Having gone through the process of building a home, Emily Jade O’Keeffe shares her survival tips.

A chippy mate once got curt at me for saying that I built a house.

“You didn’t physically build it! The builder did, you just paid for it!” he said in exasperation at my proud ownership of my brand spanking-new home. He was right. I didn’t hammer in the nails, lay the tiles or paint the walls.

What I did do was dream it into existence.

And yes, I also paid for it. In money, time, stress and tears, both happy and sad. But it was all worth it, so much so that I did it again, and again.

Why build is a question I get asked regularly. You see my husband and I have not just built once, but three times – apparently it is one of the most stressful things a couple can do in a lifetime.

The thing is I’ve learnt is that building from scratch rather than renovating is easier both on budget, time, and on your marriage. If you want to take the leap and get your ‘build on’, here is what I have learnt along the way:

1. Like all things in life, you need a great foundation.

Pick land that is easy to navigate, as flat as you can afford with no hidden nasties underground that will cause issues like pool placement. I learnt that the hard way.

2. Select the best, most-qualified architect you can afford.

One that clearly understands your budget, your vision and works with your land so you don’t have expensive costs like dig outs or land fill. You will never retrieve what a buyer can’t see at resale.

3. Make an inspiration scrapbook.

I did it the old-fashioned way with a big black scrapbook and glue. I divided it into different areas for each part of the house, kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms etc. Carry it in the boot, so whoever you are meeting at whatever stage of the build—be it the architect, builder or cabinetmaker—you are able to whip it out and show them what you want.

4. Engaging the right builder is the most crucial part of building a house.

Research their previous works, go to homes they have completed and look at the finished product and get references. Ask questions of previous clients like ‘did they finish on time?’, ‘how happy were you with the finished product?’ and ‘how are they to work with?’ During the build, you see and speak to your builder on a daily basis so you need to have a great working relationship and you need to be confident they are spending your money in the right way giving you the highest quality finished product.

5. Finally, be Zen.

Things go wrong in a build, from rain to the wrong paint colour. The challenge is finding the solution quickly and moving on. No one is perfect and not every trade will get it 100 per cent right. Seek perfection and if it’s 95 per cent there you will have built or (for the sake of my chippy mate) ‘dreamed’ your masterpiece into existence.