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Design options

A look at the options for having a house designed - group housing companies, builders and custom designs.

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3 approaches to house design and building

The 3 usual ways of getting a house designed and built are:

1. Using a group housing company. These companies usually provide packages which can include some or all of the following:

  • The section.
  • Standard house designs (which can usually be adapted to your requirements – this may add additional cost).
  • Finance.
  • Project management and construction.

2. Going directly to a builder who can arrange the drawings according to your instructions. Some building companies offer a design and build service giving a fixed price for designing and building the house.

3. Custom-designing your home to your ideas using a registered architect, an architectural designer or an architectural draughtsperson. You then need to decide who is going to build and manage the building process. Architects, and sometimes other designers, offer this service.

Group housing companies

Group housing companies offer a range of standard designs. Some companies will let you change almost anything on the design. Others may not be so keen to alter their standard plans.

Some firms will take care of the entire building process from building consent and local planning compliance to landscaping.

One big advantage of this type of housing is that the price should be exact because you are buying a package (apart from any variations that you ask for after the fixed price has been agreed).

To find a group housing company go to these trade organisations:

Or search the web for individual company websites, or the Yellow Pages.

There are also companies whose business it is to sell house plans.

The advantage of using a stock plan is that it is likely to be tried and true and you can view it as a show home or a private home. However, the design won’t have been done specifically for your section, so choose the plan that will work best with the shape, size and contours of your section.

Using a group or kitset housing company will be cheaper than hiring an architect or other type of designer. However, you may not get the benefit of having a design that entirely meets your specific needs.

Design and build builders

Some builders offer a design service, either drawing the plans themselves or using an architect or designer that they work with to draw the plans.

Builders aren’t usually trained in house design but this option might work for you if you are very clear about the design and specifications. Ask to see examples of their work.

Certain design work must be done or supervised by a licensed building practitioner. There are two levels of design practice depending on the complexity of the project. To find out more go to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Building Performance website.

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Case study

When you ask a builder to quote for a job, be aware that you might be expected to pay for some initial design work before you get the quote (and decide whether to go ahead with that builder or not).

This happened to Mary. She asked a builder for an accurate site plan to build a garage close to a boundary and to quote for the job. Eight months later she was shown a set of building plans that were incorrect. A further six months later, she received a final quote that was quadruple what the builder had originally estimated. She didn’t accept it. She also got a bill for $900 for building plans, although she did not ask for full drawings. She went to a Disputes Tribunal which said it was common practice to pay for building plans before a quote to build was accepted, and ordered her to pay.

Mary was astounded. She talked to two lawyers who both thought she shouldn’t have to pay for something she hadn’t asked for.

If you use a builder to design and build, find out in advance what costs are involved for any early design work in getting to the quote stage.

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