Don't cause yourself misery when extending your home, or building a new one.
Whether you're planning for an extension project or building a new house altogether, there are some key points, 6 of which we discuss here, to watch out for to limit the risks of loosing money, un-necessarily, resulting in a treacherous and stressful construction period.
It is very easy to get swept up with the excitement & apprehension of starting a building project, after all, its your home! Due to this it is very easy to panic, freak-out and make rash decisions by rushing the project planning process in an attempt to save money and time. In our view, time spent on the preparation of a building project will pay you dividends in the longer term and see a lesser stressful construction period.
Don’t panic and freak-out!
Whatever happens, at any stage of the project, whatever you do, don't panic. Of course, it is all very easy for me to say, stood upon my soap box, however, whether you have an Architect appointed of not, there are always beneficial solutions to any problems that arise. This is not to say that some of these solutions would cost you money because, undoubtedly, understanding that building is simply a series of one catastrophe after another, you will pay a little more than the contract sum. This is the nature of building work, and, everybody should be rightly paid for any additional work that has to be carried out, that could not have been reasonably foreseen. This is why we always advise that a 10% contingency sum is held by the client for any 'relevant event' (contractual term) that occurs. By having a 10% contingency sum in reserve will alleviate allot of the stress that is inherent in the construction phase of the project. Apart from the construction phase, we usually find one of the most stressful parts of the process is the tender stage.
When sitting and waiting for the prices of the build to be received, it can be a real nail biting time. A time when many questions are raised in the clients mind, what's the cost going to be? Is it going to be to much for us to afford? Can we do this? Have we done the right thing? etc, etc, etc.. There is only one other time during the whole of the project when anticipation in waiting can be as stressful as when waiting for the tender prices to be submitted. This is the planning stage. Whilst not quite as stressful as the tender stage, it is still a very real stress point in the project. At both of these times, in our view, both at pre & post event time, the worst thing that can happen is for the client to panic, freak-out and, if we are appointed, to terminate our appointment and attempt to do things on there own accord. Even if costs do come in to high, there are always things that can be done, with a bit of logical thinking, to get the project to a manageable price. Often it is the cost that is seen as the issue when, in most instances, costs can, in some way or another, be accommodated by simply thinking about the project from a slightly different view point. Of course, reductions can always be made, although, as we know with the rule of 'economies of scale', this can often be counter productive and instead looking at the cost as a further investment in your property is often a better route to take.
Don’t use the wrong set of drawings for other purposes
We are often asked to only carry-out services up to building regulation stage. This means that a set of information will be produced to satisfy the building regulations only. This would include things like some U-value calculations & drawings to show plans elevations & sections. This will not include every detail, neither will it resolve most problems that exist on site. Sometimes, when we have provided the building regulations package we have been removed from the project, because we are seen as an unnecessary expense, beyond that point. We have been blamed by both contractor and client for not providing enough information to enable the building to be built. We have experienced instances when a builder has said to us, 'why is this detail not on the drawing, it should be?!'. We usually follow this up with a constructive response along the lines of, 'we have not been appointed to carry-out that stage of work, or level of detail, but would be happy to provide it for a reasonable fee'. Of course, this doesn't go down very well with either the client or the builder, no matter how polite we are. Regardless of the fact that we would have advised this at the beginning of the project, it always seems to be received with some distaste. In our view It is useful for any, and every, would-be client who is looking to build, to understand why the situation is as stated above.
The easiest way to explain this is to start at he beginning of the project, with the planning stage. If we were asked by a client to do the planning drawings with the regulation drawing set included, we would advise that, whilst it would be possible for us to do it, it would only put them, the client, at great financial risk because we don't know, until planning permission is granted, what is actually going to be built. So, If we were to produce the regulations package with the planning set, the situation could go one of two ways. Either, more than likely, there would be late changes required to the planning proposal scheme, which would make the regulation information, already produced and paid for, obsolete. Or, in the unlikely event of the planning permission being approved, without the need for any changes, the regulation package would already be complete and ready to be submitted. The latter part of this scenario, in our experience, is highly un-likely and would mean that the client would be left with having to pay for, in the first instance, the building regulation stage, twice. This is the same for every stage of the building process. This well documented RIBA project process is set up to protect the consumer and is based on nearly 200 years of experience.
Don’t employ a builder without a contract being in place. (hold the builder accountable for his work)
Whilst part of the service we offer as Architects is ‘contract administration’ you can, as a domestic client, contract your building work yourself, if you wish, by using one of the JCT www.jctltd.co.uk domestic consumer contracts, amoungst other types. Whilst we wouldn’t ever advise this as a sensible route of action, unless you are well experienced with building contracts, if you don’t want to pay somebody else to carry-out this service on your behalf, do contract it yourself. Without having a contract in place, with an agreed figure, an agreed timescale, a retention figure and/or a damages penalty clause in place, you as the consumer leave your self wide open to risk (time & money). By having a contract in place and having the terms of it correctly administered, limits allot of the risk that is inherent in the building process. A builder worth their weight will both understand a contract and be appreciative of one being in place, to control the quality and cost of the project, leaving them with the mind space to manage the strategic running of the project.
Either do the background checks yourself or let your architect do it for you.
Prior to starting a project and normally done once you have a list of contractor/builders in place, who are willing to give you a quotation, background checks on them, are carried-out. This simply involves gathering information from places like companies house, on their past financial history, and, references from past projects. These checks can also include, if they profess to be a member of any body like the federation of master builders etc, a search on the relevant members list. It could be as simple search as typing a name into an internet search engine like google. You can do this yourself. In our view, this is absolutely necessary as past history will show up the contractors/builders who may be, whilst the lowest price, a higher risk option.
Don't pay for anything upfront
In our view, one of the biggest no, no's that often occurs at the beginning of an un-contracted project, is that the builder will ask for a lump-sum of money, up front, to get the project rolling. We do not believe that this is the right way of doing things. By handing over a lump of money up front, puts you the consumer at unnecessary risk. If something where to happen to the builder whilst he has your money, unless you have some sort of managed credit account he uses, as and when he purchases materials for your project, you may not have any recourse in place to obtain the money back from him. It is for this reason, under an administered contract, you will only pay for the work and materials that have been carried out and fixed in place beforehand. A good builder will have in place credit accounts with suppliers to enable them to get on with the project without the need for you to fund the project immediately.
Always hold a retention sum on any contracted sum
Under normal building contract terms, the employer/client retains a percentage, usually around 5%, of any payment handed over to the builder. This 5% of the contract sum is then, normally at the practical completion stage, split into two, with half being paid to the builder and half being retained for the duration of the defects liability period. This period would normally run for 12 months from the practical completion date (the end of the build phase). At the 12 month end date, once the builder has carried out their duty of rectifying any defects, the remainder is paid to them. I am often told that this seems a little unfair on the builder and un-trustworthy of there commitment. We believe that it is human nature, once the money has been pocketed, for interest in the project to dwindle, no matter who the worker is, especially when there is no golden egg as an offering at the end. Because of this, and to enable a good finish being achieved on a project, we always advise that a retention is reserved.