Managing your builder can be one of the trickiest aspects of a home renovation project. A fundamental element of a smooth and successful project is working with a reliable and trusted builder. But how do you go about building a strong and collaborative relationship?
I’ve been on both sides, as a client working direct with a builder and as a project manager. I know how stressful it has the potential to be, but hopefully the tips I’ve outlined below will help you. I’ve written this article for smaller projects but I would always recommend appointing a project manager on more complex jobs.
APPROACH THE RELATIONSHIP WITH POSITIVITY
Trust is fundamental to a successful relationship with your builder. Go in to the relationship with a positive approach. If you trust your builder you form a much stronger relationship that helps you to work and communicate more effectively.
If you builder knows you trust him he will trust you back. What does that mean in reality? It means he will be much more open and honest with you rather than watching his back. If they feel you respect them and value their ideas it will feel far more collaborative. And if issues crop up you can solve them together, rather than playing the blame game.
SPECIFY AND BUDGET IN DETAIL
So how do you tie up these details? If you are working with an architect they can help you put together a detailed tender, which is then sent out to two or three builders. A formal tender process can seem painful but in the long run is worth the time and effort. On larger projects a quantity surveyor is likely to be involved too.
A formal tender is accompanied by detailed specifications and drawings. The drawings are the builder’s detailed instructions about how the property should be constructed. The specifications are the details instructions about the materials and methods to be used.
If you don’t go through a detailed tender process the quote you receive will be a high level estimate, with assumptions. Assumptions are dangerous! The quote is often based on basic materials and fittings – so standard items such as basic panel doors, white plastic sockets, Dulux Trade paint etc. So you will normally find the cost creeps up as you specify better quality items. It’s much better to do that at the beginning and have a clear idea of the actual cost.
Following on from my last point, the more detail you can provide the better. On a smaller project the best advice is to simply state the obvious for every room involved in the project. Don’t assume your builder will know or will have included in his fee.
Drawings are your friend and your builders love them. Always have construction drawings produced by an architect. Then also consider whether to have layouts and elevations produced in CAD by an interior designer. For bathrooms and kitchens they are absolute essentials. The builder needs to know how high your shower control should be, the height of your showerhead, the position of your wall lights etc. I could go on!
With specifications, provide as much detail as possible up front. You will be asked these questions at some point and it’s better to be prepared. Or in the worse case scenario you won’t get asked and get some nasty surprises!
Specifications include architectural joinery (doors and skirting boards etc.); ironmongery (electrical sockets/switches finishes, door knobs etc.); bathroom sanitary ware(toilets, sinks, taps, tiles etc.); and flooring (stone and wood floors).
Wherever possible have all selections detailed in the contract price. Also be wary of provisional costs. You want to turn as many of them as possible into fixed fees. The best way to do this is provide detailed specifications and drawings.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A CONTRACT
Whether you are running the project yourself or have a project manager, the first vital step is to have a contract that outlines the proposed work, the budget, key completion dates and what contingencies the builder can charge for on top of the contract price. With all these details in black and white there is less room for misunderstanding. I won’t go into the details of penalties – but these are areas you should raise with your builder.
One you have appointed a builder, sit down with them and agree a schedule of key dates. There is nothing worse than the knock on the door from the builder asking for the tiles or the paint colours for the next day! Cue frenzied decision making and stress! Choosing your new home’s colour scheme can take serious time, so decide on your concepts and colours early on. If you are overwhelmed enlist the help of an interior designer to help you filter and shape ideas.
Be mindful of lead times that can trip up schedules – for instance some items can take 8 or more weeks. These include range cookers, bespoke lighting and even tiles and taps. You need to work back from your builder’s key deadlines and diarise when to order these items. This is why making decisions on design right at the beginning of the project is so beneficial.
COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL
Communication is your greatest tool. Make sure you maintain open communication and don’t let issues fester. During the project there will always be decisions to be made or questions to be answered. A regular steady flow of information between you and the builder will help smooth the process.
Schedule in a weekly meeting to allow you to review work progress, discuss issues and review the budget. Try and email him/her with an outline agenda before the meeting so he/she can consider a possible solution before you meet. I also suggest a meeting somewhere off site, to have an initial chat without the sound of drills rattling in your ears! Then go the building site afterwards to go through specifics.
Before the project commences ask your builder what reporting system they have to keep you informed. This is the area where builders tend to fall down, so you may have to take the lead. For instance, set up a shared Drop Box folder with the schedules of work, specifications and drawings. Make sure important discussions with your builder are documented, even if it’s just a follow up short email. Which brings me to my next point!
WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN
Going back to my earlier point, everything should be documented on the contract before the work commences. As the project progresses keep a record of issues raised. It’s an easy area to neglect when things get busy. What I do is keep a record in a spreadsheet – with the date raised, some background on the issue and when the issue was resolved. It means you can keep on track of what has been resolved and make sure nothing falls between the gaps. It also means you have a record if there are any misunderstandings and then can track back to specific dates. Rather than frantically searching through your email box to try and find that specific email!
KEEP CAREFUL TRACK OF VARIATIONS
Any alterations to the original contract will be classed as a variation. In most projects there will be a number of variations. Variations can really add up and it’s easy to loose track and get a nasty shock when the invoice arrives. They must set these out in writing, so you can them sign off and then keep track of these additional costs. Again, I’d suggest keeping track of variations in your own spreadsheet and cross checking this against the valuation your builder produces each month.
On larger projects a quantity surveyor can be incredibly helpful, if not essential. Their role is to keep an eye on project finances and contractual relationships. They make sure that the financial position of the project is accurately reported. So when an invoice is submitted, they can assess if this invoice reflects the work that has been completed. They normally get involved right at the beginning of a project when tenders are being prepared. They can help estimate cost of materials, time and labour costs and then analyse tender responses. So ultimately help minimise the costs of a project.
APPOINT A PROJECT MANAGER ON MORE COMPLEX PROJECTS
Many people chose to work directly with the builder on a major project to save money. As the client you are taking on a role that is normally that of an experienced professional. Those people have many years training and experience in construction methods, scheduling and council requirements. They also know the expensive pitfalls to avoid.
With a good architect or project manager, regular site visits are part of the fee and the builder and architect will liaise on a virtually daily basis. As a client you want to be involved in the big decisions, including unforeseen problems that may affect the budget. Let the professionals deal with minor changes to detailing. The project manager will also manage all the different contractors, bringing together the architect, quantity surveyor, interior designer and other suppliers into one team.
I hope you have found this article useful. If you are embarking on a building or interior design project and you would like more advice please do contact me.