Warrnambool’s Natalie Stevens is passionate about the business of building your own home but she has managed to turn it into a lucrative art form.
The sculptor and former art teacher now has two books which made bestseller lists and has just launched an online course on her website Build in Oz.
In her latest book, Natalie was asked to contributed a chapter to the B1G1 book The Movement: Better business, better life, better world. In it the mum-of-four gives advice to her future grandchildren.
She is one of dozens of authors and entrepreneurs selected from all over the world, among them some well-known names, and is one of 15 featured on the back cover.
The non-for-profit publication is an international bestseller where for every five books sold, a tree will be planted to protect orangutans and other natural habitat in Borneo.
B1G1 is a worldwide pay-it-forward style of movement supported by thousands of businesses, and based in Singapore.
“So every time something good happens in our business, something good happens somewhere else in the world,” Natalie said.
“Every time someone visits Build In Oz, even if they’re just on there for five seconds, we supply water to a family for a day in Ethiopia. It’s a beautiful thing that I love being a part of.
“Of all things in the world, the thought of not being able to be able to give my children water just makes me so uncomfortable.
“It comes back to an innate gratitude just to be born Australian. Whilst we do support things that are happening in our local area, I have a real passion for doing something for somebody who is never going to have that chance to maybe have a full tummy, a blanket or love of a parent.”
Natalie said B1G 1 was all about “the huge power of small ... small things for us, huge for them”.
The book, and its mantra of giving to create a better world, has inspired Natalie to add more meaningfulness into her business projects. It’s a philosophy she would like to see more businesses embrace.
Growing up in Warrnambool as the daughter of successful developer Graeme Rodger, Natalie was never far from a vacant block of land or an excavator – and that often meant lots of time spent in the car travelling around the region.
She fondly recalls the fun times in one of her books when her dad piled her and her young siblings into the bucket of an excavator and swung it around. “A really nice memory. You wouldn’t do it now,” she laughed.
At 14 she went to boarding school and then completed her honours degree in Architectural Ceramics at uni. “I went on to do a teaching degree because I just didn’t want the fun to end. Who doesn’t want to just create art all the time?”
She became the art teacher at Hawkesdale P-12 College before she and husband Sam decided to start a family.
It was while raising her four children that she found she had time to stop and see all the things that were wrong with the property industry. “I started to think about it creatively,” she said.
“My entire life and family is heavily cemented in the construction industry. I wanted the experience to be for others what I would want it to be for me.”
That’s when she started getting more involved in the development business that had been so much a part of her life growing up.
In 2016, Natalie and her husband started a website called Build in Warrnambool which offered people all they needed to know about building a home.
Seeing how many people were accessing the website, she decided to take the concept Australiawide.
“I had all this information to share...I thought if I wrote a book, I could give it to everyone who made an inquiry,” she said. “Writing a book was the most amazing experience.
“We went on a trip to Vietnam and I spent the whole time going through everything I’d ever written. That was when I pulled it all together and thought ‘I can do this’.”
In 2017, Building Home: The 5 step journey to building your best lifestyle was released and it has become a Amazon.com and Amazon.com.au bestseller.
By the time Natalie had finished the book she knew she wanted to launch Build In Oz – a website based on the book. It has only just been launched and features an online course called Building Home.
“There’s nothing like it. This is all really new and fresh,” she said. “What we’ve created is amazing, so I’m happy to have been the one who created it.
“I pretty much converted my book into an online course so that anyone who is thinking about building can go and learn everything that they need to learn about building a home.
“It’s like the book on steroids, filled with content that can save families thousands. It’s the most meaningful, purposeful thing I’ve done.”
Pitched as the the “holy grail of home building for Australian families”, Natalie said the biggest challenge was to make sure people didn’t think it was about DIY .
It’s an up-to-date one-stop-shop for planning to build your own home, it’s not for do-it-yourself builders, she said.
She said the book, and course, took people through a five-step process that gives people all the information they need before the even consider engaging a builder.
“The stories I could tell you about the rubbish people are told in the property industry.
“That’s my motivation for this. It just boils my blood. It’s our life’s work, I didn’t like that people could be misled about such a big thing in their life,” she said.
The course gives those looking to build a home key advice from things such as considering a construction loan, which she said could save up to $10,000 in interest in the first year alone, through to how to slash money off your quotes.
“Borrowing to build is not the same as borrowing to buy,” she said. “No matter what you do, start with your budget.
“A lot of people fall in love with the dream they can’t afford and, when you visit display homes, you can invest a lot of time falling in love with a home to find out you can’t really afford what you fell in love with.
“The number one mistake people make when they want to build a house is they start in the wrong place.”
She also warned that if a block of land sounded too good to be true, there’s probably a reason for it.
Natalie is a passionate advocate for exposing the notoriously complicated property industry. “I just had a thirst for doing things for how I thought they should be done,” she said.