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My advice on choosing a building company

(3 Posts)
sossieak47 Tue 09-Apr-13 22:13:09

I've recently had a side return extension and loft conversion. We had a number of problems with our builder and I'd like to share my experience.

When we chose our builder we were looking for an established company with experience of doing similar projects in our area. I didn't mind paying a little bit extra for the work to be of a high standard.

Unfortunately that's not what I got.

If your building company asks you to sign a separate contract with the foreman...DON'T!!!
Check your contract with a solicitor, but what it will almost certainly mean is that the building company are in effect acting as "agents" and the building work is being done by the foreman. You will probably also be asked to pay the building company separately from the foreman. Rather than having an established company doing your build, instead you've got a one-man-band who has simply been introduced to you by the building company. The building company we chose, prepared a quote for the work, put up a big sign outside our house with their name, and you'd see many of their vans in the area. The look like they're a big established company. But as I mentioned they are in effect just agents. Even the people driving the vans and wearing their t-shorts are not actually employed by them, but are sub-contracted.

The main problem with this kind of setup is that if things go wrong you will not be able to sue the building company. They would have made sure of that by the wording of the contract. The liability will be with the foreman. He will most likely be aware of this, and will ensure that he has few assets to his name, so even if you did go to court, and win, he would be unable to compensate you. In fact any reputable solicitor would advise you not to take it that far even if you had an
extremely strong case.

Another important problem with this setup is that because the building company don't want to make themselves liable, they
don't impose any quality control, or best practices on the foreman's work. They never question what he does unless the client is unhappy.
We weren't happy with the work don't on our roof. We spoke to the building company (this was before I knew where we stood legally)
and they got the foreman to rectify the problem. However I was concerned that nobody from the building company had spotted this.
Who is checking the foreman's work? I don't have any experience in building or know what to look for. Basically they didn't give me
an answer to this question. Each time I had such concerns they'd tell me not to worry as the building inspector would check it. At the
end of the project I spoke to the building inspector who confirmed that they do NOT check for quality, and can only verify what
they see when they are onsite to make an inspection. They just check that its been built legally and according to the plans. Nothing more.
And in fact, the building inspectors which our building company used weren't the council ones, but ones who they appointed (conflict
of interest???).

I mentioned that the building company will do a quote and then get the foreman to do the work for the money quoted less the cut the building
company takes for themselves. This means that the foreman will do the work as cheaply as possible in order to give himself the biggest profit. Our quote was quite high, and I was expecting it to be done with good materials and without taking shortcuts etc. But what happened in practice was that the foreman used cheap, low quality materials in order to make the biggest profit.

I hope this advise might prevent somebody out there making the same mistakes we did....good luck!

architectming Tue 09-Apr-13 23:37:15

I do feel for you sossieak47, and thank you for sharing your story to the rest of us. However, this demonstrate the ugly side of not employing an architect to help you to administer the contract when the build goes on site.

It is very cunning from your builder that he is acting what we called the Contract Administrator between you and the Foreman, but instead of being your 'guardian' and ensure quality, the contract is between you and the builder, NOT the Foreman, so there is a conflict of interest as the builder wants to get paid asap, and the Foreman is just a sub-contractor so he will use the cheapest quality materials to maximise his profit.

If you have employed a Qualified Architect to help you, he would still administer the contract (a standard widely used building contract called JCT) on your behalf, BUT the contract for the build is between you and the builder, the architect's job is to stand on your side and ensure the builder use the right materials that the architect specified and ensure a good quality finish for sign off to trigger payment. If you have any concerns with the build, the architect will issue instruction to the builders to get it rectify or changed.

Sadly, this part of the build process has not been well documented, or the general public doesn't know this is what Architect do for a living, or more likely are people watching Grand Design / Sarah Beaney's Home improvement show which they portray that it is very easy to manage builders on site.

For a simple small extension or renovation, yes. But when you have a complex big extension with the whole house being gutted out, unless you have done something similar before, it is a very big task for anyone to oversee the build on site.

Not say every extension jobs should involve an architect, but if you don't know what you are doing, it is best to employ a professional to do it on your behalf.

Remember all builders want to make a big profit and will always use the cheapest materials unless specified. The perceived amount of money that you think you can save on architect's fee is not worth the hassle and heartache.

sossieak47 Wed 10-Apr-13 21:26:04

I wish I'd known about the role of a Qualified Architect. Thanks for sharing. I'll certainly go down that route in future...but I can't imagine doing it for a while!

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