Thief

Container home companies – a polite and friendly review, considering..

I was going to title this post, “Container Home Companies – Zombies and Shonksters” but I figured that might have legal implications so I didn’t.

Firstly, I am still waiting on the engineering, but once that is done I will then have my Construction Certificate issued. The reason this last step has taken so long is that I had hoped the engineering would be done by the company that builds my house. Instead, after crazy delays and encounters with crazy people, I have given up on that and I figure engineering is engineering and whoever builds it will have to follow the engineer’s specs for steelwork, so I’m getting it done as a standalone. That way I can finish off the paperwork required by council.

I will now share my experience to date with container home companies.
In a few cases, it has not been pleasant, in fact it’s been a comedy of errors which I am sure will be funny one day. Until then I might drink.

Please note, for any lawyers out there, this is just my personal experience and my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the experience that other people will have. No children or animals were harmed in the making of this post but the experience is not fictional and does represent real characters. Some of the language is creative but you have to have a sense of humour about these things, or otherwise curl up into the foetal position and wait for numbness to arrive.

Some of the behaviour by these companies is just frustrating, like the silent treatment and not ever answering emails or phone calls. Some of the behaviour is more serious, like being intentionally misleading;  two cases of this behaviour were both followed by a wonderful karma-type twist of fate, with the companies going bust soon after. Other companies have been OK and just weren’t the right fit for my type of build, but might suit others.

I will start with the two bigguns, the ones that take your hopes, and your time and money, and dash them against the rocks with a gleeful and unapologetic lack of ethics.

Number 1 – Nova Deko Modular. They fibbed.

They are Number 1 in a you-wouldn’t-want-to-meet-them-in-a-dark-alley kind of way. This is the original company I had 6 months of phone meetings with, getting input from them on the structural stuff including their standard wall structure, what was possible and what wasn’t, and the standard inclusions they provided for internal fittings. My DA was then submitted based on their standard building specs.

I noticed during the design development stage that their prices were rapidly going up, and I was told they were phasing out of doing custom builds and mine would be one of the last. So I kept checking with them if they could still do my build, if the price would be the same etc, and I was reassured that it had all been recently checked with the factory and with the MD and they would stick to their commitment, at least with a very close price. I did a triple check on that before submitting my DA.

After my DA went in, the guy I had been dealing with, Matt Chernishov, left the company. Before he left, he said we needed to get my build into a final agreement, which I heartily agreed with. The agreement was not in place before Matt left, although until the very day he left he assured me it was close, and copying in the factory manager and the MD he said of the MD  “You’re in good hands, Jim is a good man and will honour the original pricing the best he can.” Days after Matt left, Jim and the factory manager said they had no intention of building my house. They don’t do custom builds. No apology, no concern.

Soon after, the company closed its offices in Australia – they still operate overseas and you’ll find their website easily enough. If you want a simple build that is not a custom one then perhaps they are worth a try, but the lack of accountability and transparency within the company would bother me. If something goes wrong you might need an Italian friend to help sort it out. I have one of those but he’s not local unfortunately.

Jokes aside (memo to lawyers, that Sicilian threat idea was a joke) – a little honesty a little earlier would have saved me a lot of stress and time. Marks to Nova Deko Modular for customer service, zero.

As an aside, for anyone looking for a Mafia style threat I found this surprising website offering an online service  www.onlyinitaly.com/mafialetters

Marlon Brando the Godfather
Knowing someone like this might help in dealing with some of these companies. (Pic from here)

Number 2 – Rubix Modular. They asked me to fly to QLD, then fibbed.

I only found these guys recently, it looked like they’d had lots of positive media coverage and seemed reasonably solid, although none of these companies have been operating for very long given container house building is pretty new in Australia. I couldn’t find many negative reviews at the time, just one and that’s not bad these days. They used to sell Nova Deko Modular builds, but had troubles with them (which I related to) so they were doing their own home models nowadays.

It took a while to get an answer to my initial inquiry, but after one phone call finally got through they were keen and helpful. A few written quotes later and it was clear they hadn’t quite got their heads around my BAL FZ custom build, and suggested I go up to QLD and sit down with them to sort out the details (at my own cost of course). I booked flights for Tuesday last week, hired a car and day tripped up there and had a good meeting with a team of four of them including builders and Joshua Fisk the MD. It all seemed pretty positive. They had to go and check out a couple of details, said they would get the engineering sorted ASAP, and were keen to do the build. They showed me around the factory where some basic builds using insulated panels were under way, and it was good to see the size of two containers joined together.

They did act; within two days they had obtained a quote for my engineering and promised a full quote for the build by Friday. The next week (ie a few days ago), there were no answers to my phone calls and emails and I found a google review from this last week showing they are going into receivership and had to be out of the premises by last Friday. They would have known that was coming, but invited me up to QLD to lie to me in person anyway.

Seriously, how do these people sleep at night?
Or is that when they normally come out to feed?

I had a lucky escape, by the recent google reviews popping up now there are some people who have lost money or are stuck with dodgy containers that leak in the rain.

Number 3 – Price and Speed Containers. Please leave a message at the tone…

This one started out hopeful, just like all the rest when I stop and think about it. It turns out that all the movies are right and hope is a powerful thing. Mix it with some eternal optimism, some stubbornness, and a basically trusting nature and belief that most people don’t lie all the time, and the damn stuff can keep you going on, and on, and on.

This company is Sydney-based and they do container modifications. Mostly pop-ups like cafes and bars plus some temporary single-unit housing stuff, but they had a design on their website that was very similar to my house with the 3 x forty foot container layout and they had done it as a pop-up bar. So I thought it was worth asking what that model would cost and if they could modify it to build mine.

I thought they might just do the containers themselves, for me to then organise the internal fit-out but on inquiry staff member Joe Caruana said they can do internal walls and insulation, electricals, plumbing etc. His replies were fast, generally within 24 hours and quite helpful including discussions on cladding, transport and installation of the build, and getting the engineering done. Until I sent him my plans that is; then I received one more email saying thanks and they’d get back to me with a full quote, then all communications ceased. I left quite a few phone messages and emails over a few weeks, the last ones just asking for confirmation they were no longer interested in my build. No response.

Obviously they are no longer interested but apparently don’t have enough courtesy for a simple call, text or email to let me know. I guess if you’re not interested in the first place ignoring an email isn’t so bad, a few of us are probably guilty of that, but to be in mid-discussion and suddenly disappear is bit weird… maybe something happened and the night feeders above got Joe or something.

This lot could be worth a go if you want container modifications only. They could be perfectly nice people, who just need to work on their communication skills.

Number 4 – Container Build Group. Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

This is also a company that has done a lot of single-unit temporary housing and general container modifications, and is now getting into finished container houses. They have a bunch of multiple-module house designs on their website, some of which look pretty good. Overall their sales person was helpful and I’ve been in touch with them twice now, last year as a general inquiry and just recently to see if they could do my build now that Rubix Modular has proven to be a waste of time.

The main issue here is the cost. I sent my plans through, they said they remembered the design from last time and within an hour or so sent me a brief four line quote for a very large sum of money, not including the BAL FZ extras of cladding, decking, roof or even the internal stairs. It did include the 6mm toughened glass double glazing. At a per square meter cost the quote was around $2300/m, which is on the luxury-finish side of a traditional house build (if you believe that stairs between floors are beyond a luxury item and are actually a pure indulgence that doesn’t belong in the main costing).

They use insulated panels for the inside walls, which are based on colour bond steel so to hang a picture you’d need a rivet gun, and to attach something like a TV you’d need to know where you want to put it (forever) so they can insert a wall stud. They said the standard flooring included in their builds was laminate, not hardwood, and not gold plating.

Why anyone would pay that sort of money and be restricted by the dimensions of a container home I have no idea.

On further discussion, they said several things:

  • That building with containers was not actually cheaper, that the advantage was structural soundness compared to other methods. They can stack 9 high and last for decades at sea, so they are much stronger that other build methods.
    I’m not preparing for a zombie apocalypse so would be happy with a building that complies with BCA, I believe they tend to stand up OK for quite some time. It seems a bit crazy to build with containers based on that rationale alone, unless you’re in an earthquake zone or something. In my opinion the main attraction of this build method is that the structure is already there, in theory making it cheaper to build.
  • They make their money out of the internal fit-out. No kidding. I asked would they sit down and discuss different internal options to save on the budget? They said if I agreed to that price they would be happy to discuss it more. Huh?
  • Would they be interested in just doing the container modifications not the internal fit-out? No not really, they want a good finish inside that is done to their own specs for the photos, to help them build up a good reputation. I’m not quite sure how steel panel internal walls and plastic floors fit with that, but each to their own.
  • They did eventually say if I sent through all my other quotes they might try to come close, or I could make an offer and wait and see. They were very interested in who else was quoting and how much. Given they didn’t even give me an itemised quote to work from (so that I’m not quite sure what I get for that large amount of money),  I’m a bit reluctant to give them all that information on the competition as it doesn’t seem fair.
    They also said they do a lot of single-unit basic stuff, and at the other end of the scale they have some very big multiple-module jobs on with 11 containers or more, but nothing much in between and no factory space at the moment. They said it’s possible the builder over quoted me because he’s not really interested, and from my experience he wouldn’t be the first to do that.
Zombie apocalypse
Zombie Apocalypse. If you have a container house, it might well be the only thing still standing. But it will cost you. (Pic from here)

So if you want a single-module house, or have millions to spend on a massive build and don’t care about the per square meter cost but want something that would survive a zombie apocalypse on land or at sea, give them a go. Or maybe if factory space frees up later they might be interested, it could just be bad timing.

Number 5 – Cube Modular, the strong silent types

Based in Western Australia, I don’t have much info on these guys. To be fair to them it looks like they might only build their own designs and not do custom builds. I sent them an inquiry about a custom build, no response.

Others – oh please let there be others…

There are two more companies I am either in discussions with or about to contact again –  Container Domain Designs and Port Containers. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Feature image from here
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14 thoughts on “Container home companies – a polite and friendly review, considering..”

  1. Hello, quite sobering, but super insightful.
    We came across some of the companies you mentioned, but also others. Have you seen Pop Blocks?
    Based on your experience, would you consider using a company such as Gateway to just purchase the containers and have another one like Price and Speed to do the modifications inside?
    thanks

    Like

    1. This may be a duplicated reply…WordPress is giving me a hard time! Not nearly as hard a time as you’re having ….. you write so well and should consider a book at the end of this saga for which you are illustrating extraordinary patience! Hope the stairs are finally included as I’m getting too agéd to haul myself a tree and swing on to the upper deck for that G&T xxx

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      1. Thanks Leonie, a book is not a bad idea, could be good therapy! Yes will definitely work on the stair inclusion, I have seen some pinterest pics of a timber slippery dip alongside to get back down, looks fun 🙂

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    2. Hi Julien yes an interesting journey so far. Thanks no I hadn’t seen Pop Blocks, will check them out. I am currently looking at just the sort of option you suggest, getting the containers modified by one company and the fit-out by a builder. The full internal fit-out seems to be a sticking point for many.

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  2. Hi,

    I have spoken to the companies you listed and had similar experiences.

    From my own research into building a BAL-FZ container home, I short-listed the option to purchase the containers from a shipping container company and get them to do the bulk of the external/internal labour. Then have the containers loaded with all the internal fittings and any remaining external requirements before being transported to site. I opted for 60mm external and 30mm internal wool batt insulation to achieve the Fire rating.
    Footings and internal fit-out were to be conducted by a local contractor.

    I found this option reduced the square metre cost to around $1400-1600 depending on how luxurious the internal fit-out was and the purchase price of the containers.

    Although I haven’t gone through the complete process (land fell through) I can recommend Canberra Containers (http://canberracontainers.com/) as a good company to deal with. They respond to phone calls and emails fairly well and are easy to talk to about custom ideas. Additionally they have dealt with most local suppliers and are able to help source fittings if so needed.

    On a different side note in my opinion stay clear of the magnesium oxide fire resistant board. It’s not proving to hold up very well in several builds I have seen.

    Regards
    Chris

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    1. Hi Chris, thanks for your comments. My first preference is to get a company that can do the internal fit-out at least to a basic extent with internal walls, insulation, flooring etc, and go from there. I was originally hoping for full internal fit-out as well incl kitchen/bathroom but seem to be running out of companies for that option (Nova Deko and Rubix did that sort of thing). It’s looking like a good option to get other trades for some bits and pieces and maybe putting in an ikea kitchen myself. Thanks very much for the reference I will check out Canberra Containers.
      Can you tell me more about the MgO Board? What sort of problems have you seen? Do you know if the product was Modak or Rescom? Modak was the most common but I believe they lost their Codemark certification and there have been issues.
      What cladding were you going for to meet BAL FZ? The insulation itself doesn’t meet compliance, it’s normally part of a larger wall system.
      Thanks, Kellie.

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  3. Hey Kellie.
    Firstly, you poor thing! Though the way you have written your story is very entertaining! I’ve only seen your last two blogs, & they alone give you so much grounds for frustration!

    Can I suggest you take your design & build it using traditional techniques (stud frame walls/framed ‘flat’ roof) then clad it with an Inex product; these are a magnesium oxide based board that attach straight to your frame & are flame zone suitable. Very sustainable, & tick just about every box for building (including cost effective). Look up http://www.ubiq.com.au

    If you want to have a chat about options, give me a call!

    Good luck!

    Mark Davis.

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    1. Hi Mark, thanks for the comment. Yes it’s been a bit of an adventure so far, a bit more than I had hoped for! I am considering your suggestion, at this stage there are a couple of container companies left (some I didn’t know about suggested by people here in recent comments) so I haven’t quite given up yet. I do like the philosophy of the concept. However if it doesn’t work out I’ll look at the build from scratch option.
      I have actually seen those Inex products. Inex was more expensive in terms of materials than the MgO board but might be less labour to install so that could even out. From memory the other issue for the container build was that Inex is BAL FZ rated as part of a wall system including insulation and plasterboard, and I didn’t want to have put a whole wall system outside of the containers – however that would be irrelevant if I was building from scratch so it would definitely be back in the option basket.
      Thanks for the offer and I’ll give you a call if I progress to Plan B, or more like Plan F at this stage I think..
      Best
      Kellie

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  4. Hi Kellie

    Sorry to hear of your negative experiences with container suppliers/modifiers. My only experience of container modifications is a company called Containers First, pretty sure they have a Sydney office – do site offices, accommodation modules for mining etc. and seem very professional. No idea if they have done private housing like yours. As a builder in the upper mountains I have done feasibility studies on two FZ projects where containers seemed like an option, but costs of cutting, modifying, lifting, cladding, waterproofing, lining all eroded the speed-build advantage. (Same comments apply to a railway carriage conversion.) So although there’s no excuse for failing to answer a customer’s email, I can understand why some companies aren’t rushing to quote for residential container projects, or are giving inflated quotes. I think your project with 3 containers is probably over the critical line at which the cost advantages outweigh the drawbacks. But I just don’t think there are enough container house projects around to be able to draw up an “average” cost.
    One of the projects I mentioned is now proceeding as a conventionally framed building, clad in INEX fire-rated external sheet, which I can recommend. I may also be able to give useful information on fire-rating, engineering etc. so feel free to email me. Meanwhile, best wishes –

    Richard

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    1. Hi Richard, thanks for sharing your experience and advice. I do understand that this build method is still out of the ordinary and some companies might not be interested, and what you say about the economies of the build being eroded away also makes a lot of sense. The original attraction was that all of the internal fit-out would be done in a factory overseas and the whole thing shipped, taking advantage of less expensive products and labour – but since then that option is not looking viable (Nova Deko did that but don’t operate here any more) and once the build gets into all local labour and materials it might not be cost effective (although the quality could well be better!).
      Great to hear you are a local builder in the upper mountains, I’d be keen to have a chat with you and will get in touch. A couple of others have also just suggested a traditional build using Inex or MgO so that will probably be next on the agenda if the container company option proves impossible. I will try Containers First and couple of other options just to exhaust all possibilities before giving up on it.
      Thanks again
      Kellie

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  5. Kellie,

    From what you have gone through with ‘container – builders’, I would suggest:

    – get independent engineering

    – contact a number of local builders who understand the concept and are capable of doing with the work

    – contact people who they have built for in the past

    – view the work they have completed

    – use a ‘Lump Sum ’contract – with everything itemized and included

    Paul

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    1. Hi Paul,
      Thanks for the comment, that seems like good advice. I am pleased to say I have managed some of that so far – I have some independent engineering underway at the moment so hopefully that bit will be ticked off soon, and the other reason I went to Qld was to inspect Rubix’s work. I totally agree with you on that one and have been requesting inspections of completed units for all these companies. I guess once I have found a builder who is interested and can do the work they’re more likely to be able to give me a lump sum contract than a cost plus one, that seems to be another challenge altogether at the moment (although Richard’s comment below gives me hope). Given this is a budget build unless there is a clear and affordable guaranteed maximum price then cost plus is not really an option for me.
      Thanks
      Kellie

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  6. Hi Kellie,
    Sorry, this one’s a bit off topic! I remember in an earlier post you mentioned a crane operator who visited your site to check access etc… We’re thinking of going the shipping container route
    with our build in the Blue mountains. We want to use unmodified containers and just get the openings cut and do the rest ourselves. Would you be able to pass on their contact details?
    Thanks
    Mary

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    1. Hi Mary,
      I got the assessment done by Turner and Central Cranes in Lithgow, they were helpful. There is another company called Henry’s that a couple of builders have since mentioned, also in Lithgow, and I think Mountains Cranes are in the upper mountains somewhere. Depends on your site and what sort of crane you need, they don’t all have the same model/size cranes so you might need to chat to a few. Hope this helps, good luck! If you go ahead with a container build would love to know about it. Cheers, Kellie

      Like

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