Building a new home in Brisbane

Building a new home in Brisbane

Tips and Advice, New Homes

This fortnight we welcome Sarah to our team at dion seminara architecture. Like many Brisbane property owners, Sarah has had her individual experiences with renovations and building. Today she shares her story.

Ok, so I have a confession to make.Building a new home in Brisbane

Before I started working for an architectural firm, before I understood what an architect really does, I built a new house. Admittedly this was ten years ago; I was younger, enthusiastic that I knew exactly what I wanted and how to make it happen.

I had met architects. I thought I knew what they did. I thought I did not need an architect because I knew what I wanted.

I could adequately communicate how I wanted things to be. Where the kitchen was to be located, how many bedrooms I wanted, how large I wanted the back deck to be, where to place the internal and external stairs… I knew it all. I was on a small lot. I read the code, and I had made my own plans – yes – I made my own plans of how the house was to be. How clever!

Yes. I knew what I wanted, and off I went – straight to the builder! That’s right: the builder. I researched builders, found a few I liked. That was just too easy. I thought I was pretty smart and told my husband I had it covered. Just come with me and we can have the home built, I said.

The building company had an in-house design team; they had a display home that we could walk through. We liked what we saw.  I was mesmerised by the new home ideal – the freshly painted rooms, the gorgeous kitchen with new appliances and the new furniture. I could see the future of all things new and fell in love. The building company even offered a steel frame which was one of our non-negotiables.

So with them ticking my wish list of what I thought was important, I convinced my husband we were on the right track. We paid them $7,000 to commence the sketch design for our dream home.  We told them our budget. They, of course, said, “Yes, we can give you everything you have asked for within that budget.” We were on our way to having the home of our dreams.

A few weeks later we went back to the display home to review the plans they had drawn up. This was where we got the shock of our lives. Our proposed budget had doubled! There was no way we could afford what they had proposed. There was no way we were willing to borrow more money. So what were our options? We were left to tell the salesman (Oh, that’s right – forgot to mention we were dealing with a salesman…), we had to say we could not afford what they had produced and, they needed to make some changes.

They of course agreed to make some changes to fit within our budget. Weeks later the next meeting was held. What was the result – they removed the floor coverings, window furnishings, made the rooms smaller, the overall house smaller and then provided us with a plan that was completely unliveable and still OVER budget. $200K over budget!

What could we do?

We walked away. Yes, we walked away from $7000 with absolutely nothing to show for it. We could not take the plans because they belonged to the Builder, regardless of us having paid for them!

So…. off we went to another builder. Crazy but true!

We were 4 months down the track by this stage. The original home had been demolished as the first builder said it would give him a better understanding of the block, so we were paying rent, paying for temporary fencing, paying for storage, paying a mortgage, had lost $7000 and were in dire need of a new house design.

This second builder heeded our words that we were not going over our budget, which was now shrinking by the week!

They drew up the plans as I had drawn them. Tick.

They said they could build the home within our budget. Tick.

We signed the contract and thought we were on a winner. I was feeling pretty clever again!

As the home was being constructed many issues kept popping up because the builder went off the concept that I drew (and I am not a draftsperson or any kind of design extraordinaire.) When the draftsperson drew up my plans they did not take into account things like the amount of air-conditioning ducting required or the fact that the water tank under the driveway would require an engineer and concrete piers to suspend the drive over the tank. Each step of the way something would pop up that would result in us having to attend site to make changes as we went. Each change cost us more money. Each change increased the amount of time for the build.

At this point, I am not feeling so clever, and my husband is not very impressed with me at all!

Why didn’t the building designer at the Building Company mention all these issues? Were they not aware of these problems? To this day I do not know the answer to these questions.

Finally, the house was constructed and ready for hand-over. And it certainly was a very nice house – because new houses are always very nice to the untrained eye. The fresh paint, the brand new fixtures and fittings, everything is clean, and everything seems perfect. We were willing to try and forget the amount we went over budget, luckily the bank kept lending! We just needed to tighten our belts to afford the repayments. But this was to be our dream home, and at this point we were feeling happy.

As the months went by it quickly became apparent that the home was defective.

As lovely as the fresh paint was, almost daily I found myself complaining (to myself!) Simple things like the laundry being too far away from the external clothesline. The windows above the stairs on the western side quickly bleached the beautiful timber staircase to the point they needed to be sanded and sealed again. The heat penetrating through the fixed windows each afternoon made the home feel like a sauna. The list goes on…

So what was my single biggest mistake? I did not get professional advice.

The builder – as good as they were at construction – they knew nothing of design. I knew nothing of design. But they still went off my plan and did not change a thing. They offered no advice. They really offered no service at all in this regard. And this is the most integral stage of a new house – the design stage.

Getting the design right to begin with – that was my biggest mistake.

So for my next home, I will certainly be getting professional advice from the very start. Spending money at the beginning to get the right design would have saved us thousands in the long run. We would not be looking to build again if the house was right!

I hope you haven’t had a similar experience and spent a fortune on a home that does not work for you. If you are even thinking about building (or renovating – as I am sure the same mistakes can be made) be sure to contact an experienced architect who understands design and, more importantly lifestyle design. Don’t make the same mistake I made.

Just one phone call could have made all the difference. We could have taken on board an advice session. We would then have learnt about how the design of our home would be lived in. And, kicking myself, we could have actually saved money through the tendering process that Dion offers. If you are thinking of building a new home in Brisbane, give me a call on 3899 9450 and I will introduce you to Dion Seminara. He is a very talented architect and I can assure you he will be designing my next home!

Dion Seminara Architect


Hi, I am Dion Seminara, practicing architect and licensed general builder for 20 years as well as an environmental sustainable design (ESD) expert. I graduated from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with honours, QLD in 1989. Registered as an architect in 1991 and registered as a builder in 1992, I am also a fellow member of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). Having received 12 ArCHdes Residential Architecture Awards, LJ Hooker Flood Free Home Design Award and the 2016 AIA Regional Commendation for Public Architecture, my expertise with both residential renovation (to all types of houses, especially Queenslanders, 50s/60s/80s), new contemporary homes and luxury residences has earned me a reputation as one of Brisbane's architectural specialists in lifestyle design architecture, interior design and landscape design.