RISE UP FROM LAMBS TO BECOME LIONS - Find knowledge, Have knowledge, Make informed Decisions!
The movie buffs amongst you will probably recognise the headline from the movies that have hit our big screens depicting the life and times of Robin Hood, the Sherwood forest rebel who according to the folk law, gave to those less off from those that had the upper hand. The proverbial "roar" to be able to bounce back and attack and defend themselves from the tyranny, in a difficult situation, rather than grazing ready for the inevitable slaughter.
So whats does Robin Hood actually have to do with Construction?
To answer this there are a couple of analogies that spring to mind, but what I am talking about here is the relationship between the Construction Professional, their knowledge, experience and ability and those home owners who don't necessarily have much experience in building, construction and property development.
Historically, one of the sectors that we have not really had a offering in, has been the home owner market, smaller projects where the local builders tend to take the lead. But one Sunday whilst I was sat happily tucking into the Yorkshire puddings we received a call from my wife's brother. Unfortunately one of their friends had employed a builder to do a loft conversion. But the project had hit a few snags and they were wondering if we could help out in any way.
Well family is family, so we jumped in the car and went to have a look. Now what to say next..... I suppose I was a little under prepared. We arrived as did my brother in law. We went into the home and was immediately met with a family that was in turmoil, staring at a half completed project, and having to try and deal with an absent (sorry holidaying) owner of the construction company and a builders representative not even equipped with a single customer focused bone in their body. Just to pull on anyone emotions, there is a bit more to the back story, whereby the home owners son, who suffers from debilitating asthma, which had resulted in him staying away from the family home with friends and family.
We had a walk around and had a look at the projects progress, we had a chat with the home owner, we took some copies of the documents they had. What to say OMG...... is definitely something that came to mind. But having been warned by my wife that people do cry, I avoided the "OMG" out loud moment, going for a softer approach of "its nothing that can't be sorted".
So what had we seen? Cutting along story short this was a nightmare, riddled with loose promises, over payment, poor quality, incomplete work and a project taking, twice if not three times longer than the builder had originally promised to take.
At the time we arrived, the family had paid the builder over £20k, had been coerced into appointing a friend of the builder to act as building control, despite the local authority being willing and able to do the job in a time to suit the builders timetable, ended up agreeing to pay the proposed building control company a fee in excess of what the local authorities building control team would have charged, had a a few changes forced upon them by the builder that really didn't work, had done some of the works themselves and had basically been living in what we can only describe as a tip! We've seen some messy builds but this one topped our list, particularly given the property was being lived in.
In addition there was the quality. The new staircase bounced up and down, the newel posts were floating on sky hooks, doors didn't fit right, insulation was questionable, floors had been patched with badly sized boards and foam filler, electrics were - well lets not go there, I think you get the gist.
Nothing that can't be fixed appreciated, but when you have spent £20k (this on top of a bill for the initial designs) on a relatively small build and ended up in this situation, solutions are somewhat limited, its normally gone. Not many home owners have 2 lots of £20k laying around under the mattress. Your patience is at an end and emotions are inevitably running very, very high. Once you have spent your money, its normally gone.
Dealing with this situation got us thinking. In this sector could our skills and experience in larger scale construction help. We could give the inexperienced a helping hand to rise up and rather than being a lamb ready for the slaughter, be the roaring lion prepared to fairly defend their own interest and expectations. After a coffee or two we agreed - lets give it a go and develop a offering. Hence our Home Own-ER offering was born.
Moving into this sector, we have some initial advise for anyone engaging and progressing on a construction project on your own home.
(1) Agree a detailed design
From our experience above and some of the discussion we have had, the provision of detailed designs is a bit hit and miss. In the example above, the family in question did have a few drawings - they were quite frankly rubbish, standard documents that didn't really work for the uniqueness of that project - but at least they had something that at showed/ agreed the basic outline layouts of the new loft area. The rest of the information was all either down to the builder to provide or not. Now how many people ask when they are looking for a builder - can you design? Probably the most of us will look at nice pictures, see that the walls are all nice and clean and straight, but will not look at any designs. People will say a walls a wall, etc. but is it? As we know in the industry, there are many ways of approaching things and many, many different products that could also suit.
(2) Get support from a experienced Professionals
In our experience two, three, four heads are always better than the one. Use professionals where they are best suited to be used. Architects can make the best of the space, engineers can tell you if your house will still be standing at the end of things, contract specialists and lawyers will get you an agreement that actually means something.
(3) Avoid the wrath of the planning department
The size, position, materials, use, etc. of your renovation or extension will all be things that will affect if you will need Planning permission or not. You need to check if it does and check before you progress too far. This can be a complicated area where experience counts. There is lots of advice available from https://www.planningportal.co.uk/ a Joint venture between TerraQuest and the Department for Communities and Local Government, but some of it is not always easy to compare to your plans, so be sure to either speak to your local planning department or again get someone to do this on your behalf. It can be costly to demolish a extension or property!!
(4) Get a clear, concise and correct contract/ agreements
Agree things in writing! This can be easier said than done, but it is imperative that things are discussed and agreed before you start. Once you start it can be difficult to get things changed, particularly if you have a big hole in the side of your home.These agreements need to cover all of the legal basis yes, but they also need to set out the deal that you have done. As our clients that we work with on larger projects will testify to, this is where I now say that the most important thing here is the deal that you do. The contract can be great, but if you have a bad deal, the contract will simply reflect the bad deal. The deal is all the things commercial, like the price payment terms, etc. Think of it simply paying 100% of the price on day one would be a bad deal f you are the employer (home owner) and paying 100% of the price once finally accepted at the end would be a good deal for teh employer (home owner).
As well as payment the deal should also go into the price you are paying and what you are getting for it. Remember paying a premium price for a poor quality products, poor installation could be contractually correct! Likewise paying a cheap for cheap may not fit with your current home. Pay the right price for what you want and what your agreement says you are getting.In construction another big consideration is whether the price will increase or not. There are different types of prices that can be offered by a builder. If the builder has sufficient information there is no reason why they should not be able to give you a fixed price detailed quotation. Less information may mean that they opt for a agreement where you pay a day rate for labour (Daywork agreements), others can be based on a estimate of quantities and remeasured at the end. Try to stick with fixed price agreements and avoid day work and re-measurement ones. This is except for extras requested by you.
Don't forget that agreements need to be in place between everyone you are working with. Don't just concentrate on the builders, also think about your neighbours (Party Wall Agreements,etc.), your designers, Cost Consultants, etc.
(5) Get an independent Building Control Inspector
This is something that we never thought about previously. Building control we have worked with has been professional, but the above got us thinking and in the spirit of 10 below - make sure someone other than the builders friend is inspecting their work. Even if they are professional and do their job at least you can rest at ease.
(6) Find the right Builder
Noticed we haven't said get a recommended builder! Recommendations too don't always work. Building projects can be wildly different and those skilled in one type of building project, can be unsuited and inexperienced in others. The builder you choose needs to be the one who not only has the skill and experience to do your project and work with you, but also has the time available to take on your project. Builder are synonyms for taking on too much work at once. Work with the builder to schedule the project properly. If you don't then they may be forced into rushing.
If things are going to go wrong the human element will also play a big part - trust your instincts, if you dont think you can get one with the builder on a day to day basis, theya re the wrong builder!
(7) Be clear what you are buying!
This may sound simple, but trust us it isn't. Think about this. If you were buying a shirt, you would look at the material, the colour, the size, the fit, etc. The same should be said about the important things that go into your home. Obviously better qualities and finishes cost more than those of lesser quality, however whats in your builders price? Simply saying you are getting a door, may mean a £20 one from some far flung continent, not one that would pass muster, let alone match whats in the rest of your home.This would apply to ll things going into your build - ironmongery, windows, etc.
Because this can be so emotive - our advise is simple: Get samples, sample boards, pictures and product sheets. Make sure that all your builders
(8) Take your time
Time is the key to success in our opinion. Rush a project you expose yourself to poor quality, missed inspections, etc. Take too long and you could get the same - you become forgotten about and miss managed.
(9) Make sure you are insured
Insurance is a big thing on extensions and new build projects, but is the one thing that people tend to overlook.
If you are carrying out extension works and are managing the project yourself, you should arrange special insurance designed to cover the new works and the existing structure. This is because most home insurers will exclude loss or damage whilst the property is undergoing alteration or renovation.
In addition make it clear who is insuring the construction works - normally called the Contractors all risk insurance! This can be provided by the Builder or by the home own-ER.
(10) Trust nobody!
Sad to true to say that in construction, trust no one. Make sure that you keep your cool, document everything, photograph and video everything (era of the smart phone does have pluses!), constantly question and act immediately if you think something is wrong.
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