Moving a house – Part 5: The ugly house is renovated

When the excitement of moving a house wore off, what was left was the renovation ahead. Our partners weren’t really in a hurry to renovate but even so, I’m sure there were times when it seemed to take an age. Contractors came in to move walls, replaster, waterproof, install decks, install gardens and grass.

The house’s old kitchen, dining and living were typical of its age. Closed in. The walls were removed and the rooms and opened up. The bathroom and separate toilet were in terrible condition. Both were renovated and a new ensuite was created taking some space from another bedroom. It was exciting to see. I love the process of transforming spaces – although I must say I like it to happen quickly and for it to be over with. I’m impatient for the beauty – and the rental income!

We had some terrific fun helping on some weekends. We installed kitchen cabinets, planted trees and painted. The result was a total transformation and a success for our partners. And by the time we finished, there was no issue with having a champagne at the property. It was just lovely, and ready to become home to lucky tenant.

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Our daughter’s childhood has been marked by a number of house projects. She used to be much more easy-going about it than she is now. As I write this, she’s still a child. If I ask her whether she wants to come for a drive with me on the weekend nowadays, she is likely to look at me suspiciously and say ‘what for mum? We’re not going to look at houses are we?’

As our partners finished up, and the new tenant moved into the house, I couldn’t have been happier. Our partners had helped me live one of my dreams – of moving a house. I was now preparing for the next part of the adventure. I could hardly sleep with excitement. Not content with moving an old house, I had ordered a manufactured house which would arrive in four pieces on the back of a truck just a month or two later.

Moving a house – Part 4: ‘Voila’ – the house is moved!

The house movers are magicians

After waiting through the approvals process and finally getting the seal of approval, the day came when the house was to be moved.

The house moving company arrived and things happened quickly. First, they dismantled the brick ‘skirt’ around the base of the house, which had really just been put there to hide the piers. Funny, I never realised that – I always thought they were somehow structural!

The house with its ‘skirt’ removed

Because the house was being moved on the block itself, we didn’t need to take it on the road and the trees on our block had been cleared, the house didn’t need to be cut. We thought this was an advantage as it reduced the damage that could result.

Now I’ve seen houses on trucks before, but this one was different. We were moving the house about 20 metres and rotating it by 90 degrees from east-facing to north-facing. The house moving company created a big steel frame and placed it under the house, so when it was lifted off the piers, it had structural support. Then they placed a couple of enormous steel girders under the house, which must have had rollers on them, but I can’t remember noticing them, and began to inch the house towards its new location.

House on girders. Can you make out the steel frame supporting the building at the bottom left hand side of the house?
Our partner on the subdivision, enthusiastic as ever about the project!

The excavators came in to do final levelling at the house’s new location, and the pier holes had to be dug. The certifier was called in to check the pier holes were of the right depth and in the right location to match the plans.

Of course, as soon as all that started, the weather took a turn for the worse and we had some of the heaviest rain in recent years. Excavators got bogged, bigger ones were called in, and the whole block turned into a quagmire.

The rain fell and fell and fell – and created a total bog on site

If you’re going to do work like this, you need to have good imagination. There were many times when I wondered how on earth our block was ever going to look nice again.

I’m always learning and amazed what specialists can do. I thought you could only pour cement in fine weather. Well it turns out that’s not right, and the footings for the new house were poured in torrential rain. Apparently, you use a different type of cement that goes off quickly. It was another reminder that there is a solution to every problem.

After that the new steel piers were installed, and the house continued on its journey on the girders. I was disappointed that I was at work and I didn’t see the house movers do the final rotation of the house or lift it onto the new piers. The neighbours had the joy of that, and for me is a mystery that still remains.

My 5 year-old daughter with one of the house-moving team
Job done. My it all looks bleak and lonely. Now for the clean up

A new canvas for a house renovation

At the end of about two weeks, our partners on the subdivision had a house in a new location, and I had had the joy of being part of a dream come true. How fortunate I am to have friends open to new things! The house looked a pretty stark and lonely in a sea of dirt, but it was the beginning of a new life. It had survived the move with only a couple of hairline cracks in the gyprock. Rotating the house by 90 degrees made a tremendous difference to the light inside.

The house already felt airier and brighter. However, the property hadn’t been updated for ages. Amongst other things there was a mould problem. There was an exciting road ahead to bring the house up to a comfortable, modern standard for a tenant.

Our own private certifier, our daughter, approves the move

Moving a house – Part 3: Getting approval to move a house

The value of specialists in getting planning approval

Even though we were just moving the house from one location to the other on what was essentially the same block of land, we had to meet requirements designed to make sure that the process is well considered and the end result will be safe.

By this time, we understood there is usually a raft of paperwork required to get residential building work approved. My view is that it’s a good idea to get experts to help with the paperwork both to speed up the process and increase the chance of a good result. It’s a bit like defending charges in a court of law. I would recommend using specialists. You can save money by doing it yourself, but you may end up with a less favourable outcome!

Convincing the authorities requires detailed plans

The names of processes differ a bit from state to state on Australia, but the fundamentals are common across the states. In most cases, there are two parts to a building approval. I’ll use NSW terms here, and if you are in another state, you will just need to substitute different terms.

The first process is to get a Development Approval (DA) which a fancy way of describing get approval for a thorough concept plan of your intention. At a high level, it shows how the project will meet Council guidelines. Your approval, when it arrives, will contain a host of council-imposed conditions that you must meet. In the council area we were working in north of Sydney, DA approvals took approximately 12 weeks.

When that’s approved, you go back to council to get a Construction Certificate (CC), which contains even more detail as to how everything will go together, including how you comply with council’s DA conditions. In our council area, CC approvals took approximately 12 weeks. So there’s a fair bit of waiting.

Convincing the Council requires a few important documents, outlined here:

ReportDescriptionWho
Statement of Environmental EffectsA description of how the proposed development meets Council guidelinesIndependent town planner
Geotechnical report



Analysis of the soil and geology to inform decisions about the type and depth of piers that you needGeotechnical engineer
Arborist reportShows location, type and health of trees on the land and your intention to keep or remove themArborist
Architectural plansPlan of internal and external features of the house in its new location, from all directions, including any new decks, stairs, and ancillary features such as garagesDraftsperson (cheaper) or architect
Engineering plans for civil worksEngineering plans showing where power, water, sewer and driveways will be located and proving they meet council requirementsCivil Engineer
Engineering plans for houseShows the number and type of footings you plan to use. Note: We already had an engineer helping us with the civil works for our subdivision, but at the suggestion of the house mover, we used their engineer to prepare the plans for moving the house. Both engineers were aware of what the other was proposing so our plans were integrated.Civil Engineer
So exciting – an example of our council approved plans to move the old house and rotate it by 90 degrees

The costs of the approval process

I think you could get away with spending about $20,000 Australian dollars, but it could easily be more – that is, at least $10,000 per application. That covers the costs reports provided by the specialists and the consideration fees that had to be paid to council. Council required payment of fees to consider the proposals and documentation for both the DA and CC. At the DA stage, they also charged a compulsory advertising fee, because they wrote to the neighbours and put an ad in the local paper about the proposed development, so that everyone was informed.

Wow, you might say, that’s a lot! But the cost of making safe plans requires specialists, and that requires money. There are other costs associated with moving houses, especially related to finance, which I’ll cover in a later article.

You might be able to reduce some of that by preparing some of the documentation yourself. But, as I’ve mentioned, there can be risks with that – it may slow down your process, or even result in your plans being refused.  

Moving a house – Part 2: ‘D-Day’ Could the house be moved?

The house mover I called had always been responsive whenever I had called them about possible house moves. They could have viewed me as a tyre-kicker but they never did.

The company is a family business based in NSW and they sent their father out to look at the house. He’s been moving houses for years – even spent a stint in the US apparently – where they move some serious buildings. He walked around it and under it. We followed nervously while he prodded and poked, nodded and chatted away. He pointed out that even though it was built in the 50s or 60s, it was vinyl clad. The vinyl had been installed over something that wasn’t asbestos, which was unusual, and it was a good thing.

Can you move a house with asbestos?

I learned tons of things from him, including that because of the health risks they don’t move houses that are clad with asbestos (fibro) if it’s necessary to cut the house. But there’s a way around everything if you’re committed. The fibro can be removed before the house is transported.

Since then, I’ve also learned that if a house has fibro on the outside, it’s likely to have fibro on the eaves and the inside walls. Moving a house like that would probably entail removing the fibro inside and out, and you would just move the timber skeleton – the framing, floors and windows. It’s expensive to replace all that stuff, so it would need to be weighed up carefully.

On the positive side, re-cladding isn’t as expensive as you might think (approx. $7,000 for external cladding for an average house), and it may still cheaper than building a new house or at least worth considering. And if you’re back to the frame you can also insulate the house and increase energy efficiency.

However, our house, which did have fibro on the inside walls, didn’t need to be cut because it wasn’t going on the road. It could just could be moved from one place to the other on the same lot in one piece. That meant less damage to the house than normal and no need to remove any fibro in the first instance.

Other considerations when considering if a house can be moved

‘What about the concrete floor in the laundry and bathrooms?’ we asked broaching the issue I had always thought would be the deal-breaker.  ‘The concrete floor? That’ll be no problem. We can move the house even though it has two types of flooring and it will all hang together.’

‘And,’ he added, ‘never mind the mould on the walls and ceiling. You can fix that if you find the source of the problem. This place would come up nicely after a reno. It’s a simple house with a lot of potential. The layout is practical. The floors are good.

‘And what about the paperwork for the approvals?’ we asked.

He replied, ‘We don’t get all the paperwork together.  Our business is moving houses, so you would do that. But we can put you in touch with consultants we work with a lot and who know about moving houses. They can prepare the reports and documentation you’ll need.’

I think I mentioned that our friends are quite adventurous, didn’t I? To them, this was the perfect adventure and they decided to go ahead. For me, it was a dream-come-true. My husband I didn’t have the cash to be involved in that part of the project, so I’d get to live the dream without the risk!

Moving a house – Part 1: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’

Manage all reusable blocks

The first project came almost by accident. With some friends, we bought a big block in northern Sydney that we hoped to subdivide. Our aim was to create three new lots and build new houses on them for investment.

The block had a 1960s vinyl clad house on it that was presentable enough on the outside, but in terrible condition inside.

The little house – a lesson in not judging a book by its cover

In fact, the weekend after we settled on the property, our two families went there to celebrate with some bubbles. It was the first time our friends had seen inside the house – they had trusted me enough to buy it sight unseen. It was in such poor condition and dampened our mood so much that we couldn’t even open the champagne there! A clutter of huge spiders had commandeered the verandah, there was extensive mould on almost every ceiling and wall, it had the oldest, most basic kitchen I’d ever seen and an appalling bathroom with a concrete floor.

‘Basic’ would be an understatement in describing this kitchen

Bathroom

When subdivision plans were drawn up a big, red boundary line ran right through the house. It couldn’t be configured any other way. The house obviously couldn’t stay where it was, but I had mentally dismissed the possibility that it could be moved.  Firstly, it was in ghastly condition. Not only would it need a renovation, but an extensive one.

The house couldn’t stay where it was under subdivision plans

Secondly, although the house was on piers with a predominantly timber floor, the bathroom and laundry floors were made of concrete. I couldn’t imagine how a suspended concrete floor could be moved without falling right out. So the old girl was approved for demolition.

As ‘D-day’ approached, I cautiously raised the question of moving the house with our friends. I didn’t dare to believe it was possible and I didn’t expect them to take me seriously. Now that demolition was scheduled, keeping the house would slow our project down. But our partners are pretty adventurous to say the least. ‘Let’s have a look at it,’ they said.

One call to my old contact in the house removal business changed our plans changed by 180 degrees!

Create a Vision for your House Relocation

When I was at the beginning of my property journey, I read property magazines voraciously. I stoked my dreams as often as I could by reading anything I could about property investment.  Case studies were my favourite thing; stories about normal people doing extraordinary things. I’d put myself in their shoes, not knowing how I would get there, but confident that if I was active enough, if I took enough educated risks, I would succeed. In 2003, I read an article about a couple who moved old houses onto vacant blocks in towns that were experiencing a boom. The idea of taking something old and therefore available at good price, moving it to a place where there was a lot of demand and doing it up seemed like a great idea to me.

It started me on an intermittent search for information. I read anything I could about moving houses – articles in property magazines, blogs, and even tracked down a book by an enthusiastic Kiwi who had done it repeatedly (like Aussies, Kiwis have been doing it for years). I’d search YouTube for videos of it being done (rare to find anything Australian) and watch episodes of home shows that featured it happening, over and over again. I made a lists of house movers for future use. All when I wasn’t even close to having any land to move a house onto!

Then things started to happen. The time came when I had enough money and I could consider moving a house. I looked for blocks that might be suitable for two dwellings. When I found one, I started to call the house movers I had found long ago and ask them questions. The time they took and patience they had in explaining the process to me was invaluable. However, still for a long time the right opportunity eluded me.

Funny how things happen. It’s like all those books I love, called things like ‘The Secret’ or ‘The Answer’ (that my husband makes endless fun of) … they tell you to hold your dreams and stoke them consistently with bits and pieces of information, and they will happen. The very act of cosseting your dreams means a circumstance will present itself when you can put them into action.