Article: Speak Easy

We Want Houses Fast, Good And Cheap.  Can We Only  Pick Two? with Michael BoturWe Want Houses Fast, Good And Cheap.  Can We Only Pick Two? with Michael Botur

People have been going nuts at government and councils because Kiwibuild houses haven’t sprung up quickly enough. Can we really rush homes, though? It would be a disaster if expedited building led to more pollution or more leakiness.

It’s hard to balance quality with speed and low cost.
I have a lot of designer friends and they like to bandy the following phrase around: “Fast, good, cheap: pick two.” What they’re expressing is
• If a client wants a project completed quickly and cheaply, it’s not going to be good
• If a client wants a project completed cheaply and of high quality, it’s not going to be done fast
• If a client wants a project completed high quality and fast, it’s not going to be cheap]

Let’s look at the steps in building a house, then, take a chill pill and reflect on why it is we build our houses slowly, steadily and expensively.
Seven months is the minimum length of time you’ll find Kiwi builders estimate; a year is more common. Within that building year is 20-22 weeks actual hands-on foundations and site prep, framing, roofing, utilities, cladding, interior walls and floor, inspections and approvals.

A basic timeline for building goes like this:
1.Budgeting and the backing of the bank

First few weeks: careful budgeting for the architect, builders, insurers and materials. Can you imagine if every family wanting a KiwiBuild had been given a hard-to-get mortgage by Kiwibank, then halfway through they were told the loan would need to be increased because a turnkey home wasn’t carefully budgeted for? 
From-the-plan designs can take 3-6 weeks to get off paper and into actuality. Bespoke designs can take many more months.

2. Permits and approval
Nobody ever bothers to describe the building consents department at their local council as ‘careful’ or ‘looking out for me.’ The only slant we ever here is that council plans and the RMA create red tape. Even the government has been pushing Auckland Council lately to set aside the Unitary Plan in some parts of that city and speed up development – Housing Minister Phil Twyford will even be empowered to create a new Urban Development Authority.

The statutory clock for building consents is supposed to be 20 working days but requests for additional information and council delays can drag this out to 8 weeks.

2. Ready to begin! Oh wait – Murphy’s Law.
All sorts of obstacles can slow a build – site requirements, delays in contractor availability, anything affecting the supply of building materials, plus labour. With plenty of our housing workforce coming from overseas, any curtailment of a building visa will mean one less worker. If the building crew is five people, one person down means 20% fewer people on the job.

Foundations can have their challenges, especially when earthmoving and/or building on a slope. This can add months. As for the transfer of utilities onto the site, ask your development company if they’ve already gone ahead and got this sussed.
Nearly done? Just add framing, roofing, windows, cladding, downpipes, interior walls, flooring, appliances (deep breath) and paint.

It’s for reasons like this that reliable building franchises like Stonewood Homes say customers should allow 44-47 weeks to get a home built.

So it’s easy for armchair critics to say the government or the RMA or the council are slowing things down, but combine all these steps with a shortage of building and construction staff, and it’s amazing any home can be built in less than a year.

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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