Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Up up and away - end July 2012

Well it might be friggin freezing but that has not stopped our awesome builder pacing ahead. The 2nd storey has now gone up - well some of it at least. I am getting more excited as each week goes on and dreaming about enjoying a wine on our sunny north facing deck (a nice McLaren Vale Shiraz from Mr R collection). I think a house with insulation would be really good right now too!

Our new bedroom with north facing window (or hole at the moment)

Bathroom and atrium - hope that 'little' design feature isn't causing Dean too many problems! I always loved the idea of being able to see greenery whilst having a shower or bath so I'm pretty chuffed that this managed to stay in the design when we had to drop a few other things.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Faster than a speeding bullet - July 2012

OK, so maybe not a fast as a speeding bullet but we can see some real progress this week. There has been a few delays as one of our side walls would not support the structure upstairs (as decided by Dean and Structural Engineer) so a few extra steel posts were ordered (variation $1500) but it's obviously necessary.

Also found out that we would have to loose our original archway in the hall due to the bedroom upstairs and the bulkhead underneath needed to support it. The bedroom head height is only 2.4 metres so that can't be reduced. We really wanted to keep the arch as it defined the old from the new and really without it we only had the front bedroom as original and we were worried it would look stupid. Alas, I suppose it's all about compromises and as we were not willing to decrease the room size upstairs the arch had to go. Well I should have known better, I think Trevor couldn't let it go and after discussing with Dean they have found a way to reduce the room size by only 200mm and do some fancy joist work and yippee we keep the arch.

Steel posts and beams up

The infamous arch, now the bulkhead behind will only go down to the top line, not the bottom one.

Brickwork going up, the hole on the right is our window and stacker doors will be to the right.

Joists going in for 1st floor

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

I can see the light - June 2012

Have started purchasing items for the new house, picked up a day bed on ebay for my dressing room (otherwise known as bedroom 2) and am waiting the arrival of my custom made pendant light for the master bedroom ($575 60cm x 40cm). The pendant should look great against the grey/sage green walls.


Orchid pendant light by Alex Earl



Thinking of this for over the bath but will probably be vetoed by Mr R who hates 'seeing the bulb' - he might like the price though at only $171, maybe I can bribe him with some red wine




So love the antler pendant but don't really know where it could go ($895 from Schots Home Emporium).


 At least we are sorted for the dining area, quite a statement but we both love it. We purchased it at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and bought it home in our carry on luggage.

Moving slowly along – July 2012

Doors and windows have been ordered and we got to see our triple stacker (for the lounge room) in the showroom. The door is amazing and exactly what we had in mind – again Trevor knew just what sort of look we wanted and that did not include ‘caravan windows’. All our new doors and windows are semi-commerical anodised aluminium - which we think look great.

The ground floor plumbing has been roughed in and the inwall cistern is already in place for the downstairs bathroom. We can also see where the kitchen sink will be and the water supply for our new fridge with an ice-maker (well I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain).

In wall cistern to go with our wall hung toilet - very sexy (Parisi Envy MK II)

Some interesting pipes - looks very squiggly

Groovy underfloor insulation



Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Bye bye house – June 2012

With everything happening in a rush we had to quickly find a rental property (with two dogs and a cat) and move out pronto. Luck was on our side and we got the first rental we looked at in Dulwich Hill; so within a week the removalist was booked, we had sold everything we could flog on ebay (paid for the bar tab at my party so happy with that – my guests seemed happy too) and we were off to Bali. We left Oz with a picture of our little house in our minds and came back to a front fa├žade and two side walls – no turning back now!

That was our lounge room, kitchen and bathroom a few weeks ago

By the end of June all the water pits were in and seemed to be doing the job as intended. Due to no longer having a concrete slab this changed a few things internally such as floor levels and where the pit would be located, so a few delays in all of this getting worked out but it’s definitely not something that could be changed later.

Our big pit

The ‘big pit’ which is about 3 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and high is now under the new kitchen/dining area and has ag pipes leading into it from under the front rooms and sides. The pit has a pump which goes on when the water reaches a certain level and so far has been going quite often; which makes us very happy that we decided to really fix the problem even with the cost (probably all the water fixes and reports cost about $10 - $15k).

Concrete footing poured
Joists are in and they are nice bright yellow ones that termites hate

Who will build our house? – May 2012


So finally all paperwork is done and we are ready to get this thing built but who will build it? Also it appears our long ago holiday we had booked (to Bali) had just about arrived (along with my birthday party) and it goes from famine to flood.
Trevor tendered the job out of five builders, two of whom we had met (and Trevor had used before), one on a recommendation from someone I work with and two others. We had a stressful 2.5 weeks waiting for the tenders to come back and then the range was amazing from (gst incl) $378k to $600k. Of course we wanted to go with Mr 378k but after viewing his work (or should I say his trades as he was apparently very rarely on site), and hearing some of the hassles, we decided it was not worth the risk. We knew we only had one shot at this and although the thought of saving $120k was very appealing, we just didn’t believe we would end up with a quality product.
The winner was Dean from Harrisons Building Services with an initial price of $520k. We still needed to get the price down a bit so a few changes were made including ditching the concrete slab and keeping our wonky walls; which bought the price down to $481K. Now we just had to hope that these changes did not affect the integrity of the building, but the structural engineer seemed happy so we have to faith that they know what they are talking about. The total amount of the renovation is being financed by Westpac as a draw down construction loan, they have lent us the money but I don’t want to go into any more detail due to something my Mum used to tell me “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”

Construction Certification and other boring stuff December 2011 – May 2012

With our DA approval we thought things would speed along but there seemed to be a few herdles to jump yet. One major problem with our house that I didn’t mention was damp, well actually a swimming pool under our house, why it’s there no one knows but it causes all our clothes to be mouldy and our paint actually peels off the wall. The end goal was not just to have a great house, but one with no rising damp or pooling under the house, so this required a Hydraulic Engineer report which took a while to get as it’s not easy to get rid of water. The agreed plan was to have a retention pit under the deck (for the pooling under the hosue), an absorption pit in the backyard (for the lower level roof) and a rainwater tank (for the 1st floor roof) – a lot of work and money but we needed to make sure the issue would be resolved. This report and the many others required took quite a while to get and so this stage seemed pretty slow.
On the plus side, whilst all this was going on Trevor was working on our detailed drawings. Most people don’t seem to get this level but we notice if things don’t look right. We wanted Trevor to get rid of as many of the niggly things as possible (within the time allowed, given that our job is probably pretty little and not going to make him a millionaire) and so a lot of time was spend on floor levels, wall and metal junctions and other exciting things that make a house look really well finished (or so we hope).

Development Application October 2011

Engaging an architect meant that Trevor handled all the paperwork etc to do with the application, all we had to do with sign the forms and wait. We had expected a 3-6 month wait for approval (or otherwise) and were all shocked when the plans were approved in 30 days – unheard of! In retrospect I think this had a lot to do with Trevor and his extensive knowledge of Inner West councils and doing plans for small plots and all that entails (over shadowing etc). We all wanted to plans to go through as smoothly as possible but Trevor had the knowledge to make this happen and still keep us happy by giving us what we wanted – a win all round in my books.


The design process begins July 2011

So Trevor was engaged and came to present his draft plans – so did we jump up and down with excitement, well not quite, the plans were good in some respects but didn’t hit the mark in others. The plan had 4 bedrooms and an ok size living room (looking out onto the garden of course) but there are only 2 of us and we love blobbing on the couch, so we wanted a large (for Inner West) lounge/dining room and only 3 bedrooms.
It appeared we had a problem, Trevor put together the best plan possible to come as close as possible to our (we now know) totally unrealistic budget of $250k – but it’s not what we want. I must say that there were heaps of thing we loved about the plan but it just was not the right plan for us.
After toing and froing for about 4 weeks Trevor delivered our dream home (on paper) but of course he knew it would not be in our budget, but looking after our best interests suggested we engage a Quantity Surveyor to see how much our dream would cost. The report was completed in about 2 weeks and the price for the renovation (not including architect and other fees) was approx. $600k. I actually cried at work, where do we go from here, we know what we want, we have a plan and we can’t afford it. We also knew we would have to add in about $80k for fees and then some money ($35K) for PCs (tiles, bath etc) and some decorating money. To say we would be overcapitalising would be a gross understatement! So back to the drawing board again to remove some of the ‘nice to haves’ but not essentials – built in bar-b-que – gone, steel pergola – gone etc etc. The changes to the plan came back to $500k which initially I was happy with that as a $100k reduction seemed pretty good – I didn’t really think that we would not afford that either. So again we sat down and had a think about what to do, should we just buy a renovated house (same problem of never finding anything ‘just right’) or do we try to find a cheaper house to renovate (and lose $80k in moving costs) – around and around in circles we went and decided to proceed in the hope that the lotto fairies would smile on us (didn’t happen).
3D rendition of living area (from rear) created by Paul Hill Architectural Draftsman
3D rendition from the rear (unfortunately the built-in bar-b-que was removed from the plan due to cost)


3D rendition of kitchen (from rear) created by Paul Hill Architectural Draftsman















Where do we find a great Architect? - June 2011

We already had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do with the house, it helps that we got to look in about 100 similar houses and see all the things we didn’t want to do. I now think that people do a shitty renovation and sell the house or do an amazing renovation and keep the house for 10+ years – well maybe shitty is a bit harsh but we did not see one house where we thought they got everything right or even nearly right. The closest we found while house hunting was this lovely place in Rozelle but we felt it was a bit too small (and had a big tree in the backyard that Leichhardt council would never let you remove) but it did have a pretty good layout and use of space.

So we sort of knew what we wanted to do but we both thought we would need an architect to bring our ideas to life. We did think about using a draftsman but we are both really wanted someone who would focus on the details and didn’t think a draftsman would include provide this level of service and so we might not be happy with the end result.
Looking for an architect is not that easy if, like us, you don’t have any friends who have carried out major renovations in the Inner West and in particular dealing with Leichhardt Council (who are known to be very difficult or thorough depending on your view). So we did the only thing we both experts at – we searched the internet looking for Inner West architects and checking out their previous projects, we also used the Leichhardt Council DA tracker to find architects who had carried out projects that we thought were similar to ours and had similar budgets (more on that later). We narrowed down a list of candidates to:
  1. Jeff Karskens – Building Designer
  2. Impact Design and Construction
  3. TW Architects
  4. Trevor Hall Architects
  5.  John the Architect
For ease we called them contestants 1 to 5, so contestant 1 plyed us with red wine but unfortunately did not instil much confidence in me but Mr R (who loves red wine) thought he was a winner, contestant 2 – neither of us felt he was on the same wave length as us, contestant 3 was great but talked a lot about volume and what we knew we needed was floor space – you can’t sit in a void can you?, contestant 4 more serious (I was a little scared), didn’t laugh at Mr R’s jokes (which weren’t in fact funny) but was very detailed and seemed to get exactly what we were looking for, contestant 5 charged for his visit and well it was a waste of money. So it was between Mr R’s pick, contestant 1 and my pick contestant 4 and after much discussion I won but the price would be that I would have the relationship with the winner and Mr R could take a back seat. So the winner was (is) Trevor Hall - award winning architect (small building award). FYI – the prices for the architectural services varied but not by much and we already knew about what the costs would be (10-15% of the build cost) so we were mentally prepared - also we didn't really base our decision on cost as I suppose we could have saved $5k going with the cheapest but we didn't think it was worth the risk.

Renovation phase 1 – December 2009 to February 2010


Alas masses of potential also means pretty revolting and as we knew we would carry out a major renovation for a few years we decided to inject some cash into making it a home. A bit of background into our skill level – Mr R is mid 30’s and works full time in IT management, I am late 30’s (actually now 40 ouch!) and work full time in the oil industry; neither of us are very handy but we are happy to paint and garden etc. Renovating seems like a great way to make money unless you are like Mr R and I and need to outsource nearly everything – should also note we have a great circle of friends but not builders, plumbers, electricians or anyone that you can call in for a favour. Really I decided to write this blog as there are lots of owner/builders and handy people, or others that work part time but I could not find much information on renovations carried out by people like us.

Phase 1 of the renovation involved demolition by Mr R and I – including removing the faux wood panelling, lino floors, rotten kitchen cupboards and what we thought would be an easy job – the chimney breasts (there were no fireplaces and they were taking up valuable space). It was hard and dirty work to get the chimney breasts out but the problem came after we did and stood back and didn’t know what to do with our new exposed brick (where you can see to the outside) walls. Luckily for us, the one person we know with a trade (work colleague’s hubby) decided to pop in and say hi – a few beers and a handshake latter and Mr P agreed to help get us on track for mate’s rates. Mr R helped fix up the wall, install a side gate, install an attic ladder, install attic flooring, put in pet doors and generally lots of stuff that we could not work out how to do – Mr P saved us.

Main works carried out before moving in were to put in an inside toilet (ok, so I’m a bit of princess), install a cheap kitchen, put in a built in wardrobe, install new flooring (timber floor were rotten and you could step right through them), remove asbestos shed, landscape back garden so plants can grow before major reno. I won’t go into detail about about as this blog is meant to be about the big reno but just to make meer mortals feel better, this stage cost of $65k – Mr R was not very happy but we saw houses in Leichhardt for $100k more than we paid and still needed work so I think in the end it was an ok amount to spend. In retrospect the glass kitchen splashback wasn’t necessary but most other work carried out allowed us to be reasonably comfortable in the house until we worked out what to do next.
A useable kitchen, small and cheap but will do the job

Yippee, an inside toilet, no stepping on cockroaches in the middle of the night

Completed backyard - ready for our new puppies to dig up

The hunt is over - November 2009


Our little house in M street went to auction (which I could not attend) on a sunny spring day and after heated bidding Mr R put in his first bid - $10k less than the previous bid whoops, not sure what that strategy was, 2nd try and obviously his casual attitude of bumping up his bid by $15k blew the competition out of the water and yippee, after 8 months of searching, the house was ours with only one (real) bid. With a purchase price of $685K we were very happy and thought it was a reasonable amount to pay for the property.

hmmm, that fake wood panelling and lino will have to go

The backyard is a fantastic blank slate

The property search March 2009

So the story actually begins a few years ago in North Balgowlah on the Northern Beaches of Sydney when my hubby (who I will call Mr R) and I (aka MS J) decided that as a couple without children (our choice) probably didn’t need to live on a 725 square meter block within walking distance to 3 primary schools.

After a trial run, living in Balmain with the in-laws (rent free), we decided that the peninsular was where we wanted to live. The hunt for a Balmain home started in March 2009 and with great gusto we hit practically every open house in our search radius – alas 100 houses later we had had no success. One house was great but needed so much work we could not stretch our budget enough to buy it. After a weekend fighting (actually me yelling and Mr R looking annoyed or bored with the conversation) we/I decided to expand the search and look to Leichhardt. Initially we were not keen due to the flight path and crappy public transport – seriously buses going along Parramatta Road and not City West Link??? On only our first day looking in Leichhardt we found the dream house, Mr R still had to get his head around the fact that our dream house wasn’t located in our dream suburb, but at least it was a start.

The dream house is a detached 2 bed Victorian house which is layout looks just like a semi but has the benefit of side access and no attached neighbours, of course being in Leichhardt we are still very cosy. The house ticked all the right boxes:

·         north facing backyard (east to the side)

·         no trees (been there done that – lots of leaves and no light – no thanks)

·         decent sized block (265 square meters)

·         masses of renovation potential and no work done (so we didn’t have to destroy someone else’s prior work)

No parking but then this was not a concern to us as we aren’t really car people – well, we could be if we won Powerball and could buy something exciting – but we are happy for our Mazda 3 to be parked on the curb and pooped on by birds.