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By the end, however, they have constructed a state-of-the-art four-bedroom home.
Each year, students from the polytechnic build and auction a house, and proceeds are distributed to different charities.
This year's house, built by about 17 carpentry students, was sold for $271,000, about $1000 up from the year before, and the proceeds totalled $176,000.
They went to the Education Foundation, which provides scholarships to students, and Otago-based charities through international charity United Way.
Carpentry senior lecturer Kevin Dunbar said students were getting ''better and better''.
''I just like the whole project. It's really good for the students. You get a sellable project that's a credit to [them].
''It's good for their satisfaction to see somebody prepared to come along and pay money for their building.''
This was the 12th year the auction house had been built, and the 10th year Mr Dunbar had taught the course.
Otago Polytechnic carpentry students built three houses each year as part of their pre-trade carpentry certificate, and this year's were still on site.
The other two had found buyers in South Otago and Central Otago and sold for between $180,000 and $190,000. The money went back into the cost of the programme.
The NCEA level 3 course prepared students for apprenticeships.
There was growing interest from girls in the carpentry course and Mr Dunbar said he was looking forward to next year, when four female students would be involved in building the charity house.
The house, created with support from local companies, was sold to a Dunedin family and would probably remain on the polytechnic site until February.
Polytechnic carpentry programme manager Graham Burgess said all the building work was done by students. Some of the money from the sale went to contractors who did the plumbing, gib stopping and painting.
About 50 people turned up to the auction and bidding was ''brisk''. The market was about the same as last year, Mr Burgess said.
More than $1 million has been raised from the charity house sales in the past 12 years.