How to lower the cost of your renovation? Project manage it yourself!

This isn't my house, and they don't even do blue prints any more, I just thought this old school picture looked cool. I do actually have a copy of the original house's blueprints though.

This isn’t my house, and they don’t even do blue prints any more, I just thought this old school picture looked cool. I do actually have a copy of the original house’s blueprints though.

Further to my previous posts in relation to our next house (see here about energy-efficient design, and here for one about the size of the house), a lot of work has been going on in the background to make this project a reality.

Now where many people probably just engage a builder and make them do everything, we are (perhaps unsurprisingly) taking a much more hands-on approach. While we could easily afford (using the hyper-consumer understanding of that term) to engage a builder to do everything, the idea of increasing the cost of the renovation/extension by $100k or more to avoid the inconvenience of getting involved just doesn’t seem like good value to me. So I’m going to project manage it myself instead.

Are you mad? You can’t do that!

Bob the builder main

There he is again – Bob the Builder. It will actually be IA the Builder this time (well, sort of), but I don’t even own a pair of overalls or a hard hat.

No, I’m not mad, and yes, I can do that actually. In Australia the construction of residential properties usually needs to be done by licensed builders, and obtaining a builder’s licence is quite an arduous, costly and time-consuming process. The exception to this however is the owner-builder permit, which allows a home owner to project manage their own renovation/extension or construction of a new home that they own.

Before you think that this is too good to be true, the state governments restrict you to only doing it once every five years, which is enough time to ensure that no one that was serious about running a business of house construction would be able to rely on the (much simpler to get) owner builder permit and avoid getting a builder’s licence altogether.

Owner builder course – not very hard, if I do say so myself

I only knew about this whole concept because my brother actually did it himself about 10 years ago, but it was a bit different for him since he’s a qualified carpenter and works as a tradesman for his day job. When he applied for the permit, he didn’t have to show that he had done any additional training as his qualification as a carpenter (having completed his apprenticeship and studies) was sufficient. He just had to fill out a form, pay a fee and away he went. I was convinced that the process would be a lot more difficult for me, but how wrong I was.

A quick google search showed that there are plenty of Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) that offer courses that are considered adequate training to allow you to apply for the permit, but because there was such a variety of courses (some were expensive, some went for a long time, some were only online and others were in person over a number of weeks at local technical colleges), I decided to check out the whirlpool forums instead. There I found out that one provided by Absolute Education ( was cheap, entirely online, and they practically tell you the answers as you go. While I was away on holidays recently I decided to complete the course, and it took all of about 3-4 hours (multiple choice questions) and cost $244 (there was a special price on for September), and that was it. Now I just have to put my application into the government once the plans are approved, pay a fee ($171) and I’ll be ready to go.

At this stage you’re probably wondering whether an office worker can actually build a house, and you’d be right to wonder – I certainly can’t build a house on my own (well not a very good house anyway). My plan isn’t to actually build the house myself though – I will just organise the various sub-contractors to do this for me. Admittedly I will have the help of my brother (and some people he knows) on certain parts, like the concrete slab, and the assistance of my Dad, who as a retired person already can actually be on site during the day to monitor what is happening while I am at work. Otherwise, I will just need to arrange the various tradesmen and materials, which is a challenge that I am happy to take on. Initial estimates would say that this would save me over $100k on the extension/renovation, so even if it is actually hard work then it will be hard work that is worth doing.

Even though I am an office worker and not a tradesman, I have helped out on plenty of family projects (including construction of two large warehouses that our family owned), so have enough exposure to how things get done and dealing with tradesmen that I am up for the challenge.

How does this fit with work?

One challenge is that some of my peers at work might think that being an owner-builder is a bit of a distraction, and they would arguably be correct to some extent. It will be a distraction, which is why I basically have to keep it a bit quiet. My wife let slip that I was thinking about owner building at a work function a while back, and one of my partners from the office jokingly said that I shouldn’t be doing that. Even though it came across as joking, I think he was kind of serious and would prefer that I didn’t. Oh well, I will just get it done on the quiet and he’ll see that it can be handled.

I have found that in my career that lots of things are like this – only let the office know what you want them to know, then they have no material on which to judge you. And usually they don’t even notice if something else is going on outside of work unless you have trouble keeping that sort of thing under wraps.

Planning update

So far our planning for the house has involved the following:

  1. Initial meeting with council about what we want to do.
  2. Engaging a draftsman (a much cheaper, but still acceptable, form of an architect) to draw up the plans, which are now complete.
  3. Speaking with the neighbours about what we want to do, and even given one of them a draft plan simply because they are such nice people.
  4. Getting soil tests done.
  5. Doing my owner-builder course.
  6. Lodging the plans and formal development application with council.

Lodging the plans with council involved a fairly significant amount of paperwork, which many people might be daunted by. Being an office worker I don’t find this paperwork daunting at all, but I can see how many others would just pay someone to take care of it for them. We are certainly saving money by getting involved in all of this, plus it allows us to control the entire process rather than wait for someone else.

Council have said that it will take about a month for them to process the application, so I’m hoping that means that it will be approved in early December. That would be just the news that we need for Christmas, and we’ll then be free to start planning the materials and the various contractors to get the job done.

The whole process has actually been quite interesting and surprisingly simple so far, so I’d certainly encourage others to have a go at it themselves rather than just pay someone from day one. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much you can do yourself!

If you have had any experience with project managing the build of your own home I’d love to hear from you.


One thought on “How to lower the cost of your renovation? Project manage it yourself!

  1. Pingback: Planning the renovation-extension – it begins! | InsiderAccountant

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