#63 | Renovating on TV and a New House Build with Zou Build

Zou Build was established in 2012 and is owned and operated by husband and wife team Chris and Christal Fysentzou. They have appeared on channel 9life’s Ready Set Reno (season 1 and 2) and Open Homes Australia as well as having their renovations featured in Queensland Homes Magazine, Domain.com.au, Interiors Addict, Better Homes and Gardens, Houzz.

 

In this episode we discuss:

  • How Zou Build started and evolved from 2012
  • Their experience renovating 2 houses on TV
  • Their top tips for those looking to renovate their homes
  • The process of having #Zouhouse approved through Council

 

SPEAKERS

Jessica Reynolds, Zou Build (Chris and Christal)

 

Jessica Reynolds

Hi there. Welcome to the Creating Australia podcast. My name is Jessica Reynolds, and I’m a private town planner and business owner based in Brisbane, Queensland. I’m passionate about engaging with the amazing people that make the property development industry what it is today, in creating industry, exploring local stories, projects, businesses, people, ideas, and more. Welcome to today’s episode of Creating Australia. I am joined by both Chris and Crystal of Zou Build. Welcome.

 

Zou Build

Hi, Jessica. Hello.

 

Jessica Reynolds

I understand that Zou Build was established in 2012. And you are a husband-and-wife team. How did that start?

 

Zou Build

So, I was a carpenter from 2006 up to 12. And then I started, obviously, the business side in 2012. Leading up to that I was a carpenter. And then yeah, I guess crystal came on when she came on board. I was struggling to keep up with the paperwork side of things. And you sort of when you entered it was just after having kids and having kids.

 

Jessica Reynolds

Okay, so you were a carpenter? And then did you actually started as a business?

 

Zou Build

So was it sort of just a bit of like a carpenter who then just gets thrown into business? No, you have to you have to go through the process of getting your license after getting the license then it was alright. Well, now I’ve got a building business. Where do we go from here, started on the more smallest scale jobs. And then slowly as it went on, I sorted we dealt developed into the larger renovations. And that’s probably when I sort of came to the mix as well. But you weren’t really thinking design side of things. No nuts, like I was more being that I had an admin background, I was more like account admin. And then, you know, Chris would get a bathroom, Reno, and he’d be like, pick some tiles, pick some, you know, bathroom fittings, whatever, whenever I’m so forced during the night. Yeah. You know, I was like, I actually quite, quite liked doing. And then we did our first row together. And I was like, Oh, I’m actually not bad at this. So then, yeah, it kind of just evolved from there, really? So what year was that first renovation? To say? 2014? Yeah, I would say yeah, I mean, so like, two years later, we renovated our own home together, like our first home, and it took 10 years. And I sort of, I think the problem with that was that we renovated it while Chris was working as well. So that’s more like a part time. Right? Yeah, like weekend. Sounds like a typical built typical builders home. Yeah, exactly. So then, you know, I think with that renovation, my style had evolved. It was like a combination of different styles, because we were doing it over a long period of time. It sort of was the upstairs and downstairs were completely different in style, because it was just such a long renovation. But then after that, you know, our first proper renovation where we did consistently

 

Jessica Reynolds

How long did that one take?

 

Zou Build

Well, that was about six months from memory. Yeah, that’s a bit less than 10 years. Yeah, just a little bit. Well, that was the deal breaker with that one, because I said if we buy another renovator, I don’t want to be living through a renovation for 10 years. Yeah, it was treated as a client job. Yeah, it was the client. So yeah, I guess that’s just how it sort of all evolved. Like, it’s just been this evolution of, you know, admin then accounts, then, you know, building and then design and then, and then it was created, it was born.

 

Jessica Reynolds

That’s a really cool story. And you actually brought up an interesting point that I’ve never really thought about, and the fact that you know, these renovations, you can walk into those houses. Now you can tell that something’s been renovated over a decade or two decades, because every room is like a different taste style.

 

Zou Build

Yeah. Because we do develop as people. So yes, that’s a really good reason to just get in and get it done. Exactly. And that was the deal breaker with our next renovation was yeah, like I said, we weren’t going to do it over a long period of time while we were living there. It was all or nothing. And that included the exterior too. Yeah. So that was an internal and external and it happens. Also, too, because, you know, it’s your home, right? And when you’re working like Chris went to work, and would come home and then have to renovate it. had a couple of hours of an afternoon and, and by the, yeah, he resented being there. He hated it because he never felt like he fully had a break from work. He was always working on something. So yeah, that was the other reason why we said if we were going to do it again, it would have been all or nothing. Because your home is where you want to come home to and not, you know, and relax and just enjoy, I guess. So he needed that as well. No, that’s very understandable. And I definitely don’t think I could live like that either. So it’s been about a decade since you started Zoo. And you’ve obviously had your renovations in Queensland home magazine, domain, interiors, attic, Better Homes and Gardens and on house.

 

And in addition to that, you’ve appeared on Ready Set Reno seasons one and two, and open homes Australia. And I actually watched Season Two this morning, I was very fun to watch before doing this interview, you did a really cool house and the things I took away is that you use grey, not white in Queensland for reflection. And it really had a great atrium and kitchen was awesome. So you’ve definitely you know, you’ve hit a peak, there’s like, that’s pretty awesome. Most people’s dream to end up on one of those shows. But what was it actually like having to work on screen? Yeah. I think it was.

 

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It’s not what I’m used to. I’m not a camera person. You know, I’m the type of person that crystal almost has to force me to smile in the photo. So being on camera and having to talk in front of a camera was quite difficult at first. I have become a little bit better with it. Yeah, yeah. No, not be and I was stressful too.

 

Because we had we had to get it done within a certain timeframe. And, and if we didn’t do almost like you felt like you, I was gonna look foolish, foolish if we didn’t get it done. So very stressful, but very fun to like. Yeah, it was, you know, it’s something that I think the girls will be able to look back at. Yeah, your kids. Yeah, yeah. And two girls, we have to look at and in the future and have a bit of a laugh. Yeah. Yeah, we have sold that house now. Yeah. So it’s good memories to watch it back. And it’s always, you know, when you’re renovating you, don’t you forget, like, what you went through, you know, you forget about the stresses and, you know, sort of your, your focus is that end goal. So it was really nice to watch it from an external perspective. Like, you know, how it all unfolds? And

 

Jessica Reynolds

yeah, I guess looking at it from the outside, in. So how did it feel watching yourselves back? Did it feel like it reflected the true? What happened in feelings? Do you think it captured that? Or do you think it was a bit of like a very glossed version? No, I think it was fairly accurate. Yeah. It wasn’t like,

 

Zou Build 

It wasn’t scripted or anything like that, which was good. Like, it was all quite natural. You know, it’s not like we were on the block or anything, where it’s all about the drama and all of that. So, you know, I think it was, you know, portrayed how it actually was, which was, yeah, that’s good. And that’s definitely makes for then a good memory to show you and children because it’s something that you can actually be like, this is yeah, this is what happened. That’s right. Yeah. No, it was good fun. So for anybody who is interested on being T on TV, like, how did you even come across that opportunity?

 

Yeah. Oh, I’d have to say that was Crystal. So, I guess we were following Michael and Colleen on Instagram for some time, and she put a like an Instagram post up about, you know, venue show Ready Set Reno. And yeah, we just sent a little message to her and sort of went from there. The Northlight boys reached out to us. And then that was with season one. And then with season two, we had sort of kept in touch with the production team. And we had just moved into our little Walnut Street house. And the intention was that we were going to stay there for a period of time and work out. You know, we want to live in the house before we renovated to work out what we wanted to do. I think we moved in December and then January, we got a call from the Northlight boys saying you know, they’re about to start season two, you know, have we got anything coming up. And so Chris, and I sort of just looked at each other and we’re like, well, this kind of makes sense, right? To do our own. We moved in and then three months later we moved back out. So we moved in in December and then moved back out in March and they’ve back in in October.

 

Jessica Reynolds 

So that season two was number one just good timing and two, you’re obviously invited back so you must have been a bit of a favourite. You’ve done quite a bit of renovation, you’ve obviously been on TV, which is now I’m the one doing the weird word. So you’ve been on TV, you’ve got your projects in magazines, you know, what are your tips and tricks for renovating? And I guess using a professional to renovate tips?

 

Zou Build

I’ve got one. Yeah, because I’ve lived through many renovations with Chris. And even Chris it can be DIY at the best of time, but keyword limped through. Yeah. You know, if you specialise in a trade, like, I’ll give it an example of flooring, because that’s Chris’s bane of existence, I reckon every time we do a render, he’s like, Oh, lay the floors, and then it ends up being, you know, not a disaster, but it just takes him a lot longer than what it should. And it seems quite stressful, because he’s such a perfectionist. So I guess, if a trade specialises in something, let them specialise in that, yeah. So always, you know, try and hire a professional where, you know, it’s going to get done in a timely manner. And you sometimes you think it’s gonna save you money by doing it yourself, but it costs you a lot in time and insanity. Really? That’s probably one hot tip.

 

Yeah, I think that’s a great tip. And I think it’s true for a lot of things. But obviously, if you’re doing renovation, you need to be like honest with yourself about what you’re wanting to achieve in the time and your skills, and where your energy is best put, because we do have limited energy. Yeah. And yeah, you know, and I think that’s one thing for us now, where, where, like, you know, time is more valuable than money most of the time, especially nowadays, you know, everyone is busy. So for us, it’s always, it’s been a learning curve for us to always just get someone else to do it if they are, you know, if they are a trained professional in it, because in the long run, it’ll always end up being a quicker process. And yeah, a much more smoother process as well. What about budgeting? What’s your How do you go about that? What even is budget at the moment? Yeah, budgets tricky when it comes to reservations. And a lot of people, you know, tend to think that renovating shaper, because the structure is already there. Butthat that’s not the case. The fact is, you know, just to get to a point where you start from,I guess, you can’t just you don’t just tackle and things on top, you actually have to.

 

So just to get it to a point where you would if it was new, there’s a lot of work prior to that. Yeah, I think that’s where a lot of that cost comes in, then trying to get and then trying to fit new to old. Yeah, that another factor.

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So yeah, ultimately renovate into a hell of a lot more expensive than then building new.

 

and there’s heaps of surprises, like you said, like, you just don’t know what’s going to be behind the wall. Yeah, if someone’s concealed asbestos with damage, damage, whether the plumbing is, you know, adequate. Electrical.

 

It just starts adding up. Yeah. I think people who renovate that should allow that certain amount of buffer, we always find that there’s

 

Zou Build

the V word comes in. Yeah. Which is variations. And it’s not because we want the that to, you know, that we’ve we’ve done that on purpose in any way. But it’s just that we don’t know what’s behind the walls. Yeah. We don’t know what we’re going to find. And that somebody has to pay for that. Yeah.

 

I don’t think any business really wants things to have variations or surprises. Everyone wants to go, here’s the job get the job done. So it’s definitely not about most businesses aren’t built on variation. No, no, and we we don’t make any money. I’m very nice. It’s a it’s something that we don’t like passing on. And sometimes we will try and cover the cost where we can but other times, it’s just not possible.

 

So yeah, I guess renovating my tip would be keep a little bit of contingencies away just for those things that that you can’t see the unknowns?

 

Jessica Reynolds

Yeah, I think that’s a good tip. And talking about variations and unknowns. I recently worked with you both to obtain development approval for a new build, so not a renovation and you build in Brisbane, so with Brisbane City Council, and obviously it’s it was a little bit of a challenging site because you had a small lot flooding issues and it was in a traditional building character overlay, which means that you have so specific design criteria you need to meet.

 

And this was, it’s my understanding as well that you had, this was your first time really going through that town planning process. And you’ve never had to really do it. And I also understand from lots of years of experience that that can be a huge mindset shift. Because town planning is not like building certification. It’s not, you know, tickets, like there’s a lot of nuances that are specific to Town Planning and Policy and dealing with government. And politicians.

 

Really, can you tell me a little bit about that experience? I know, it wasn’t always the easiest. But what I did really like about working with the both of you is that you kind of took on board the problems and didn’t get emotional about it, at least to me.

 

Zou Build

You know, we got a result, you helped us, you know, assisted us to get the result. You worked with it. Even though there were a few curveballs thrown at us. Yeah.

 

Wow. It was definitely not an easy process for us.

 

Zou Build

Getting Zou House through I think we were in council for 9-10 months. It was a few months. Yeah. We spent a bit of time together.

 

But yeah, look, I think it was definitely a learning experience. Process to been through. We also, I guess, tried to turn, like the negatives into a positive.

 

So for us, you know, we had like the whole undercroft area, which, you know, is now a positive. You know, we couldn’t build, you know, straight underneath the ground. Like, there’s just a lot of rules when it comes to small lot. Yeah. Yeah. And we have a lot going against this. But yeah, as you said, we’ve, we’ve definitely had every turn, we tried to turn a negative into a positive and, and worked with what was sort of we dealt with.

 

Zou Build 

And now, you know, there’s not much that I would change. No, I think it all sort of it was all for the better. Good, you know, and yeah, like, in hindsight, we have turned a lot into, you know, positives, like stepping in, you know, our upper level, we’ve added skylights enabled to add skylights downstairs, which will increase natural light down there, which is a bit mind blowing, you’ve got skylights on the ground floor. A lot of people look at it, and they sort of scratching their heads thinking, Well, how did that happen? Ground floor was skylights, you know, and that’s because smaller code, you have to step

 

Yeah. Step your arm, your external wall in certain high.

 

 

Jessica Reynolds

Council is very prescriptive for sites like this. And on top of that, having the traditional building character overlay affecting the site meant that you know, whatever design you propose Council always going to have this way. That’s right. And it’s really funny at the moment that I’m trying to kind of get across to a lot of council assessment managers is the fact that most people are paying to have an architecturally designed house, not a council designed house. That’s right. Yeah. So you know, and there’s a lot of balance in there, obviously, looking out for the community and the legislation. So as the private town planner, we’re definitely kind of stuck in the middle. But we I think we’ve worked together to get a result and seeing results. And it’s not a chicken flick. You know, I think any house is in a chicken flick sort of scenario. Everybody wants something different. Everybody’s block is different. Everybody’s scenario is different. So yeah, I think at the end of the day, there was many times where I thought, Oh, my God, this is just way too hard. I’m, we’re just gonna throw it all in. But so glad we didn’t, ya know, and if anybody can hear some hammering and noise in the background, that’s because we are doing this interview on site. So the house is being built.

 

Jessica Reynolds

And it is going to be amazing. Yes. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. Chris and Crystal, very lovely TV names. Very, very well. How can people contact you if they wish to?

 

Zou Build

Yeah. Well, they can just go to our website, obviously, or through Instagram,or through Facebook as well. And so the spelling of your business is Zed. Oh, you build. Perfect. Thank you so much.

 

Jessica Reynolds

Thanks for joining me on today’s episode of Creating Australia. Don’t forget to subscribe and join us on our socials to keep updated on our latest content. on creating Australia. I love talking about everything to do with people property and development. If you have something you’d like me to explore, let me know by searching creating Australia on Instagram or searching Jessica Reynolds on LinkedIn