Variations – make sure you’re prepared.

So it turns out there is a word in the English language I previously didn’t think much about, but now realise when you’re building a home it suddenly carries a whole lot more significance. Variation.

According to the dictionary the word variation means ‘A change or difference in condition, amount, or level, typically within certain limits.’ But to those of us who are building it means, ‘This is going to cost you more money.’

As I’m discovering in my ‘building in the real world and not on The Block’ experience, when you change your mind about something, or you want something that’s different to the standard inclusions of your contract, it’s called a variation. And variations can make or break your budget.

I was probably ruined by doing The Block (in so many ways!) because it gave me such a false sense of how the building process works. I mean, of course I knew building an entire kitchen in a week was insane, but it’s the little things that I’ve found to be so different as well. On The Block every decision is made at the last minute and if you change your mind and redo something it’s good drama, so everyone just goes with it. But in the real world no one is as excited about your spontaneous last minute decisions to change things, so if you decide you want to move where your pendant light goes after they’ve cut the hole, that’s a variation. I’m learning in the real world, and understandably, changes to the plan cost time and money.

It’s not just changes at the last minute though (and I haven’t done that many!). It’s anything that falls outside your original contract and agreed price that you should be aware of, because it can catch you out if you’re not prepared. Particularly with the cheaper house and land packages, this can be a huge pitfall. With some of those (you know the ones where you can’t believe you can get a house so cheap) you really do get what you pay for. That’s not to say they’re not an excellent option for people looking to get in to the housing market, they are. But for that price you will only get a very basic list of inclusions and anything else will be considered a variation. This can be a particular issue with things like electrics, where there is only one standard ceiling light and powerpoint per room allocated, or in the bathroom, where only larger tiles are quoted and anything smaller will be an additional expense.

So, when you are working out your contract and budgeting for the overall spend I would definitely advise anyone to budget for variations. Because even those of us who know what we want are bound to have some last minute changes and additions. So, it’s best to be prepared for them.

Here is a list of the areas and examples of where you could expect to encounter cost increases due to variations……

Paint. I wanted white gloss paint on the windows, doors and trimmings, but that requires a minimum of four coats to look good, on unpainted timber, something I didn’t realise when I chose it. The standard most builders budget for is two coats, so if you need extra that will cost more in both paint and labour. Luckily our builder Scott Salisbury Homes’ standard is three coats, but in this instance they’ve had to do four. I was told this would be a variation, but as I really wanted that look I still did it. It”ll look amazing, but next time I will know to expect this.

Lights. I don’t think there has ever been a build where the owners haven’t increased both the lights and the powerpoints that come as standard. But beware, downlights can prove to be expensive! Also, keep in mind if you want switches and points that are nicer than the ‘basic’ range that will probably cost you, as will adding dimmers to your lights. It’s the little things that add up! All building companies have a different package of what they include, with the more prestigious builders typically offering a much higher standard. Either way, this is somewhere that is open to variation based on your tastes and wants, so is something to think about when you’re working on your contract and lighting plan.

Carpet and floors. Again, you get what you pay for and the standard will vary from builder to builder. But, if you’re like me and have expensive taste, chances are you could fall in love with something that is outside the included range. Why do I never pick the cheaper one!

Tiles and tilers. This one came a bit of a surprise to me, but it does make sense. Most builders base their budget for tilers on a standard 600 x 400 tile which is pretty quick and easy to lay. So, if you choose a small mosaic, or subway tile, or anything that requires a more complicated patter, shape or size to lay, it’s going to cost more. So when small tiles and patterns like herringbone are what is on trend, this can be an unexpected cost.

Appliances, fixtures and fittings. Again, most builders have standard packages which include certain brands and ranges for kitchen and bathroom fit outs, so if you want something different it’ll be a variation. Although this one can go up or down depending on what you choose, so you could even save money here if you’re prepared to chose a more economical range.

Finally, another area you should be wary of with extra costs as part of the total build is landscaping. If you have a block with even a slight slope from street level, it will affect your budget with additional soil removal to get a flat surface to build on. Also retaining walls and fences that need concrete plinths to maintain the new level. This can add tens of thousands to the overall costs, so it is definitely another one to be mindful of and discuss with your landscaper upfront.

One thing we’ve found in the process of building our own house is communication is an absolute necessity. Be part of the process of your build. Talk thoroughly with your builder to understand not only what your inclusions are, but also the processes and steps. Don’t allow yourself to be swept away by choosing the colours and textures of the inside – these are just the icing on the cake. It’s the total structure of the home that you want to spend the most time, money and consideration on. You can always upgrade your carpet later!

In other news, everything is tracking along really quickly now and we have a full house of tradies working at the same time. The painters have started on the exterior and ceilings, the kitchen has gone in (I’m keeping that under wraps for now!) all the joinery is pretty much done and the lights go in in the coming days. Now, this is the fun part!


It was all action this week.


Our painters, John and Andrew. I’m so glad they are doing this and not us. They also like to sing while they work, which I appreciate!


In the coming weeks they will take the board off the pool, connect it up and pave around it. I can’t wait to see some grenery, although it will be a while yet before it’s all finished. But we’re getting there!

Amity x


  1. cam says

    Good advice here Amity. My daughter is looking at building their first home. As you say getting into the market using a no deposit builder. Power points im sure will be something she needs to add. And trying to find a level block is going to be a tough ask in our area.
    Btw. What did you decide to go with as the pool surround? Did you stick with uour original choice?
    Cant wait to see the finished product.

  2. Jen says

    We are correctly planning our 4th build. I would definitely add to the list ‘how many light point is my builder allowing’ and ‘how many power points and are they doubles’. House is looking great! Unfortunately I share your expensive taste!

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