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Searching for your Dream Home? Check out Henrico & Chantelle's Top Tips

There’s a lot of information out there about building a new home, making it difficult to figure out what is accurate, and what to take with a grain of salt. Looking back, what our clients Henrico and Chantelle needed was to hear from real people about their experience – the highs and lows, the dos and don’ts. So now that they’re in the position, they wanted to put something out themselves, to help people who are starting the journey of looking for a new home. We’ll let Henrico and Chantelle take it from here…

Henrico & Chantelle’s top 3 tips for building your dream home

  1. Work with a local builder.

  2. Trust your gut! Anyone can build you a house, but you need someone that you trust, with your values, to build your home.

  3. Have a list of priorities for what you want in a home (the must-haves and the things you're willing to let go of). Keep them close by whenever you need to make important decisions.

"The best part is having a fixed-price build contract, meaning our costs will only change if we make a change."

Hi, we’re Henrico and Chantelle. We moved to New Zealand from South Africa in 2008 and are currently living in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. Henrico is an engineer and Chantelle is a stay-at-home mum to our five children, the three older ones we also homeschool. Yep, it’s a busy household. We’re currently in the early stages of our new home build in beautiful Oamaru, but it’s taken us a long time to get here.

Upsizing - out with the old and in with the new

We decided about four years ago that as much as we love our old Victorian 4-bedroom, 1-bathroom home in St Albans, with our growing family, it probably wasn’t going to be our forever home. Our dream was to have a bit of land, enough to grow our own fruit trees and vegetable gardens and be somewhat self-sufficient and sustainable. At this time, Chantelle's parents had just emigrated from South Africa and were close to retirement. With the Rand to NZD conversion being over 10 to 1, any savings for a home were suddenly greatly diminished and nowhere near current house prices. And being approved for a mortgage at their age was not an option. So, we started our search for a new home together. Ideally, we were looking for a property with two dwellings, which was proving hard to come by, and costly. Every home that we looked at in our price range needed something major fixed up or changed. This would have required further financial and time investment, both of which we didn’t have. So we started to consider the possibility of building a new home, as this would be the best way to ensure we got exactly what we wanted and needed.

Finding a section that ticks all the boxes – where to buy cost-effective property in New Zealand

With Henrico working remotely and the kids homeschooled, it meant we had the freedom to move anywhere, so we really did consider anything and everything. It was important that the house met our needs, but to us, the area was the most important thing. We needed somewhere we could feel safe and stable. We first looked around us in Canterbury, but the prices were exorbitant. Then the Waimakariri District changed their subdivision rules and suddenly the smallest section we could get was 8ha – unfortunately well out of our price range. We began searching around the whole South Island – Central Otago, the West Coast, even Gore! Our search even took us back to the North Island. Eventually, we stumbled across 4 hectare sections in Totara, just out of Oamaru, for a reasonable price. After a bit of research, we found that Oamaru had everything we could want. There were plenty of nearby hikes, activities for the kids, the cycle trail for Chantelle’s Dad who’s an avid cyclist, right near the beach, nearby lakes, close to our favourite holiday spots in Central Otago, and a medical centre handy while only being an hour and a half away from tertiary healthcare and the airport in Dunedin. Anyone we spoke to had nothing but good things to say about Oamaru. And everyone we dealt with was so kind and helpful, from the real estate agent to the cafè staff. By then we were sold that Oamaru was the right place for us and the kids.

Finding the right team – what to consider when choosing a new home builder

With our dream section a done deal, the next step was finding someone to build our dream home. We began the process with a building company in Christchurch, who quoted us $400k to build one of their existing plans on our section. We thought this was pretty good, but then as we progressed, they kept rising their price until it reached $550k excluding services! We tried many other companies, most of which were based in Christchurch or Dunedin. The more we dealt with these companies, the more we found hidden costs, items not included in the quote and endless “small print”. We started to wonder if we were being unrealistic about the build cost and finally decided to search for local builders in Oamaru. We came across McBrimar Homes, and our first impressions were good. We liked the look of the family business and could relate to Mike and Kristina with their young kids in tow. We found them knowledgeable and helpful, but not too pushy.

As a risk-averse couple, our belief was that there would be less risk involved with bringing in a large company from the city. Our perspective was that smaller, local companies were not able to give us the same risk assurances and guarantees and would cater for high-end clients – which we definitely were not. We wanted a simple, warm home for our family that didn’t cost the Earth. What we would therefore love to highlight is that the local builder is not riskier, isn't more expensive or harder to deal with – but quite the opposite. Our experience was that they were more aligned with our values. Their end result was not to sell a house but to build a home. For McBrimar, we found this to be true from the way they do business, the connections they have and the relationships they build. This will be invaluable for other people in the market and wish we'd known this from the get-go.

Essentially what sealed the deal for us with McBrimar was the price of the build. At this stage, we had actually already paid a deposit to another builder to commence with one of their existing plans. Despite this, we could still justify going forward with McBrimar because even sacrificing the deposit, we would save tens of thousands of dollars on the build cost and get what we actually wanted. Together we ended up designing a bespoke plan, which still ended up more cost-effective. Our bank was happy because all of their standard requirements were easily met – McBrimar is a Registered Master Builder and offers a fixed-price contract with no hidden conditions. Despite us still living in North Canterbury throughout the whole design and sales process, McBrimar’s communication was exceptional. Thank goodness for Zoom! We quickly realised so many more benefits of working with a local company, particularly their knowledge of the area. Mike and the team thought of things we would never have considered, like the local prevailing winds. They also had local knowledge and connections which were important to us. Trust was a huge factor for us. Being a three-hour drive away, we obviously won’t be able to make it to site often, and we have our full trust in the McBrimar team to manage our build.

Our new home plan has everything we’d dreamed of – 2 living areas, 3 huge bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 3 toilets (essential for 5 children!), timber cladding and even some passive features. And that’s just our wing of the house – Chantelle’s parents also have their own 80sqm two-bedroom home. All together, this has cost us $1.1 million for two homes, including our 4 hectares of land – so we only paid $720,000 and Chantelle's parents only $385,000. And the best part is having a fixed-price build contract, meaning our costs will only change if we make a change. We are so incredibly grateful to the McBrimar team for making our dream possible and we’re so excited to see our home come together!

The Van Niekerk family on freshly broken ground which will soon be their dream home.


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