jenn jay tales

Jennifer Johnston shares her travel tales; life adventures; observations, photos and random thoughts


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Renovation – the home run

Don’t dream it’s over

Love that the Crowded House song and thankfully I’m not dreaming, the (BIG) reno project is almost over! All that is left is the waft of paint fumes and clutter of painter’s trestles and paraphernalia as the painters finish the outside. A few walls are showing one of the fifty shades of grey I chose as my house colour! It won’t be long and I can remove the project manager hat. Hard to believe after 18 months the project is almost complete. I say almost as the external house paint is work in progress. The start date for that was delayed but I’ve learnt over the course of this project you just roll with delays.  Landscaping, some storage stuff to sort and the left over stainless steel security grills and old pool fencing lying around the spare block are still to be dealt with.  Next year (ha ha which is tomorrow!)

Oh and then there’s the spare block to develop. One of the major reasons I went down the renovation path on my old house, was to create a block of land to sell at a later stage.  There is still the registering of the title, the connection of utilities – including the big job of sewerage connections – and the clearing of “all encumbrances.” This involves removing the remaining slab and retaining walls!  A wee excavation project in a few year’s time, provided I can get the extension on the DA (development application) to allow me a bit of breathing space.

the spare block - the next project!

the spare block – the next project!

So what’s happened since my last blog post?

June 2016

June 2016

The downstairs areas became more than a skeleton. Walls and floorboards were added.  Decisions had to be made fast on the width of the downstairs bathroom and whether to add a bath or not. Thanks to a persistent friend (Kelie – yes you) the bath was ordered. Rather than going into the boy’s bathroom downstairs, the new free-standing bath was added to my en-suite.  There is hope I will have time to “enjoy” baths in the future. I’ve not been one for luxuriating in a bath tub unless it’s in a ****hotel room. It was fun testing baths for suitability. (If I was to be installing a bath it was going to be the right “fit!”) Continue reading


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Renovation Project gets a Green Light

The renovation roller coaster

And I thought trying to establish myself as a Freelance writer in my late 40’s was challenging!  Maybe not as challenging as getting my house renovation project to the stage where it is becoming a reality – not just some slightly delusional half-baked notion I have to downsize.

I wrote a post about this in May 2015: “Crazy times ahead.” I must have psychic abilities because the past six months have been crazy. And I’m know when the project actually begins, it will become even crazier.

A refresher:

I’m hoping to achieve a renovation on my home which involves four stages:

  1. A partial demolition of the post 1946* section of the house
  2. Raising the house and shifting it nearly four metres to the north and one meter to the west
  3. Completely renovating the underneath and making a few changes to the upstairs area
  4. Creating a subdivided “spare” block to sell at a later stage.

*Post 1946 regulation applies to houses in Brisbane.  Any houses built prior to 1946 cannot be demolished – unless there are structural issues. The local council created this legislation to retain the street scape character of our city by keeping the “older” houses.

This shows the side of the house and the section to the right that will be removed. That section was built after 1946.

The to be demolished section

The to be demolished section

This is how it should look.

The architect's drawing of the finished product.

The architect’s drawing of the finished product.

So you can see this is not a small project for me the one woman Project Manager!

Finding an Engineer

I sought a few quotes for the engineering and was very lucky to have been given the name of an Engineer by a builder who was quoting for the job.  Why do I say lucky? Because he’s been one of the most genuine, honest people I have met since undertaking the project.  For starters he came to the house on the weekend, dressed accordingly.

My engineer arrives in style to mark up where my steel reinforcing is required!

My engineer arrives in style to mark up where my steel reinforcing is required!

The advice he provided over the following months as drawings floated back and forth between my architect and this engineer were gold. And his warped sense of humour made me smile in the stressful moments! During this time-consuming process, it’s been a pleasant surprise to come across such genuine people. The same can be said for my architect.

Finding a builder

Business is booming in Brisbane’s renovation world and builders who are good at what they do are often booked 6-12 months in advance. Because they can choose which jobs to take on they can charge what they want.  It depends on whether they want the job and as I found, even if they come to your house and go through your plans with you, it doesn’t mean they will get back to you with a quote.

Over the last five months I contacted 15 builders to discuss the project. They were recommended by friends, friends of friends, other builders, even my architect recommended a few.  I have driven past houses being renovated that are similar to mine slowing down to take photos of builder’s signs to give them a call.

I found the builders I had to chase for a quote were either:

a) too busy and not really interested or

b) too busy and finding it a challenge to make the time to do the paperwork.

Both disheartening situations.

Of those 15 builders that came through the house, going through the plans on average 1-1.5 hours each visit, I received four genuine quotes!  Through the recommendation of a design person who came to the house to discuss ideas, I also engaged the services of a quantity surveyor. I paid for him to give me a price with items listed individually – a handy benchmark to use against the other builder’s quotes.

Information Overload

By this stage, it became really confusing for me. How can there be such variances in quotes for a job with the same set of plans? I am very fortunate a friend offered to look through the quotes. Being in the building game himself he gave me sound advice. The builder may want the job but they build “fat” into the quote – where they think they can get away with it.

Why wouldn’t you?

I’m not implying the builders who ended up quoting for me didn’t want the job. They put a great deal of time and effort into giving me what they considered their best price to complete the renovation. They also answered many questions from me and I would have been happy working with all of them.

I had to consider the builder and I will be in a close working relationship for the next 4- 6 months.  Plus they will be managing a project that will be one of the biggest investments in my life!

At the end of the day you have to trust your gut instinct. Having worked in Human Resources before I’ve trusted my instincts when it comes to hiring people for a specific role. I drew on these HR skills to help make a decision with my builder – reference checking, looking at their past work. But the biggest consideration in all of this is my budget!  It took a little time but my decision is made.

Having selected the builder, the weight has lifted – but not for long, the next stage will be signing that contract – locking in to the project.

Then packing up a house with an accumulation of 16 years of “stuff.”

Fun times ahead.