Building Work – And How to Survive It!
Whilst we work hard to design and specify the work you require, your satisfaction with the construction process and the final product is heavily dependent on finding the right contractor. The contract for the work is drawn up between you and the contractor directly; our duty is to administer the terms of the contract fairly to both parties.
We have worked with many contractors over the years and may be able to suggest suitable contractors for your project. However past performance is no guarantee of future success and each project requires the same careful selection of contractor. We are also happy to consider contractors who you know or who have been recommended to you by friends.
Here are some thoughts that other clients have found helpful.
1. Who Takes The Financial Risk on Your Building Project?
In the last 20 years the extent of construction drawing and specification done routinely by many architects has reduced for two main reasons:
Contractors and specialist subcontractors have taken on the detailed design and specification after planning stage by offering design-build services. This passes the financial risk to the contractor, but the client loses control over the design and specification because the contractor makes choices based on cost to stay within their quoted sum. The end result is usually a serviceable building, but with reduced design quality
Architects have responded to increased competition by cutting their fees to maintain turnover. That means they have less time to spend on the detailed design and specification leaving some of the work unscheduled. That leads to the classic situation where the contractor can claim lots of extras in site. The inexperienced client does not realise that they are being exposed to this much higher financial risk when they decide to spend less money on design fees
The service we offer is based on thoroughness of design and detailed construction documents. We believe that high quality construction drawings and specification are essential as they pass the cost risk from the client to the contractor. The result is a more predictable final project cost with fewer changes needed on site and less chance for the contractor to charge a premium cost for extras.
At tender stage we analyse the bids to identify where the financial risk has been accepted by the contractor and where it has been left with the client. Once that is clear, we can report to the client on the proportion of risk they are taking, usually as a percentage, and that helps them make a decision about how to proceed. If the proportion of risk is high, we can then agree how that is managed.
Once on site, we use a tried and tested system to record every change using a cloud based system accessible to the client and the contractor, so that the cost of changes are transparent and up to date. This really does work and usually there is no final account discussion needed, because the change list is the final account.
See our additional page that asks Who Takes The Financial Risk On Your Project?
During a contract the weather can also have a significant impact on progress. If the weather is unusually bad and disrupts the programme, the contractor is entitled to ask for more time. It is our duty to assess this fairly on your behalf and authorise additional time if appropriate.
3. Having The Builders In
Having building work done in your home is always disruptive. It will limit the use of parts of your home and it will create noise and dust. All we can say is that it will be worth it at the end! Don’t forget that builders are, by and large, amiable, hard-working human beings. Their priorities, however, are different to yours and sometimes they clash. Like anybody else, they also make errors of judgement. We try to manage the disruption as far as possible, but it can still be a frustrating experience at times. We hold regular site meetings and monitor the builder’s programme so that problems can be addressed as early as possible. We also try to balance your living needs with their need to carry out the construction work.
4. Project Management - Who Does What During Construction
A ‘project manager’ is not really needed for work on your own home. The project is managed jointly by three people:
"Client" manager - that's you - overall strategic planning and finance
"Design" manager - that's the Architect - guardian of the design intent, reporting on progress and costs
"Construction" manager - that's the builder - day to day site management for labour and materials, quality control of workmanship
5. Site Visits And Meetings
We usually hold full site meetings monthly and carry out interim site visits once a week or so, depending on progress. We encourage clients to become involved in these meetings so that queries, comments and problems can be raised and dealt with quickly. We strongly recommend that clients resist the temptation to give direct instructions to the builder because this can disrupt the programme and add unplanned costs.
6. Cost Control
These are our top tips to control costs:
Do - be clear about what you want from the start and avoid changing your mind later. If you change you mind on site it can involve undoing work already completed which causes delay as well as extra cost. You also have less negotiating strength once the work has started
Do - set yourself a realistic budget and set aside the funds to do a good job. Think about the investment in two ways: Future property value and value to you in lifestyle terms. But don’t - over-invest on features that are seconds ndary. Focus most of your budget on the really important areas
Do - take time to understand the drawings and read the specification. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and change things before work starts when it’s cheap to do
Do - ask your Architect if they can work in 3D so that you can walk around your virtual building to fully understand all the detail
Do - get all your planning and building regulation approvals before you start. That avoids delays on site whilst you wait for issues to be resolved
Do - get a "Quote" from a builder, not an "Estimate". Be clear about provisional sums. These should cover things you want to make final decisions about, not fuzzy pricing of straightforward building work
Do - agree any extra costs with the builder before they start work on a change, not afterwards (when you can’t say no)
7. Payment Of The Contractor
We will advise when and how much you should pay the contractor, which is normally once a month. When each payment is due, we assess the amount and issue an Interim Certificate that tells you exactly how much to pay. In order to safeguard your interests, our assessment is based upon how much work has already been completed. This effectively means that you always owe money to the contractor.
When the contractor tells us that the project is nearly finished, we inspect and comment on any minor “snags” which need to be dealt with. Because we inspect the work regularly, these are unlikely to be major.
9. Practical Completion
This is a specific term used in the contract to define when the work is complete. It is important because, at this point, it is clear whether the contractor has completed the project by the date set out in the contract. If the work was delayed due to variations or weather, the original completion date may have been put back.
If the contract is not completed within the contract period, including any extensions of time granted, then the contract entitles you to deduct liquidated and ascertained damages. The amount involved is set out in the original specification and is usually set at around £500-1000 per week. The level of damages must be set on the basis of a genuine pre-estimate of the cost to you of late completion. If the figure is set too high, then it could be seen in law to be a penalty, which is unlikely to be enforceable. We will discuss the appropriate level of liquidated and ascertained damages with you when drawing up the specification.
10. Defects Period
The contracts we use have a clause that provides for a six or twelve month defects liability period that starts to run from practical completion. Towards the end of this period we review the project with you and make a list of any defects that need attention. In a way, this acts like a guarantee period. To enforce it, you hold back part of the payment to the contractor, usually 2½%, until all defects have been dealt with.