We often get asked what are the most common issues that can de-rail a major residential building project.

We recently came across an article in an industry publication written by Bob Maynard, who is head of construction and engineering disputes at Berwin Leighton Paisner. Bob listed 5 things in his article, in Construction Manager Magazine in February 2018, that could be indicators of issues with a commercial construction project. These 5 questions are as valid on a residential project as they are on a commercial one.

In this blog we’ve used Bob’s themes to comment on the questions we’d ask for residential works.

Sign 1. Is the design robust?

The architectural design period can take a long time, and some clients can get frustrated. They just want to get a contractor appointed, and get on with things! This can lead to a temptation to get contractors to quote on designs that are not yet complete.

At the extreme, this could even be asking a building contractor to price from a simple planning drawing. This risk can be compounded by a lack of understanding by the client, about what level of detail of designs are reasonable for residential construction. On a commercial project, there are normally construction drawings issued after the Building Regulations set. On a residential project, this may not be the case. Sometimes all an architect will do is provide some construction details for particular junctions or interfaces.

This means that pressure mounts once the building regulations drawings are issued, and these are then treated as the tender set. Construction detailing can be skimped on, or ignored altogether. The builder can often appear to the client to be helpful at this point, but instead can unfortunately sometimes make the situation worse. The builder may well offer to take on certain elements of construction detailing, and say that they can work it out on site. That’s fine if all goes well, but this casual approach can lead to finger pointing if things begin to go wrong, or if his costs begin to increase. Proceeding with an incomplete design allows a gap into the project. This gap can become a chasm once questions start being asked about who has allowed for what – and what the time, and cost implications of this might be.

Sign 2. Is the contract being administered properly?

On a residential project, the first issue here is what is that there is an ignorance about what Contract Administration (CA) is and who is doing it?

CA is not a commonly heard term on a residential project, and this by itself is a problem. A client may have decided not to appoint a consultant to run the contract because they believe that the “project management” is being done by the builder. However, the Contract Administration role is very different to the builder’s project management role, and the builder simply cannot fulfill it.

The Contract Administrator is, by definition, independent of the building work. They have to assess and value the construction works, and hold the builder to account for its progress and quality. This clearly cannot be done by the builder!

Many architectural practices advise clients that for residential projects a Contract Administrator is costly and unnecessary. Their solution, they say, is to choose such a good builder that there will be no issues!

For this to be the case, it assumes 2 things:-

  1. That the architect is recommending a builder who has is making so much profit in the project that they’ll never need to claim any cost variations. A problem in itself……
  2. That there will be no construction issues. Yet even good, conscientious builders will run into problems, and with no one to help sort them out, these problems can turn nasty.

However, the Contract Administrator also has a role in making sure that a client fulfills his part in the process, and this can be just as valuable for a successful project as making sure that the builder carries out his duties.

If a client is going to appoint a CA then they must think about who is best placed to carry out this function and check that the frequency of the visits are in line with the needs of the project.

Sign 3. Are payments keeping step with progress?

It goes without saying that no client should be overpaying. Paying upfront is never a good idea. If there is a major issue later in the project, then this could lead to a very difficult situation. On the other hand, a contractor deserves payment for work completed, and a client who is tardy with payment, or questions every invoice, can cause a lack of trust to develop. Once trust has eroded on a building project it is very difficult to rekindle.

Having a building contract, with a CA on-board, means this problem does not happen.

Sign 4. Is your programme realistic?

All too often we see unrealistic programmes from contractors. If they have thought about how they are going to deliver the project, then it certainly is not recorded in their programme. Contractors often see a programme as a stick that a client or CA will beat them with, and therefore submit a woefully thin set of information. This does not help the project deliver its goals. A programme should be a management tool that all parties refer to, and work with, in order to help each other stay on track. On a residential project there will probably be many instances where client input will be required. If these are not shown on the programme, or not discussed at meetings, then the programme is not helping the project.

Sign 5. Is the contract being followed?

The contract should not be being referred to at every meeting, but all parties should know what is in the contract, and how the contract works. It may seem that one party is gaining an advantage if it fails to point out some contractual failure by the other party, but more than likely this is actually storing up issues that come out of the woodwork with a vengeance later.

Thank you to Bob Maynard’s article in Construction Manager Magazine February 2018.

Are you planning a major building project? If so we’d love to have a chat. If you’d like to find out more about independent project management and the role of a contract administrator then call 01923 896550, email info@cl-pm.com or complete a contact form.

CLPM Project Managers cover London, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and West Sussex. Energy Consultancy and Cost Advice services available across the UK.