Project managing your dream home like a boss

Our resident Amico Nikesh, chats with Tracy Emmanuel about building her dream home…

Tracy Emmanuel

Tracy Emmanuel

On a bright Saturday morning that has farewelled the winter blues, Tracy Emmanuel is admiring the light filtering through her large north facing French windows. I am one of the first people outside of Tracy’s family to get a tour of the home in progress and I like what I see. I am beaming with pride at my friend’s achievement because Tracy is project managing the building of her home, a concept which would transform a lot of adults into a whimpering mess.

Nikesh: What does a home mean to you?

Tracy: A home is a warm place of comfort. A private sanctuary filled with memories and treasures that reflect your life and what you love. It is also a fun and welcoming space to share with friends and family. I’d like to feel comfortable enough to walk around naked and also have friends visit, although probably not at the same time.

Nikesh: Instead of relying on a builder, you have taken on the responsibility of project managing the construction of your lovely home. What motivated you to go down this path?

Tracy: I hate being ripped off.

We did a lot of research into the actual construction costs of building a house in Canberra and compared that against what builders were asking. We then added another 10% onto our estimate and still could not see why they wanted so much except to make a clean profit of around $60,000. We decided to project manage and keep our 60K.

I also wanted extra care taken to reduce heating costs that builders did not want to do or charged a ridiculous amount for, even though it was actually a low cost addition. It came down to, if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself.

The final decision was also made because of my dad. He project managed the construction of his first house in South Africa in 1974. Since then he’s overseen the build of our current family house and countless renovations. He knows a lot about building houses, project management, research and most importantly, perseverance.
He also had the time.

I work all week and cannot be at the construction site and dealing with a multitude of issues all at the same time. You need someone with time, and being retired, my dad stepped into that role. He’s the real project manager, I’m the second-in-charge.

Nikesh: I suck at putting an Ikea bookcase together. How does one project manage the construction process for a medium sized home?

Tracy: You treat it as a staged process and hire qualified tradespeople. Build the base, the walls, then the roof. Simple.

Just kidding. It’s not that simple.

You accept that you will lose most of your personal time and have two jobs. At lunchtime, any spare moment in the day and when you get home from your day job, you do your house building job. Researching is key, understanding each stage, asking experts, exploring your options, making decisions, getting quotes, employing contractors, checking up on them, fixing mistakes which might be from your own miscommunication or theirs, accepting what you cannot change and moving forward.

I can’t imagine doing it alone. It’s not constant stress, you do have lulls when it rains or when there are breaks in the process but it is a project that is always on your mind. You experience a complete shift in perspective. It is like being a parent obsessed with their child and all things associated with its development. But it’s also amazingly rewarding, funny, beautiful, powerful, exciting and awe inspiring when you see your house taking shape from a bare block of dirt.

Nikesh: Has it been a fairly smooth process?

Tracy: In a word, no.

There have been mistakes and setbacks and tradies that refuse to answer your calls and even pleas to do the work they were paid for. We’ve fired people and found even better replacements. Luckily we didn’t pay them all the money up front. The first lesson is to push for progress payments only. The next is to double check, re-measure and compare every contract you are asked to sign off on. Never assume the experts will do their job correctly (especially window companies and drainers).

Nikesh: Other than your lovely family, who else has helped make this dream come true?

Tracy: My partner, friends, workmates. You need support from all directions. It helps so much to have someone ask about the project, kindly listen to your setback/frustrations, offer to assist in any small way or come by to see and celebrate the progress.

You also need a tradie friend who will tell you the truth. Hard to find, but we found one, an electrician. He is incredibly helpful and kind and an absolute gem.

Nikesh: What are the features/rooms you are looking forward to enjoying the most, when your house is complete?

Tracy: My en suite with the beautiful skylight, having friends over to enjoy the sunroom that faces north to maximise sunlight, sitting out on the deck looking at the distant mountains that were recently pointed out to me but were always there, cooking in the new kitchen I designed and all the lovely new space to walk through.

Nikesh: When is your palace going to be ready to host a housewarming party? (I hope there is black forest cake on the menu)

Tracy: It’s amazing how the months and weeks fly by. It’s a massive project, even bigger than I imagined. Hopefully in the next three months there will be a party, even if everyone is happily sitting on the floor.

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