Embarking on your first building project can be quite a daunting prospect, with little idea of where to start and how to manage the process. This is why the first thing that is often considered is whether you need to engage an architect. A simple approach is to assess how much work is involved and whether the work can be adequately managed by a competent builder. For example, if you are simply changing the use of a space or having your loft converted, then a specialist builder will be able to support you. If the works involve a substantial extension or a new build where the style of architecture is also an important consideration, then an architect will be necessary to manage the planning and building control processes as well as the project design and build.
You will then need to decide on a builder or installer and ensure that they understand what you are trying to achieve without compromising the project vision, the building programme or costs. The best form of recommendation is still word of mouth and it is worth discussing with family, friends and neighbours to see what their own experiences have been and whether they can recommend architects or builders to you.
Once the architect or builder is engaged, they will need a brief in order to fully understand your requirements. This can be developed in conjunction with your appointed architect or builder and can cover:
- Your ultimate expectations – what do you wish to achieve from the project, both short term and long term. Include your likes and dislikes in design at this stage.
- Your needs – such as use and connection of spaces, sizes of rooms, privacy, future plans etc.
- Constraints – such as planning restrictions, existing structures, accessibility (restricted mobility), timescales and budgets etc.
- Opportunities – such as flexible use of space, upgrades to other elements of your existing property, improved layouts, renewable energy, enhanced natural daylight provision etc.
- Your timeline and budget – the 2 most important aspects that are quite often overlooked in the early stages of design.
As the design process develops, there will be changes to the brief to firm up understanding and it will eventually provide a set of instructions to make clear to everyone involved what is required and form a useful check list to measure progress of the project against. The brief can also be used to ensure that the builder’s interpretation of the architect’s drawings is accurate and that the project is constructed entirely to your expectations and satisfaction.
Budget and timeline are the two things which are most likely to adversely affect a project. It is therefore important to allow for a generous contingency sum (15%) to cover unforeseen work when you look at costs and it is also important to agree a start date and an end date with the builder. It is recommended that you have a bonus scheme written into the contract to reward the builder if he finishes the project early. It is also reasonable to have penalties written into the contract should the builder go over the agreed end date as a direct result of his own management of the build. Both of these inclusions provide incentive for the builder to complete the project on time.
It may be that you are quite handy with DIY and fancy managing the build process yourself. This is quite appropriate for the very smallest of projects, but the bigger a project gets, the more hassle and time will be needed in coordinating and managing the sub trades, utility companies and local authority requirements (planning and building control). By employing a general contractor, you not only remove the hassle and time associated with project managing, but you pass the risk onto the builder, which he will be much more used to dealing with.
- Always obtain at least 3 quotations from architects and builders to allow you to compare and ensure that you are getting value for money
- Write a list of questions before completing a brief to ensure you have everything covered
- Try to programme the building work for the summer months to reduce the risk of delays through bad weather
- Engage with your neighbours early (usually through the Party Wall etc. Act 1996), to allay any fears they may have of the impact of your project on their own property
- Ensure that all funds are secured before committing to a project and that stage payments can be made at regular intervals - include details in your contract with the builder
- Consider your living arrangements whilst work is being carried out
- Check other existing fixtures, fittings and equipment in your home as you may have the opportunity to upgrade or change whilst carrying out building works
Ultimately, being streetwise in managing a project will ensure that you get maximum value from your investment, with a finished project that you will be able to enjoy for many years to come.