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Our new adventure: let’s subdivide and build

So it’s 2021 and to make life a little more interesting and exciting, hubby and I have decided it’s time for a change of scenery. In late 2020 we sold our home of some 20+ years to a developer, having decided that the offer was too good to knock back and at that time, not having the bandwidth to take on the project ourselves. Needing to stay in the neighbourhood and close to the school for just another two years, we decided to rent.

We had two reasons for not jumping straight back into the property market:

  1. With child #3 finishing high school at the end of this year, we knew we are facing the prospect of reinventing our lives post children as “empty nesters”. You see, our children tend to buck the trend of staying at home until they are in their 30’s, and have so far all chosen to move interstate to study once they finish high school. That means we have complete freedom to choose a new neighbourhood of our liking that meets our post-children lifestyle demands.
  2. Having lived in a lovely, large but ageing home for the past two decades, we wanted to see what it was like living in a smaller more contemporary designed house with a distinctly smaller backyard. How small did we want to downsize to, and what would work or indeed annoy us with some of the more modern house design features? This was going to be a “try before you buy” scenario.

Fast forward to January this year and we have turned the tables, recently purchasing a property to build on instead.

Before you start thinking “empty nest syndrome”, I have to confess, it’s pretty exciting being able to sit back and decide where you want to live and create your next home. We knew we had a few key criteria that our new neighbourhood would have to meet. We wanted to be close to the CBD where hubby works; enjoy a neighbourhood cafe and proximity to restaurants, as well as have the chance to head outdoors and enjoy the neighbourhood without having to drive far.

Naturally, we also thought of postcodes and property trends. Where could we live that would allow us the lifestyle we are searching for, but still present mid to long term investment return?

There is a lot to choose from once you head out and start looking. Knowing what it is you want and the key “must have’s” that are non-negotiable, is very important. It made our search a lot easier, with some inspections turning into a 10min walk through knowing from the moment we set foot in the home that it was not what we were looking for.

What we did do though was keep an open mind! Having the freedom to choose almost anywhere to live meant that we had almost too many options open to us, but we did have some ground rules to keep us on track.

A few tips if you haven’t been down this path before:

  • Don’t let biases or what you think you know about a suburb stop you from looking. The reality may surprise you and may in fact have never even thought about a particular area to live in.
  • Drive and walk around the neighbourhood to get a feel of how the streets and suburb works.
  • Go and inspect a lot of different properties in different postcodes. That way you can get a realistic and current feel of what amount of money buys you in various areas.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no, this is not what I am looking for. Most of us form a pretty fast first impression walking into a property. If you hate it or it has some obvious faults (even if just in your eyes), walk away. Don’t waste your time.
  • Take notes as you go and inspect areas and properties. They pretty much all start blurring after a while and you are bound to forget what feature you saw where, or which house had that strange backyard area, or what property was next to that main intersection or roundabout.



Buy – Demolish – Subdivide – Build

After some pretty solid searching across multiple postcode areas, we started to form a good view of what we could expect to get within our price range. Discussions were had, options were debated and a few different scenarios explored:

  1. Buy a new or relatively new house and pay top dollar for someone else having done all the hard work already. Although tempting to walk straight into a gorgeous new home, this just did not make financial sense especially when you consider that very rarely can you find a home that ticks ALL the boxes. There is always something to compromise on, isn’t there?
  2. Buy an older place and do it up? This was not an attractive option having “been there, done that” many times over the past 3 decades.
  3. Find an empty block or property with a knock-down, and build a home that suits our needs and budget. BINGO! We found the perfect property with a very old house that is just waiting to be knocked down and reinvented. The icing on the cake is that the land is large enough to subdivide in two. This means we will be able to buy – demolish – subdivide and build two houses. One will be a place for us to call home, while the other is intended as an investment.

Now comes the hard work – crunching the numbers and planning a concurrent build over the next 18 – 24 months.

Handy tools to help us get started

If you have ever thought about sub-dividing a small scale residential property, I invite you to follow our journey. As with any building project, you need to go in with eyes wide open, do your homework and expect the unexpected. Not everything will go to plan and there will be some speedbumps, but with the right planning, a lot of the pain can be taken out of the equation.

While we are waiting for the settlement to go through we have already started work on our Digital Project Brief. This has been a great process to get our initial ideas out of our head and on paper.

Get started with the Digital Project Brief
Only $19.95 


It also really helps us talk through our individual expectations and wish lists, compromising along the way and really “getting on the same” page before we even approach an architect or builder. We know this is going to be a lengthy and at times, complex project – the clearer, more precise and concise we can be, the easier will it be for our trades and builder to bring our design wishes to life.

So far we have gone through 2 updates of our Digital Project Brief (DPB) It’s great to capture our ideas, but equally important to let it sit, reflect and discuss it with other members of the family too. Even though our children won’t be living there permanently, it will still be their home away from home, so we want them to be part of the discussions. It’s also a good way to stress-test assumptions and preconceptions.

Over the next week or so we will finalise our DPB and get it ready to send off to a selection of builders and architects who we have selected for initial discussions. It will save us a lot of time and effort by being able to send a copy in advance of our meetings and giving the professionals a chance to consider what it is we are looking for. It will also make it a lot easier to compare quotes when they come in, as we will be comparing “apples with apples”.

Another advantage with the DPB will be that it will become pretty quickly apparent which builders are inflexible or not willing to adapt to our design wishes. We will be spending a lot of time and money with whoever we chose, so selecting the right trades and building professionals is absolutely essential.

You will be able to follow our two Project Builds along the way and see how we use the Build in Common Project Brief and Build in Common Toolkits to plan, design, seek quotes, select our builder and trades, budget and eventually build.

In the meantime, we need to think of two project names to distinguish house 1 and house 2. Any suggestions?