You have heard the stories from friends and family of their building work going terribly wrong, from the builder running off with their money to the work not being done to standards which meant that they had to pay someone else to correct it.
Horror build stories are seldom surprising to those of us that work in the industry, but all too often can be avoided and with good practice you can mitigate the stress through the process with a carefully managed process.
This post outlines some of the most common mistakes with real life experiences that will help you to avoid being caught with a horror build story.
Hiring a builder is a big decision and one that requires careful consideration. With so much at stake, including your time, money, and the quality of the finished product, it’s important to avoid making common mistakes that can negatively impact the outcome of your project.
Mistake 1: Not Getting Multiple Quotes
One of the biggest mistakes people make when hiring a builder is not getting multiple quotes. While it may be tempting to go with the first builder you speak to, it’s always a good idea to get at least three quotes from different builders. This will give you a good idea of the market rate for the work you need done and allow you to compare prices and services.
We often see customers tempted to use the builder that gave them quotes before they even had any drawings in place. Unfortunately it is near nigh impossible to provide a quote with any level of accuracy before you have defined exactly what you are proposing.
The construction of any type of building, even what may appear like a modest extension will have lots of moving parts – from the type of finishes you are proposing to the build up of the insulation, if you have not defined this and the quality that you are looking to work to then just getting a builder in to quote can often be like signing away a blank cheque.
However good the builder is, do not put yourself in a position where you have not got a benchmark to work with.
Mistake 2: Not Checking References
Before hiring a builder, it’s important to check references from previous clients. This will give you an idea of the quality of work the builder has produced in the past, as well as their level of customer satisfaction.
You can ask the builder for a list of references, where possible, try and see a project in progress and one that has been completed for a few years. This is primarily because you want your building to last; mistakes made during construction do not always manifest until a few years have passed and if the customers are still happy a few years after the build was completed that is a good sign.
Don’t forget on day one of a completed project in most instances the build will look great. When working with a new builder, we also always ask to speak with an architect that they regularly work with.
Builders that are professional, tend to be comfortable working with professional people. What this conversation also gives an insight into, is whether they following drawing packages or develop things as they go.
Subject to your risk to appetite, you may comfortable with the latter, but would you be happy if your drawings showed a product with a performance of X being replaced by the builder with a lower grade product with a performance of Y and you still being charged for X?
Even more importantly, would you even know that you didn’t have the right product fitted? If builder’s work the whole duration of a project with architects, it is likely that will follow the requirements of the drawings as this will be verified by the architect on their walk arounds and hence the reference from an architect they work with can be even more insightful than the reference of past clients.
Unfortunately with so many cowboy builder’s in the market place, online reviews alone are not enough to verify the builder’s credentials – so it is important to spend the time doing this.
Mistake 3: Not Having A Detailed Contract
A detailed contract is an essential component of any building project. It should include the scope of work, timelines, payment schedules, and other important details. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you’re paying for and what you can expect from the builder.
Without a detailed contract, you run the risk of misunderstandings and disputes later on. If you are unclear what contract to use, your architect should be able to guide you on this.
It is also important that as part of the contract you have a clear set of drawings, schedules and specifications that outline what is expected of the contract, who is supplying what – remember contracts are seldom referred to when things are going right; when things do go wrong they can be invaluable.
Your contract should also outline any penalties if things are delayed, implications of things not being followed and outline a means for changes and variations to be agreed. Construction contracts can be complex and it is important that you have the right contract in place to suit the works that you are looking to undertake.
There are many tried and tested template contracts, and subject to the work you are doing, there will likely be a suitable contract in place.
Mistake 4: Not Verifying The Builder’s Insurance
Before hiring a builder, it’s important to verify that they have the necessary insurance. This includes liability insurance, which will protect you in the event of an accident on the job site, and workers’ compensation insurance, which will cover the cost of any medical treatment if a worker is injured on the job.
It’s also important to make sure the insurance is up-to-date and covers the entire duration of the project. In parallel, if your builder is responsible for any aspect of the design, and don’t forget this can include the design of systems that you may not see such as plumbing and drainage then then they should also have indemnity insurance in place for this too.
We often find that builder’s will have a basic level of cover and have even seen policies that only cover one full time employee on site – challenge these things before works commence – again a bit like contracts, if all goes well unlikely that you will tap into this; but if it doesn’t you want to know what you have cover for.
Mistake 5: Not Setting Clear Expectations
Before hiring a builder, it’s important to set clear expectations for the project. This includes discussing the scope of work, timelines, budget, and any other important details. By setting clear expectations from the start, you’ll be less likely to run into problems later on.
This sits in parallel with the detailed construction package. In so far as possible we suggest that you make as many choices as possible at the outset – from the door handles through to the positions of lights and type of switch plates you want – having this clearly outlined on drawings and schedules means it will be clear what is expected and if something is not fulfilled as outlined can be managed.
Also outline when you will be available to make any decisions and timeframe needed for this – all too often a builder will message on the day asking for a time sensitive decision within a few hours – this does not allow you the opportunity to review implications and coordinate accordingly and with a bit of forward planning from the builder could be mitigated.
Mistake 6: Not Being Involved In The Project
This doesn’t apply to all customers, in fact it is important to strike the right balance. While it’s important to trust your builder, it’s also important to be involved in the project. This means being available to answer questions, provide feedback, and make decisions.
If you’re not involved in the project, it can be difficult to ensure that the work is being done to your satisfaction – if you are not best placed to be involved then you should seek to hire a professional consultant to manage the process – from an architect through to a project manager.
We would say the way to assess whether you would want someone to manage day to day operations on your behalf would be to ask, relative to the investment being made with the builder do you have the time and skill to protect this investment and would you know if it was going wrong?
Mistake 7: Not Being Flexible
Building projects often involve unexpected challenges, and it’s important to be flexible and open to change. This means being willing to make changes to the original plan, if necessary, and being open to suggestions from your builder. By being flexible, you’ll be better equipped to handle any challenges that may arise during the project.
Also be clear before accepting any change what the cost implication of the change may be – if your builder is not forthcoming with this or the complexity of the situation means it cannot be defined – outline a spend cap so you know relative to budget it will not compromise the build.
Mistake 8: Not Communicating Effectively
Good communication is key to a successful building project. This means keeping your builder informed of any changes or concerns, and being available to answer questions. If you’re not communicating effectively, it can be difficult to ensure that the work is being done to your satisfaction.
Communication should also be logged and be done in a transparent way – when multiple discussions are being had things can get confused and you may not be able to recall what was said and this can lead to more distress in the long run.
Mistake 9: Not Staying Within Budget
It’s important to have a clear budget in mind before hiring a builder, and to stick to it as closely as possible. Unexpected costs can add up quickly, and it’s important to have a plan in place to cover the unknown things that can crop in during a build.
Be mindful that it is tricky to have ‘xray vision’ before works commence – on this basis you should expect some budget increases that would fall within the contingency. That said, you can avoid many overspends by making decisions in a timely manner and being clear about what you can spend at the outset.
When things change on site; agree costs before instructing the work so you do not end up in the unformidable position where you are held to ransom by the builder.