Those following this blog who are just starting out on their build and who have chosen to build using hebel panels (which will be all CG clients), need to be aware of these issues when building with hebel. We don't want issues with slab heave or water ingress leading to damp issues in the future, and nor should you. This is the reason we are so keen to hear how CG will be addressing this issue. Will keep you all posted.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hebel Issues / Plaster First Stage Finished

The plasterers worked through this week to complete first stage of the plastering. The entire house has been plastered, bulkheads formed, joins and screws filled and cornices done. Today the ladder and platform to access the first floor was removed in preparation for the stairs to be installed on Monday and the kitchen cabinets to go in same day or Tuesday. So fixing stage is well and truly in progress.

As previously mentioned, the Pre-Plaster Inspection report identified that there are still defects with the side walls of our concrete slab (an item carried over from our frame stage report and yet to be rectified correctly) and issues with the the installation of the hebel. Here are the issues:

The hebel panels along this side of the house do not extend down the wall far enough to align with the ones where the garage and laundry have been stepped down. This has left the floor slab clearly exposed.
The CG solution will be to clear the soil from the side of the house and apply a render coat to the concrete slab, hopefully creating a neat interaction between the hebel. We have been told it will be no problem concreting or paving against the render. Hopefully this is correct.

The ground floor hebel panels along every side of the house have not been finished along their bottom edges. Clearly visible in these photos. Also, the edges of the floor slab have not yet been aligned and finished in with the bottom of the hebel wall panels. You can clearly see the hebel overhanging (and at variable amounts) the slab. In other areas, it's actually the reverse, with the slab protruding further than the hebel. The other problem is the black plastic under the hebel panels is visible.
So the problem is that it's very difficult to concrete, pave and even landscape neatly against these edges. Not only will it be uneven and unsightly; we've been told that paving/concreting under the hebel panels could result in unwanted slab heave - no good as this could crack the render finish. The alternative is to pave/concrete/landscape against the hebel itself which we have been advised not to do as this creates problems in itself (eg water ingress).
We have a meeting with our SS first thing Monday morning to discuss these issues. Apparently our building inspector also had a meeting with CG today to discuss these issues too. We are hopeful CG will address the hebel issues and come up with suitable and sustainable rectification methods to fix these problems now so they don't become bigger problems in the future. Given CG presently only build using hebel, it's in their best interest to detail proper solutions to these issues.

There are still areas of the slab where the concrete coverage is honeycombed and the steel reinforcement exposed. Apparently the relevant building surveyor certified these works as being complete, which is alarming and disappointing given the present state of the slab (see photo). Works have either not been done as requested or have not been done in accordance with the engineers design. We've been told the concreter is returning next week to complete the slab works in accordance with the design engineer's specification and slab repair detail.

Prior to this, we've been advised the design engineer should actually inspect the slab and make complete recommendations on how to best treat and rectify so that our floor slab can be fully and correctly repaired. We've also been advised the relevant building surveyor should actually be present to supervise the rectification works when they are undertaken. We will confirm these two points when we meet our SS on Monday. We simply want CG to get this right and trust these slab works will be done correctly and entirely. We would not be happy if slab issues were still identified as defects in our next independent inspection report.