60 Minute Makeover, DIY SOS, The Renovation Game… in the last 15 years our national obsession home improvement has led to lots of “quick fix” DIY programmes. However, building work is complex and expensive so use the ClearPlan “10 Golden Rules” to get your dream build.
The media would have us believe that building work is easy, that your dream home can be created in the blink of an eye. But if you want a quality build that will last and one that hasn’t broken your bank balance, you should approach small building projects with the same degree of care and attention you would a large build. After all it’s your money, your time and your peace of mind at stake.
What do we mean by “thinking big”? Simply this…treat every build you undertake as a “big build”. A new hospital or supermarket wouldn’t be built without building contracts, budgets or a timetable of work. Why should your home build be any different?
Your build…the basic rules
If you don’t want to spend more than you mean to or need to on your build and if you don’t want to finish six months after you thought you’d be done, these simple guidelines will help you avoid common but costly mistakes.
Rule 1 – Plan your timetable
Even with a small build, every part of the building process will take much longer than you expect. You should spend at least six months planning a small build like a single storey extension, small loft conversion or kitchen renovation.
Having a building timetable will help you think about when and how you can fit this build into your life.
Once you start on your timetable:-
- Think about when you want to start the build – work backwards from your ideal start date to plan in time for important items like researching your costs
- Take out public holidays like Christmas and any other holiday time or weekends you have booked
- Consider what family, work and voluntary commitments take up your time and build those in
What you will most likely find is that you have less time than you thought – realising this is at the “planning” stage is very helpful as you have the chance to think clearly about what needs to be done and who can help you.
In this “timetabling” phase you should also consider the “what if’s” those things that might be really disruptive to you should the worst happen. Use this time to come up with some realistic solutions.
Time spent on your timetable is really worthwhile – it will form the basis of your “to do” list (which will be extensive) but will help you prioritise and set aside the time you need for Rule 2…
Rule 2 : Do the numbers…then do them again (and again if necessary)!
At the start of any build you should rightly be concerned about your budget. Whether you are spending £500 or £5000, avoiding overspend is a priority. Everyone has a budget and one of the most important jobs you have is to stick to yours.
A realistic budget at the beginning of any building project is critical and basing it on “rough” pricing from whatever source will almost certainly mean that you spend more than you mean to.
Again, start at the beginning…the important question is not “what would I like” but “what can I afford”. MAKE FINANCIAL DECISIONS WITH YOUR HEAD, NOT WITH YOUR HEART.
As well as using online pricing guides for per square metre build costs, get costings on:-
- Any fees to be paid to the council for planning applications or building control visits
- Fees that you may need to pay to a designer or architect
- If you need to move or upgrade gas or electricity supplies, how much will the utilities companies charge you?
- If you are building next to your neighbours property, you may have to pay the costs of the party wall surveyor they appoint
- How much will the new kitchen / bathroom cost as well as paint, tiles, adhesive, lighting, skirting, flooring etc
- Will you need to do any external landscaping as a result of your build – if so what will that involve (labour, paving, brickwork, plants?)
Rule 3 : Whatever initial figure you come to, add an extra 10%
Costing building projects is not an exact science and however well you plan, there will always be unexpected issues to resolve or items that you have forgotten to cost in.
Once you have reached your final budget figure, add on at least 10% as your contingency or “what if” fund. For example, you have your floor lifted and discover all of the joists are rotten – if you don’t have the money to put things right, the project will grind to a halt.
If you are borrowing money for your build, going back to the bank or building society at a later stage will almost certainly mean incurring more charges so borrow a little more upfront and pay it back if you don’t need it.
Rule 4: Do you need planning permission?
This sounds an obvious question BUT the number of “retrospective” planning applications made is high.
If you discover after your build that planning permission was needed, there is no guarantee that the council will agree to your request. You therefore risk having to demolish your build.
Your local council website will have details about the type of applications that do require planning and if you are still unclear, call and ask to speak to one of the planning officers.
Rule 5: Produce a “finishes schedule”
A really common complaint by homeowners is that the pricing they get from builders varies greatly.
Leaving aside the fact that some builders will naturally charge more for their services than others, the most common reason for differences is a lack of clear information on which to base a price.
Sensibly, you will probably get three or so builders round to quote for the job but each builder you meet asks different questions so you give different answers. Other factors like your mood when meeting them means that each builders impression of what you want from the build will be different.
To cut out the uncertainty you need to have a “finishes schedule” – in very simple terms this is a document that details exactly how you expect to see whatever room or space you are developing when the builder in finished.
This means that you need to think about all elements of the room including:
- Walls – (papered, painted or plaster?)
- Ceiling – (papered, painted or plaster?)
- Floors – (carpeted, tiled or left bare to be finished by someone else?)
- Radiators – (how many / where located?)
- Lighting – (pendant light, spot lights or other?)
- Power sockets – (how many, where located?)
- Skirting – (height / type)
Everything that you do to every part of the room will have a cost attached to it. By giving the same detail to every builder, you greatly increase your chances of getting “like for like” pricing and avoiding “extras” once the build starts.
Having a finishes schedule also allows you to ask each builder to break down each element of their price.
Rule 6: Spend time choosing a good builder
Most likely you will have gone out to three of four different builders to get pricing – your decision should be made not just on their price but on their ability to provide you with:-
- Identification of who they are and the quality of their work – see if they are registered with the Federation of Master Builders or the Office of Fair Trading
- References don’t just call numbers you are given, ask to go and see the work
- Copies of their insurance cover so that you will know what happens if the job goes wrong.
- A Payment Schedule – this should be part of the building contract and should clearly state who pays what, when.
- A firm start and finish date
- Agreed retention figure – this is the percentage of money that you will hold back until the job is completely finished and you have all of the relevant certificates. Get this figure agreed in writing – between 5% – 10% is common practice.
Rule 7: Have a contract in place
No matter how small the job, it is worthwhile having a contract in place. This will protect you if you are unfortunate enough to have a dispute with your builder.
There are now several standard contracts that can be bought cheaply from the internet – the JCT Homeowner contract is a short, plain English contract which covers all of the main areas that can cause problems.
If the idea of a contract doesn’t appeal, make sure that you and the builder you appoint exchange letters (on their company note paper) which sets out basic items like cost, VAT (included in the price or excluded) and a start / finish date.
Rule 8: Monitor all changes that happen once the build starts
Changes to any project are inevitable – some will be your choice and some will be unavoidable changes. To avoid being presented with a much larger bill than you were expecting at the end of the job, write down ALL of the changes.
Whilst this seems time consuming, it is the only way to ensure that everyone is clear about what was done, who agreed it and what the cost was – at the end of the job, you will not remember this level of detail on every item.
Rule 9: Don’t pay money upfront for work not completed
Again it sounds obvious but many homeowners experience a request for payment the minute the build team arrive on site. If you have followed the guidelines for choosing a builder and have some form of contract in place, this shouldn’t happen.
If you are asked for money, check what it’s for. Most builders will have trade accounts for buying materials and so will not pay their bill for 28 days. You should not pay “labour” costs for work that has not been undertaken.
To help their cash flow, many smaller builders might request payment weekly or fortnightly – this will allow you to see the progress of work and pay either what you have previously agreed or if there has been no formal payment schedule, what between you is agreed as fair. ALWAYS GET A RECEIPT FOR PAYMENTS MADE.
Some builders may request a “deposit” for you to secure their services – this should be avoided if at all possible and suggest a “letter of intent” (where you confirm in writing that you wish to use his services for your work) as an alternative.
Rule 10: Have an agreed “defects period” and ensure you have a retention fee
The final stage of your build is the “defects period” – this is usually a period of three months after your builder has finished on site. It gives the house a chance to settle and for you to compile an accurate list of the final “snagging” that the builder needs to come back and complete.
You should ensure that you retain a sensible percentage of the total bill payable. The builder will need to return and complete the final items to your satisfaction before this money is signed off. A retention of 5% of the job cost is normal but if you can negotiate 10%, so much the better.