Buying Land : Take Two

I have officially given up on the Wimmera block that I looked at a few weeks ago. The bank isn’t interested. I haven’t been in business long enough, they say. I have been in business three months short of their two year requirement but that isn’t good enough. I expected this to be the outcome.

Not to worry, I am heading back over the border to view another block in the Wimmera region next weekend. This one is much different. It’s around 10 acres, no forest or woodlands to worry about – there is the odd eucalyptus dotted here and there only, and it satisfies all my other criteria. In fact, it’s within walking (and cycling) distance of a large town which has good transport links. Best of all, finance shall not be a problem.

David Bell’s Tiny House

In May, the Herald Sun ran a piece on David Bell’s delightful little tiny house in Birchip, Victoria. It’s one of the most prominent tiny houses in Australia I would say, having received quite a bit of media coverage. After reading an article about David ages ago (before the Herald Sun piece) I got in touch with him. We shared each others stories and I picked his brain for any advice he had for building a tiny house in Australia. Pleasant chap.

Anyways, the reason I write this post is to draw attention to a comment on the above article. The commenter, Susan, says “If he paid $12,500 for that he was ripped off. And as a previous poster said – good luck getting council approval. Not to mention that house would not comply with bushfire regulations – any property in a rural area needs to be assessed for that. But if it makes him happy, good for him.” I want to unpack this comment a little. It’s full of assumptions and error.

$12,500 is a rip off. David’s tiny house wasn’t built solely by himself, I believe. So a good portion of this figure would have gone in labour. I believe the materials David used are all new – those costs quickly add up, a couple of hundred dollars per window, times 3 or 4… You get the picture. It is a nicely finished little house. It was built to spec – in my discussions with David he informed me that he was granted a Certificate of Occupancy by council. Building some McMansion in an outer suburb, in my book, is more of a rip off.

[G]ood luck getting council approval. Well he did. He had it independently inspected by a building surveyor and was granted a Certificate of Occupancy.

[The] house would not comply with bushfire regulations. This is a doozy. Why wouldn’t this house comply with bushfire regulation? (1) The BAL (Bushfire Activity Level) this house is subject to is probably very low, BAL12.5 tops, maybe even a BAL-LOW – it’s in the township, not exactly in the middle of a forest; (2) The cladding of this house is suitable for something at the high-end of the spectrum – I am considering using Colourbond or Zincalume to clad my place and I am faced with around a BAL-19; (3) If it got through council then the BMO (Bushfire Management Overlay) has presumably been addressed.

I’m glad the comment was signed off with “But if it makes him happy, good for him”. I have heard that line many times myself, and appreciate it for the condescending manner in which it is usually delivered. Ah well. David went the right way about building his house and I applaud the council for allowing him to do it. I told my future council (fingers crossed) that I intend to build a tiny house of around 21sq/m. They didn’t flinch. “Great. I’m really excited to see it” was the response.

Update: I’d like to thank Bele for bringing a follow up article, by the Herald, to my attention. Turns out their publicity did David more bad than good. Council approached him with a heap of non-compliances. I sillily presumed that if he had the building approved then he would have addressed every requirement.  Seems he was required to connect to the mains (I really don’t understand why this is a rule for houses in townships?) and install things like a sink, food prep area, shower (I thought he had a small outdoor bathroom) and so on. I couldn’t find any follow up stories online about the outcome of David’s plight. In the article, Buloke Shire Council is quoted as saying that they don’t intend to evict him, they haven’t the power, but they wish to help him meet compliances. I have emailed David to see how he got on.

East Gippsland Block: The One That Probably Got Away

Bit of an update for the folks playing at home. I don’t think the East Gippsland block is going to be a goer. Reason: I want to buy through vendor finance – an option, said the real estate agent. I asked today what terms the owner would consider. He said a 10-15% deposit and the balance paid within 12 months. Nope. Wasn’t going to happen under that term. The block is listed at $20,000. I reckon I can get it down a bit, on the basis of how long it has been on the market and the trouble it is going to be to get through council because of the BMO. Under a vendor finance arrangement I would be prepared to go 20% deposit and a 3-5 year repayment term – a common configuration according to my research. Doesn’t seem this seller is going to budge. Oh well. I shall email them back and say I shan’t bother proceeding. I would expect a bit more negotiation – he is a sales person after all. However, he seems content to sit on this block a while longer

Onto the next interesting plot of land I go… In fact, I am revisiting a couple in a small village that I considered some time ago. I’ll keep you posted.

Building in a Bushfire Zone: The Victorian Regulation

Well that was some interesting bedtime reading. Far from light. I went read through the Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) and Bushfire Protection: Planning Requirements. As I mentioned in my previous post, the block I am looking at in East Gippsland is affected by the BMO.

As I had hoped, it got me thinking. I could submit an application addressing all the criteria – I’m going to use these fancy, BAL*-FZ rated windows, and this fibre cement cladding at $200sq/m. That would put me in good stead to having the application approved. It certainly shows an appreciation of the risk and a commitment to my use of the land.

*BAL Stands for Bushfire Activity Level. The BAL at a particular point is determined by such things as the vegetation class, e.g. forest, scrub, grasslands; gradient of the land; and distance of the proposed building from the vegetation. BAL-LOW and BAL-12.5 are pretty safe. BAL-FZ is extremely risky. 

Fire. Not something to be messed with. This is a picture of the Black Saturday fires that really shook up Victoria.

But the costs. I haven’t priced a BAL-FZ or BAL-40 build yet but I can see it significantly adding to the budget. Considering the size of my proposed dwelling – 18sq/m – it won’t be that much of a blow out, I simply don’t need that many square metres of this higher quality material. However, it will add up and it defies the initial concept. The initial concept was to build a cheap tiny house out of salvaged materials. In short, the sort of place that you could let a bushfire have its way with and not be too upset. The sort of place that could easily be rebuilt – it’s only a house.

I have a feeling, though, that the council wouldn’t take to that idea so well. So I arrive at a cross road – do I keep looking or do I proceed with this one? I believe I can address the criteria satisfactorily. However, is it worth the cost? And, is it worth living in such a risky area?