The 101 of Architecture & Construction Tips - Pt. 1: Don't let your dream become a nightmare
So, you are thinking of making one of the most serious financial investments in your life; building your home. Unfortunately, reports from disgruntled homeowners who have had poor experiences with contractors and/or other series of unfavourable events can turn this sweet dream into a nightmare. The good news is that their experience does not have to be yours. Follow these simple pointers and your nightmare can become pure fiction:
1. One of the first aspects of owning your own home involves “knowing what you want”. Personal taste or family needs differ from person to person and we need to be sure that what we tell our design consultants reflects the way we want to live in our new dwelling place. You may hear persons make remarks like “I want a large living room, kitchen and bedroom the rest doesn’t matter”. Does this statement reflect your needs? Truth is it may or may not. Your needs may vary from a studio type setting to a multi-level minimalist structure. I cannot stress how important it is to be certain of what you want; after all you may have to live with this decision for a very long time.
2. Ensure all of your documents in relation to the design and construction phase are in place. These include several pieces of information that the Planning department would ask for as part of the application process for example:
a. Ownership information
If the property is in your name then the Land Deed identifying that the property belongs to you and/or a copy of ownership information (which can be obtained from your Land Registry Department) will be necessary. If the property is not in your name or does not belong to you then a copy of a lease agreement as well as a letter allowing you permission for construction will be needed.
b. Land Survey Information
The property should be surveyed by a professional in an effort to verify boundaries. The issue of boundaries has been a “bone of contention” among many; so the importance of this step speaks for itself. The block and parcel number of your property (which can be found on your deed or land registry document) can allow you to obtain a printout of your property from the relevant authorities. This printout may be of value during your survey as it identifies dimensions and boundary placements for your property. In Antigua, such printouts may be obtained from the Land Survey Office.
c. Topographical Survey
The gradient (ie the slope) of your property will determine whether a topographical survey is necessary. In many cases (especially if the property isn’t cleared) the naked eye may perceive the property as having a very gentle slope or as being flat. However during the actual building process the plan becomes inadequate as issues resulting from misperceived steepness may occur. A topographical survey maps out the contours of the property giving the architect an accurate understanding of the rise and fall of the property. This information is a valuable influence on building design as it allows for the consideration of changes in levels of the property. A topographical survey may save you from budget overruns in the early stages of construction. Too many homeowners are stuck having to build an extra floor level or make foundation walls higher in order to compensate for poorly perceived land gradients. These changes can be costly; it is thus beneficial to let your Architect, Land Surveyor or Engineer advise you accordingly.
3. Have a percolation test done. This is another requirement that is equally important. A percolation test simply records the absorption capacity of the soil. Data obtained from percolation tests is very useful in the design of proper waste management systems. Most design consultants can direct you to persons that specialize in this process. Other tests may need to be carried out depending on the circumstances, discuss with your design and building team to ensure that you are on the right track.
4. Finally and maybe most importantly, ask your bank or credit union’s loan officer for your credit limit. This should probably be your first step if you are considering building a home. It is important to have an idea of what you can afford, before any sort of design commences. Normally there are rates for different types of construction that are used as a guide by your consultant. If your Architect knows what your actual (not perceived) budget is then they may be better able to design something tailor made to your pocket.
I make reference to “actual budgets” and “perceived budgets” because we often believe that we have a certain amount of spending power (perceived budget); only to find out from the “financial lenders” that according to their protocol for debt ratio our spending power is a lot less(perceived budget). It may be that we can actually afford our perceived budget but financial institutions must protect themselves and so the value assigned to clients must be an amount that the lender is guaranteed to retrieve.
Some homeowners tend to execute this process in reverse, having drawings made for lavish homes only to be informed that the actual cost of the plan is beyond what the banks are willing to provide to them. These homeowners must then return to the drawing board with their consultant; a process which of course requires payment.
Let’s face it, building a home is an expensive venture, surely you as a client would prefer to pay for each process just once, so it is especially important to get it right the first time around.
All the above points considered, you are on your way to a great start. As much as possible, avoid rushing the design process. Most well-executed home designs take time to develop. Ensure that you engage your design consultant often in order to keep on site changes (i.e. changes after your budget has been approved) minimal.
*** Colin Jenkins graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture (first class honors) from the La Universidad Central "Marta Abreu" de Las Villas, Cuba. He currently works with Roberts Construction and Engineering Co. Ltd in the disciplines of Construction Management and Consultancy, Project Management, Procurement and Architecture. Founder of Symmetry Design (Architectural Company), Colin may be reached at 1.268.724.0873 or firstname.lastname@example.org.