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What will the construction cost be for my home?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that ‘certainty’ plays in our everyday lives when making decisions. Life feels like it’s a constant dance between intuitive insights and calculated ‘risks’.


Any big decision, especially one with a financial investment, requires a process of taking stock. It demands thought and consideration.

Yet for many of us it’s a natural human impulse to want to know 'what you’re up against’.

As much as we might try to predict the outcome, there are factors that will lie outside of our control.  Yes, sometimes these factors can work against us.  But I’ve found more often than not, they can actually work in our favour, in ways that we couldn’t possibly fathom at the time.


A lot of our big ‘growth’ moments can feel uncomfortable when they’re happening. Maybe that’s because they require us to make an investment BEFORE we see the return.

While we absolutely can do our due diligence and make a judgement call around when to do it, we can’t let that desire for complete certainty stop us from taking the leap.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve seen it manifest in my own business decision-making AND in potential clients who are considering a redesign of their family home.

I’m having a lot of conversations with potential clients at the moment, who are either considering building their new home or they’re thinking about a redesign of their existing family home. We’ve had conversations around their vision, functionality, aesthetics and how they want their home to feel.  In short, the scope of their project and the extent of the Building Design they require.

But that conversation tends to get stuck on one particular point:  What will the construction cost be?  

ibalter design woodrow entry interior

Put another way, they want to know what the design they’re about to invest in, is going to cost them when it comes time to build.

I want to be really clear  - I think it is absolutely ESSENTIAL that your designer is transparent with you about the potential construction costs of a project.  In fact, nothing upsets me more than seeing families have absolutely beautiful homes designed…only to have their budgets completely blow out when it comes time to build them.  

As designers, I think we have a responsibility to our clients to know their budget back to front and make informed design decisions that align with it. Ensuring there are no nasty surprises down the line.

I think it’s completely valid to want to know the scope of the investment you’re considering.  But I want to explore why knowing all your potential construction costs up front can be a bit of a tough ask for your designer.


To provide some context around the building design process and the roles of Designer vs Builder.  

As a Building Designer, I am responsible for designing the structural/physical form of your home. The Builder is the professional who constructs your home.  Whilst I work very closely with Builders at the construction stage of the project, the design phase does come first.  

When the design phase is done right, it should lay out a design vision that is aligned with the needs and budget of the client, which then can be effectively constructed by building professionals.


So as a potential client, when you are asking about the cost of the construction before your project has commenced, you're essentially asking me to anticipate the design before I've ascertained your specific needs and budget.


And at this point, I'm also having to accurately predict the cost that a Builder will charge you to construct it.  All at the initial enquiry stage, before committing to a project and the more detailed scoping and briefing process that predicates the actual design work.

It’s an assumption that’s easy to make - especially if you’re unfamiliar with how the building design process works.

To make it a little more tangible, I liken it to something akin to a dentist appointment.

Imagine you’re booking in an appointment with your dentist.  You know you need some work done, but you’re not sure what that will entail.  On the phone, you want to know an accurate quote on exactly what the dental work will cost. This stumps your dentist a little - while they may be able to give you the price of a standard check-up, they can’t completely predict the cost of the additional work.  And that’s because they don’t fully know what you need yet!  Without an examination and some X-rays, it’s going to be tough for them to give you a thorough indication of price.


My point here, is that while a ballpark figure may be possible, your Building Designer can’t give you an accurate, detailed breakdown of your potential construction costs, without some initial information.  

As with a lot of professional services, most Building Designers are going to have a tried and tested process for gathering this information.  For it to be done in the most comprehensive, accurate way possible, it is going to require a small financial commitment upfront (think of it like that dentist’s initial examination!).

It’s at this initial briefing stage that information about your needs, budget and compliance requirements can be determined (what are your height restriction, can existing trees be removed, can you build on the boundary, what are the zoning regulations that cover your property). For most Building Designers (i.Balter Design included), this preliminary phase will include an initial concept design being created.  

A concept design is a professional set of drawings that considers the core layout and the specifications of your design. It incorporates a floor-plan that addresses how different elements of the space interplay with each other, as well 3D sketches.


Making that initial commitment to get this concept design phase underway, you’re now so much closer to an accurate, comprehensive understanding of what your home design will cost you
- both in terms of creating the detailed design documentation and the construction of that design.  If there’s anything I’d want to share with potential clients who are hesitating over making any financial investment, it’s this! Because ironically, making that initial commitment will actually minimise your risk as the project continues.

Think of it this way;

  • you’re hesitating on signing on for that initial design assessment because you want to know that the associated construction costs (that come much later down the pipeline) will align with your budget.  
  • you’re hesitating because you don’t want to take that financial risk.  

But any designer or builder who is claiming to provide you an accurate construction price, without working from at least a base-level concept design, is making a LOT of assumptions.  So the price that they’re giving you is likely significantly under-estimated or significantly inflated.  

Either way, if that figure isn’t based on correct information and specifications, it’s a little like buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best!

As long as you’ve done your due diligence about the firm you choose to work with and you trust their expertise, it can be hugely worthwhile to make that initial investment and get the concept design and consultation.  


ibalter design woodrow rear facade


As counterintuitive as it may feel, doing so is actually going to mitigate potential budget issues much more effectively.

And this is where I find myself thinking about life as that constant dance of taking calculated risks.

Because even when we do whatever we can to mitigate the risk that comes with making any large financial investment in our lives, we’re still having to weigh up the potential benefits with whether we can sustain the cost.  Often, we find that we have to make some level of commitment - even if it’s a small one - to get the most accurate, informed assessment.  We’re still needing to make that leap, even when it feels a little uncomfortable.  Because that’s when the next step becomes clear.


For me, this has been one of my biggest lessons in business and in life. That while we often think we’re craving certainty, we’re actually craving clarity.  That we can't control all the outcomes that surround any big decision, but we can take small steps and make a commitment that will help us get closer to that clarity.


We can all be pretty paralysed by the unknown - and making a financial and time investment often feels that way.  But rather than telling yourself that you need to know ALL the information before you even take any action, maybe you could shift that mindset a little more. Instead, you can ask “What step could I take that would give me more clarity around what I need to do next?”

If it’s a design for your family home, maybe that looks like booking in an initial consultation or engaging a designer to get a concept plan (if this is you, you need to check out a special something we’ve been working on around here.)


Whatever the decision you’re pondering, there’s a good chance that there is a way to test the waters a little, while still taking action.  Making that small commitment could give you clarity and help you choose the calculated risks you want to dance with.


After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

As the founder of i.Balter Design, Emily Nair creates spaces that support the connections that matter.

Specialising in residential and commercial building design, she believes that our physical environments have a powerful impact on how we live and work.

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