Design & build: Chasing a dream

The Block NZ 2012 winner Ben Crawford and his girlfriend Kylie are building their dream home. Share their proud moments and pitfalls here every week.

Roll up your checked shirts and dust off your tool belts: I'm building a house. It's not going to be any old home, though. With my girlfriend Kylie we're trying to build our dream home on a slice of unconventional paradise in the heart of Auckland's East Coast Bays.

As first-time builders, we haven't made the task easy for ourselves by buying one of the most daunting sections imaginable, so we're under no illusion how difficult it's going to be. In fact, I'm sure if you've built your own home before you're nodding in collective agreement right now. But challenges create opportunities, right?

Every week in Living I'll share with you all the highs and inevitable lows as we bring our dream to life. We're also filming the whole adventure and new episodes will be regularly released on bravenewbuild.co.nz and ourdreamhome.co.nz. It will be one heck of a journey and we're excited, but also a little nervous.

But first things first, let me introduce you to Kylie. You can say what you like about reality TV, but The Block NZ has been pretty good to me. First my bank account has been very grateful since that wonderful auction night two years ago, enabling me to set up the business I'd always dreamed of and allowing me to save for a house.

I've also been able to share my thoughts with you in this newspaper and I've been introduced to some amazing people. But no one is as amazing as Kylie.

We met during The Block NZ 2012 open homes after she queued for hours to look through the Takapuna house renovated by my sister Libby and me. I'd spotted Kylie 10 rows back among all the children and it was a case of attraction at first glance.

Kylie is a primary school teacher and when she finally reached the front of the line she gave me an envelope jammed full of good luck messages from her pupils, plus an invitation to talk to the class. During the visit a few days later we got on really well, but I mistakenly thought she was wearing a wedding ring, so I left very deflated.

The "good ones" are always taken, I thought. It wasn't until a few months later, coincidentally on my birthday, that we ran into each other again. After awkwardly asking her if she was still married and discovering she never had been, I gave myself an internal high-five and we've barely been apart since. Fate is a wonderful thing.

I love real estate and have done four renovations now, but I've never lived in my own home. Likewise, Kylie has been fascinated with property for years and was looking to buy a house too. So about a year ago we started looking around for what we could afford.

Countless forests have already been destroyed writing about housing affordability so I won't go on about that, except to say we couldn't find anything even remotely close to what we wanted for the budget we had.

Then we found "The Section". Well, Kylie did, actually. She sent me a link to the listing but it sounded too good to be true - 1379sq m in Castor Bay, a mere stroll to the beach, complete with its own stream and forest. We hadn't been thinking about building but I instantly replied, "don't tempt me".

You know that feeling you get when something just "feels right"? Well that's what we had when we first checked out the section, despite the entire plot of land being covered in head-high overgrowth. If it wasn't for the driveway and for sale sign you'd never know there was a section hidden in there.

As we ventured deep into the tangled mess, the most lovely diffused light started streaming through the bush canopy above us. The resident tui and bellbirds were in full song as the stream bubbled at our feet, creating a soundtrack we pictured waking up to every morning.

Despite being rough around the edges, we knew this huge chunk of land provided us with an amazing opportunity to create a special home. How many sections this size in Auckland have a stream and mature bush and are so close to the beach?

I think Kylie thought I was a little nuts when I suggested that we integrate the stream into the design by building either side of it then connecting each independent "pod" together with a glass bridge over the waterway. We parked at the beach and I began sketching my ideas into an old exercise book. Many iterations later we still loved the concept and titled the book Ben and Kylie's Dream Home.

Keen to work with the site and not against it, we wanted to maximise the incredible natural assets it provided us. So we put the kitchen, dining and living areas on the sunniest side of the stream, opening them out towards the water and bush beyond, and slipped the bedrooms and bathrooms below the bush canopy on the opposite side.

But who were we to design our own home? Could we actually do this? Would we be able to afford it? Can you build a house over a stream or even build beside one? It will flood at times so how do we work around that? So many questions but the prospect was incredibly exciting.

Our enthusiasm wasn't even dampened when we returned to the section and learned from a neighbour that the property had been on the market for more than six years. Offers had fallen through and it had been passed in numerous times at auction because people thought it was too difficult to build on. I smelt a massive challenge and a massive opportunity at the same time.

We couldn't get the idea out of our heads and were thinking about our dream home every spare moment. Sometimes you make choices and those choices make your life. This felt like one of those choices.

Either we throw it into the too-hard basket or we give it a shot. What did we have to lose? A lot, I guess, if we bought a section that couldn't be built on.

However, we thought that if we could secure the land with a conditional offer, it would allow us the time to do our due diligence and ensure we could build what we hoped to build while giving us the security of "an out" if it all turned to custard.

Plucking some figures out of the air we estimated how much the house would cost to build and what a bank might loan us.

The numbers were adding up surprisingly well if we could get the section for a good price. We optimistically calculated that we could construct a brand new home for the same amount we had been looking at paying for nearby houses that needed huge renovations on top of the purchase price.

So we put in a cheeky offer. It was for half the original asking price, a four-month due diligence clause and zero per cent deposit. We hadn't even spoken to a bank at this stage so included a finance condition. Surprisingly, we heard back immediately with a "yes"
and suddenly we were the conditional owners of a slice of paradise.

Woah, that was easy! Our dream was one step closer to reality and we were pumped. But now what? Sorting out a mortgage with a bank would be a good place to start, along with a chat with the council, we figured.

Or would it be these very same people who would shatter our hopes in seconds and add our names to the long list of couples who had already been defeated by this intimidating section? I guess you'll have to follow our story next week to find out.

Watch episode 1 of Ben & Kylie's Brave New Build below:

Video


Herald app users tap here to view the video.

Find out more about Ben and Kylie's dream home at ourdreamhome.co.nz.

Living the dream

Everyone has a dream home, right? To Ben and Kylie, right now it's a bare section and a gutsy plan. If you've got lofty plans of your own to build or buy, you need to find out how to make that dream a reality.

Whether it's a family home, an inner city apartment or an eco-friendly tree house, the first hurdle to overcome is paying for it. You might need to start saving for a deposit or find out how much you are able to borrow. The Kiwibank First Home Buyer's Guide explains all the home loan jargon and has the information you need to be making the right decisions.

You don't have to go through the home buying process alone. Friends and family who have bought houses can provide advice about what to do. Just remember to double check anything you're told so you're not being put wrong.

Follow Kylie and Ben's journey to see how not even a bush covered, flood-prone section can stop their dream home coming to life. They're up for the challenge, are you?

For more information on the Kiwibank First Home Buyer's Guide visit: kiwibank.co.nz and search for "first home".

- Herald on Sunday

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