Should you use a main contractor or builder to project manage your build — or perhaps take on these critical tasks yourself? Architect Neil Turner sets out the pros and cons of each route
WHY USE A CONTRACTOR?
A modern house is no longer a simple building. The choices are endless, and there are complicated structural, mechanical and buildability issues to consider, alongside a legal requirement to meet complex Building Regulations.
A skilled contractor is more than a builder; he or she is the link between the consultants, trades, suppliers and subcontractors. It’s a tough job to control quality, people and programmes to achieve the desired outcome. Having a contractor generates more certainty on the plan, costs and quality. It also allows the client to carry on their daily lives — a huge factor and one that’s easy for self- builders to underestimate.
A contractor will create a programme. There is no guarantee, but an application based on knowledge, the complexity of the build and experience allows a client to plan for funding, renting other accommodation and setting a completion date.
A safer build: the CDM duties are now more responsive. All domestic projects must now adhere to the CDM Regulations, and if they are not fully understood, they can leave a client who takes on the contractor role liable to prosecution. And some contractors are not able to be a safer build so against using Contractors service somehow we need help from professionals
The contractor will charge for their time, profit margin and overheads. The appointment can be challenging to get right. The process can be contractual, with a commitment to spend and to a fixed programme. Employing a contractor still requires time and attention to answer questions. You are handing over control of your project to one person or organisation.
WHY PROJECT MANAGE YOURSELF?
Greater ability to choose the subcontractors and all the trades. Allows you to coordinate everything.
- You can programme the project to suit your timescales and finances.
- There’s a more significant opportunity to make savings on all the packages and elements.
- You can change things as you go along — you’re in charge, so you have no one to answer to.
- There’s greater satisfaction for the self-builder.
THE CONS OF MANAGING A PROJECT YOURSELF
- There’s the stress of controlling a process that you may not have any experience of. A lack of knowledge can cause anxiety, trouble and wasted costs as you learn on the job.
- Buildings require so many decisions. There will be interface details between different trades, and coordination to avoid delays.
- Some subcontractors will be wary of ‘new builders’ and will factor in any hassle and lack of experience into their costs. Most will work hard to forgive errors and assist; others may not.
- There are health and safety implications of understanding the CDM regulations and duties.
- Controlling the budget when extras come in can be difficult — and they will if you don’t understand the process. Remember, unless you have fixed prices there will be costs for wasted time or worse still re-doing work that isn’t correct.
- Time was demanding — it’s hard enough building a house when you are a time-served builder, let alone a novice. Don’t think that it will be a case of just making a few calls. If you are going down the builder/project manager route, then expect to commit time and a half to replace the experienced builder. So if you work full-time think how this is going to affect your normal work routine.
- It’s possible that you don’t have a team of known and trusted suppliers that you can rely on.
Everyone wants good quality, but not everyone understands how to achieve this. Unless you are keeping an eye on things and know what you are looking for, trying to produce quality will be tiring, hard work and frustrating.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST OPTION?
In my view, appointing a competent contractor is the most effective way to build an elaborate modern house. He or she will have the ability, connections and links to all the trades and can coordinate all the client’s subcontractors into one effective programme. Yes, you pay for this privilege, but that is the skill the contractors bring to the project.
Building yourself will require a massive amount of time, perseverance, stress and endurance. I’ve seen many people become disillusioned or even ill during a self-build due to the hours required. Some people give up their jobs to do this. I’m never certain this is the right approach as you must factor in the lost income and the project taking over your life.
If you want to build or manage some of the projects yourself, one option is to get the builder to complete to a particular build stage, as below:
- Contractor finishes the frame or walls, and then you complete all tasks afterwards.
- Contractor completes the weathertight shell, including external materials and roof, and then you achieve from M+E (mechanical and electrical) first fix stage onwards.
- Contractor completes the house including first fix M+E works, and you finish second set M+E jobs: decoration, kitchens and bathrooms.
- Contractor completes all work with the client arriving at the end (known as ‘turnkey’).
The above options involve a little bit more for the client to take on. Each one (apart from the ‘turnkey’ option) saves money but also escalates your effort and risk. As you take on more packages, you can end up delaying the contractor and seeing your savings disappear in contractor delays.
Unless you are skilled in the building profession, have the time to give to the project or do not have a set ‘moving in’ date, I would guard caution before taking on a build or elements of the build. Many do, and most regret the decision. Be honest with yourself. The savings can be enormous, so like most things in life it comes down to a difficult decision.
My name is Cooper. I love to ride my motorbike around the town and hangout with my friends in our favourite cafe. But, if I’m got bored, I will write on this blog about anything I want.