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We are about to sign with a builder for major project - what do you wish someone had told you before you started yours?

(31 Posts)
Wiifitmama Tue 10-Jan-17 18:47:12

We are (finally!) about to sign with a builder to start a major project which involves two extensions and some major internal reworking of rooms and walls including moving a kitchen to a whole new room and creating a bedroom where there isn't one. Total cost around £100,000 not including the fortune we have already paid out on architect, and endless endless surveyors. (we are in London if that matters) This is not the first time we have done a major renovation but it is the first time for an extension and structural work. (we are moving out for the duration).

So, what do you wish people had told you before you undertook your project? What advice would have been helpful? I am a bit of a control freak and am dreading this to some degree. In my mind, builders never work quickly enough or do a good enough job (totally not true - I am aware of that!). What should I be doing now, or preparing in my mind, to make this all run more smoothly? Any advice gratefully received!

Wiifitmama Tue 10-Jan-17 19:51:34


GreenSpaghetti Tue 10-Jan-17 20:01:34

More for when things get started but be as available as you can be in person / by phone for when queries come up or decisions need to be made (and practice making then quick if you're indecisive). It can help avoid a lot of lengthy delays where your builder has to put something on hold whilst waiting on an answer from you.

MuMuMuuuum Tue 10-Jan-17 20:04:53

DH is on the other side of the coin so I'll rattle off some of the things he mutters (hope this helps)

- have a payment schedule in line with completion if works to spec. He regularly sees clients whose first builder ran off with their money never to be seen again
-check warranties and ensure they are insurance backed. No point builder saying your roof has a 10 year guarantee is you don't know who underwrites the guarantee.
-things are going to happen, expect it. Most London buildings were constructed over 100 years ago if not more so they can be unpredictable.
- if you are asked to pick specifications do it to an agreed timeline. DH has clients who don't choose their kitchen until the last minute then are upset when the lead time for manufacture pushes over the build.
- engage the local authority early in any planning issues. They like to feel in control.
- hire a planning lawyer if local authority try to pull the rug out beneath you (not uncommon especially in conservation areas of if you are doing something new in the street)
- if you are ordering any of your own material, windows etc check, agree and confirm when they are required. They often hold things up.
- get as much as you can in writing. Back to the payment point you should have a schedule of payments with a pretty specific description. Builders will be efficient if it's clear how they get paid wink
-sub contractors - make sure you understand who they are, who has engaged their services (direct or via builder) and who is responsible for their work.
- keep a retainer back for snagging (it's going to happen)
- expect conflict between architect and builder at some point. The architect will either not draw the plan 100% or the plan won't be readable. They'll both moan about each other. Tell them to strap on their big girl pants and talk to each other.

That turned into a waffle. Goodness I must be listen to DH when he talks about work grin

80sMum Tue 10-Jan-17 20:09:11

Hire a project manager to oversee the building work and make sure it stays on spec.

Wiifitmama Tue 10-Jan-17 21:23:33

Thanks everyone! Really helpful! No project manager and architect is now done. She took us through planning, building control (plans) and tender documents. We are not paying her to do anything else. We are in a conservation area, but everything has been signed off by planning and building control so no problem there. I will be staying local enough that I can be on site within 30 minutes (so long as I am not working) and I am organised and answer the phone (which is always with me!) so I hope I would not hold up anything.

We will have a full contract with the builder and it is a fixed price. However, we are ordering some large items ourselves including doors so good to think about time scales for that.

Keep the suggestions coming please - really helpful!

butterscotch1106 Tue 10-Jan-17 21:44:20

I wish we had set a deadline and agreed this with the builders, and maybe even a penalty for them for each week/ day they go over. We are in the middle of a project now, and didn't set a deadline, and it has massively run over what we roughly thought it would take. We had a rough timeline given to us by a friend who is a builder who told us how long he reckoned it should take.

Also make sure that the quote you have been given includes every little thing (shelves, light fittings etc, right down to the last screw almost!)
We explained to our builder exactly what we wanted, and thought this was our quote. But turns out the quote was only for the work included in architects report. Bit of a shock!

Also second the project manager idea.

Wiifitmama Tue 10-Jan-17 22:01:24

Thanks! We really can't stretch to a project manager, but our builder is putting a finish date in the contract and there are penalties if he doesn't make it. And yes about what the quote includes and doesn't. We have some tender documents specifically for this purpose and have had lots of discussion with the builder over it so hopefully there will be no big surprises.

butterscotch1106 Tue 10-Jan-17 22:19:18

Sounds like you have it under control! If only we had been as organised...
Wishing you the best of luck with the project.

SecondsLeft Tue 10-Jan-17 22:24:25

That being there often is really important - say beginning and end of each day. They will never phone or seek you out, but often ask you questions when you are there and have struck up a conversation.
If them being considerate to your neighbours is important to you, think about this.
Sometimes sharing your numbers with extra trades they bring in is easier than going through the builder for each arrangement, and saves plumbers for sitting for hours outside your house waiting for builder to let them in.

Wiifitmama Tue 10-Jan-17 22:34:12

No way can I be there twice a day. Not even once a day. But I can be there at short notice and at the end of the phone.

almondfinger Tue 10-Jan-17 22:42:49

Spend your weekends now, going out and looking at tiles, kitchens, bathrooms, white goods, whatever big ticket items you are going to be buying.
Find out the lead times to order and inform your builder. Then he can contact you when needed and as you will have an idea of what you want and where you can find it you wont be the cause for holdups.
There will be big surprises and the occasional fuck wit. These will make you want to scream.
Be nice, stop for a chat (know when to wrap it up) it's amazing how people will go over and above for nice people. I bring my men cakes and chocolate occasionally. My Carpenter is a legend and there is nothing he wont do for me, he was filling cracks in the wall at the weekend, my plumber is coming in a close second, and is my chief snag watcher. My facia and soffit man is putting in some free ventilation for me as a favour. I'm trying to be nice to my electrician but I want to wring his neck!

As above watch your finances and never pay in full till the job is complete. Pay in stages. Include a contingency, expect to spend it. Have a spread sheet with your costs and forecasted costs. Fill it in, keeps track of the budget and lets you know where you are at and if you need to reign it in or can have the spectacular tiles that cost an arm and a leg ; )

Good luck, I'm coming to the end a direct labour new build. While I've loved it and feel very proud of my achievements and my house, I'm tired, stressed, run down and cant wait for a break.

Wiifitmama Tue 10-Jan-17 22:50:15

So helpful - thank you! I am going to really take on board the "be nice" and bring lots of cake suggestion! You are so right about that. And yes to lead times - very good point.

namechangedtoday15 Tue 10-Jan-17 22:51:06

Firstly, have you been to see any of the work that the builder has done? This was really important for us to see an extension that the builder had just completed and to speak to the homeowners about the process.

I'd agree with being on site - we lived through it so we didn't have much choice, but its the decisions about little things that haven't been thought about - which order do you want light sockets in for instance, how did we want the edging done on the tiling, how did we want the floor tiles laid etc etc. I agree that the builder is unlikely to telephone you - they prefer face to face dealings - and even if they do, without you being at the house to make sure you're both on the same page, its easily to get things confused. Some of those decisions need to be made quickly so yes to being decisive.

Sounds silly but if you are the one who has planned it all (my H was not really involved in it much) and you have the "vision" in your head, make sure its you that the builder speak to. My H would have said "whichever option is easiest / cheapest" to any options suggested by the builder!

As well as having the plans, when its things like radiators, door handles, sockets & switches etc, draw them on the wall. The drawings are really hard to interpret even if you've gone into that level of detail.

Have a contingency. It will go over - sometimes because things crop up on the way, sometimes because you see the space and want a better spec etc than you anticipated.

Don't be a pain in the neck - a good relationship with the builder is worth its weight in gold. Don't change your mind, be friendly, make tea & lunch for them (or at least offer) if you're there, don't sweat the small stuff, be clear with your expectations.

Yes to payment of the completion of various stages. Yes to a final payment only once snagging has been completed and you've got building regs sign off.

If you are buying things yourself, ask the builder if they have a trade account / discount (Screwfix / Selco etc) or they know of any local suppliers that they recommend. If you are buying things like bathroom fittings / flooring / anything that has to be delivered, especially as you're not going to be there, have a conversation about whether they're happy to sign for deliveries / take them in. I made lots of online purchases but always tried to schedule deliveries when I was there. The builders might be at the property but don't take them for granted.

And buy all the actual builders (as well as the head builder) a great big crate of beer when they've finished and done a great job smile. Good luck!

Earlgreywithmilk Tue 10-Jan-17 22:52:49

Add 10 weeks to whatever timescale your builder has suggested

almondfinger Tue 10-Jan-17 23:14:32

Oh and go with your gut. If you don't like someone, don't deal with them. The relationship you have with your builder, trades people and suppliers is so important. If you get on they will make much more of an effort to do things on time, chase orders that have gone awry.

Always ask if 'that's their best price'. Get 3 quotes for everything.

As said upthread, make sure you know what exactly is included in the price. Yes to checking the builders previous work.

If the architect has now finished, is an engineer taking over? Who is going to certify the structure? Decide now what recessed shelving if any you want in bathrooms/walls etc so it can be incorporated in any studwork.

Good luck

almondfinger Wed 11-Jan-17 17:55:00

One more thing I thought of today. Document all major conversations you have with your builder on site and email to him, along the lines of this is what we discussed today, action points, agreements and get him to concur by return. That way you have verbal conversations in writing to refer back to should any disagreement arise.

Get yourself a book. Diarise your daily contact with everyone re the build. I have 'Rang Tom - no answer, left voicemail re ... at 10.30) I am on book two. It's a godsend to refer back to, for prices agreed and payments made. Some days will obv be busier then others. My book comes everywhere with me.

cooltalkineverlivin Wed 11-Jan-17 18:44:38

It will end up taking twice as long and costing twice as much. Some sort of universal law, I think.

Wiifitmama Wed 11-Jan-17 19:47:39

almond finger - that is fantastic advice! I will absolutely get myself a little book and do that. I am a big believer in emails and a paper trail. Would never have thought of it for this though - thank you!

Wiifitmama Wed 11-Jan-17 19:49:45

Oh, and almondfinger - could I ask you to clarify what you mean about certifying the building? I assume building control does that? Or do I need a structural engineer appointed by us to check it at a specific point?

Jibberoo Wed 11-Jan-17 20:06:01

Your builder sounds pretty serious and 100k for 2 extensions and a remodel sounds amazing! Please share his details smile

almondfinger Wed 11-Jan-17 20:35:55

I'm not in the UK, so it might be different.

We parted with our Architect at the drawing stage. We are building using direct labour as opposed to using a builder and are self certifying our build. So we have a structural Engineer who certified the foundations, steel and roof. We will certify the rest. I'm sure that's what Building Controls are but I'm sure someone else can clarify?

almondfinger Wed 11-Jan-17 20:38:14

PS You're welcome.
We've had lots of issues with one of our suppliers, and having an email trail of abuse to forward to their parent Company was v satisfying : )

GruochMacAlpin Wed 11-Jan-17 20:44:55

Actually our mistake was to be too nice to start with. They thought we were soft touches and quickly found out how wrong they were.

You aren't there to be pals with them, you are paying them to do a professional job.

Two of advice: regular, formal site visits. We had fortnightly meetings and paid fortnightly for the work done to date - kept everyone on track.

Check your invoices against quotes and keep a spreadsheet of what been paid for. Our spreadsheet revealed some billing errors on their part.

Male sure you have a contingency budget - you'll need it.

almondfinger Thu 12-Jan-17 22:45:49

I was going to add earlier, don't bring 'lots of cake', mine is occasional and when they are going over and above.

My Carpenters fitted my hearth today as a favour, tomorrow there will be cream buns. As previous poster said. Don't be too nice.

You are paying them to do a job and if you are too friendly and kind, then they will think you are a walkover and it's very hard to give someone a bollicking when they think you are their friend. It's a difficult balance but being nice has gotten far more done on my build then I could have expected and at very little cost to me.

I suppose as I don't have a builder, I am the builder it's different as I have to liaise with everyone and ensure they are happy.

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