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Category: Cowboy Builders

Recently the Sunday Times published an article about how to manage your builder. You can read their article here (although you do have to register to see it, but at least you don’t have to pay).

It is actually a pretty good article, and in general we agree with what they have to say, however we have a little bit of experience of this – from both sides! Originally being builders who have now turned to become champions for the consumer, we feel that we have an objective perspective.

Sunday Times

Do We Agree with the Sunday Times List of Tips for Managing Builders?

Here are our comments on the Sunday Times 10 tips for managing your builders:

1. Draw up Detailed Plans

We cannot agree more as the old adage it true; a picture does paint a thousand words. Builders will follow drawings easily and, as they are contract documents also, they are the law. Keep track of any updates from your architect. The construction drawings will also help you understand how your project is to be put together.

The more detail the better – making up plans will help you to focus on the detail that is required. You need to decide early in the build where things will go, or be prepared to pay the price. Having professional drawing also shows the builder you are serious, organised, and not prepared to cut corners. If you want a good builder, these are the signals you need to send him.

Planning a project is very important

Planning is very important for any building project

2. Decide who is Responsible

They point out that a project manager will cost in the region of 10-15% of your build cost. This seems a lot but you don’t need to make many mistakes to quickly pass this amount; if a crane doesn’t turn up when you need it, you might well have thousands pounds worth of men and plant sitting around waiting, and don’t expect the builder to swallow that cost if it was your responsibility to organise it.

It can be an exhilarating achievement to manage your own project, but make sure you have the time, ideally experience and certainly your builders blessing.

Ensure your builder is to take responsibility for all the sub-contractors he uses. You only want to speak to one person when you have a query.

3. Write a Schedule of Works

Any good builder will do this anyway, but don’t flip through it quickly to get to the bottom line – read and check every line. He will itemise everything that he feels responsible for, and you need to see what you are responsible for.

Be absolutely clear about what you have to do and when. He needs to be absolutely clear what you want him to do for you. Don’t leave any grey areas – that’s where the disputes will begin.

4. Breakdown the Quote

This is where we disagree with the Sunday Times. Yes, you need to breakdown and totally understand the quote that you receive, however they suggest that you must “insist on an estimate with a fixed price”.

A lot of the time this is fine, particularly for smaller jobs, however sometimes it is impossible, or your ‘fixed price’ will come with so many caveats that there’s no point having it. For example, most work underground will be like this; no one knows what’s there and so no sensible builder is going to take the risk and offer a fix quote. If he does it’s only a matter of time before he’ll come unstuck.

You need to understand the quote and it’s constituent parts but breaking down a quote to the n’th degree will cost you money so be practical. For a builder to itemise and cost every tiny piece of work he will have to put a time to it.

This time will allow for contingencies and his minimum allowance for a job will be 1 hour. Each hour adds up hugely. If he feels he can do 20 little jobs in a day he will simply charge a days labour rather than an hour for each of the little jobs. 20 hours is far more expensive than 1 day!

Apart from anything else, itemising every detail in a written quote takes hours and let’s face it, it will be in your bill somewhere. Regardless of the hype, there really is no such thing as a free quote.

5. Vet the Builder

It is a constant source of amazement to us that people don’t do this more thoroughly! You’re about to let someone run riot with your most valuable asset so why wouldn’t you check them thoroughly. A cup of tea pouring over plans around the kitchen table is not enough – yes, it is very important that you can get on with them but there is more.

At work you’d never hire a new employee without thorough checks, vetting and interviews yet in your own home, with your own money it doesn’t seem so important? Check their public liability insurance as an absolute minimum – here’s what to check for.

Get a good builder

It’s up to you to get a good builder – no one is going to do it for you!

6. Be Compliant

You might need planning permission or building control sign off. A good builder will be able to help you, but this is your home and ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure you have complied with all the rules and regulations.

Failure to do so will make your home unsafe or possibly impossible to sell when the time comes.

If in any doubt call your local planning office or building control officer; they are very helpful these days and will guide you as far as they can. You can find details about how to contact both here:

7. Sign a Contract

This is vital. They recommend a JCT contract or one from the Federation of Master Builders. We recommend ours (which is free), and comes with really helpful notes about how to tackle the conversation about the contract with your builder which many people find intimidating. Down load our contract here.

8. Stagger Payments

Yes, this is absolutely correct, and they suggest keeping 10-20% for contingency, which is again very important.

They also make another very good point. Extras will happen it is inevitable but good planning and project management will keep them to a minimum. Remember that they are just as annoying to your builder as they are to you – he cannot go on to the next job if bogged down in extras. Whatever it feels like a good builder makes much more money by finishing a project on time and quickly moving on to the next when he promised he would. Also extras destroy all the goodwill he’ll have built up with you.

They say to never pay up front. This is plain lies – you will have to pay a good builder up front on many occasions. Ask yourself:

  • Why he should commit to ordering materials for your home (that might be unique, such as special steels) with long lead times out of his pocket entirely at his own risk?
  • Why should he put off other jobs to work on your home with absolutely no commitment from you?
  • What recourse does he have if you have to postpone or even cancel the build and he’s committed all the employees and sub-contractors to your job?

You have to show that you are committed – not for the small jobs, but certainly for a large one.

9. Watch for the Warning Signs

They suggest you should watch out in case your builder in going bust. With the proper checks up front this should not be a big risk. If you use an experienced and established builder and pay a reasonable price and on time, then you will not have to worry about this.

A better use of your energy is working with your builder to ensure that he has everything he needs to work efficiently and get the job done; you are a team and the success of the project depends on both of you.

Vet your builder fully

If you’ve checked your builder properly in the first place, you wont have to worry about him going bust

If you’ve checked your builder properly in the first place, you wont have to worry about him going bust.

10. Sign Off Snagging

This is great advice. Keep back up to 5% of the project for the snagging –it’s called a “retention”.

Here’s something that they suggest that’s really clever: they recommend waiting a month and writing a list of issues so that he can fix them in one go. He’ll really thank you for this rather than calls every time you find a little something, which is seriously annoying.

Follow these tips and you likely to have a successful project, however big or small.

One thing that is probably more important than anything else it your mindset – hiring a builder is not an adversarial activity. You need to pick and work with the guy that you feel you can make work well for you. The success of your project is dependent on you both working well as a team. You need to communicate well, and be able to deal with problems efficiently. As a good team you will succeed!

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