choosiNg a coNTracTor
Paul Testa searches for the right contractor to work with on the eco retrofit which will transform his 1960s semi-detached house
Through my job as an architect and running a small practice, I’m fortunate in that I know a number of high-quality contractors who would do a good job on any of our projects — including my own.
We don’t tend to recommend a competitive tender approach to choosing a builder. We feel that, for most of our clients, a quality product and a quality working relationship is much more important than outright cost. For most, a project of any size is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it should be enjoyable. We have found through experience that projects driven primarily by cost are more fraught, less enjoyable and also more likely to be subject to cost variation on site.
Managing a project (even when you are an architect with experience of running projects) is a time-consuming process. As I don’t have the luxury of this time with my own project – I had been undertaking most of the design work in my spare time – choosing a contractor is, perhaps, more critical and I am even more reliant on a strong relationship based on trust. So, we have chosen to work with Terry Huggett Developments (THD) who we have worked with before and who I have built a strong working and personal relationship with.
Although cost is very important, and our budget is tight for what we want to achieve, quality is still the biggest driver in the project. This is why we have chosen not to procure the works with a fixed-price contract. THD has never attempted this level of performance before (we’re renovating to meet the EnerPHit standard — read more on page 161) and I don’t want to pay for Terry to price in lots of inbuilt risk. I also don’t want to
penalise him for doing the good job that will be required to meet our performance target. So we’re using a ‘cost plus’ type contract, where we pay for all materials, site time and preliminaries (skips, scaffold, site welfare, etc) along with a proportion of THD’s overheads and a percentage profit. Neither of us has worked on this basis before, so it’s a learning process. We definitely see it as a strong approach that should get excellent build quality while minimising the risk for both parties.
We started with a sense check price from a quantity surveyor, which has so far been broadly accurate. The approach has also made life more flexible for me as the client. I have undertaken a chunk of the big ticket material purchasing where I’ve been able to secure favourable deals; I have also been able to undertake some works directly. This hasn’t required the normal price negotiations that would have been needed in a fixed-price scenario.
The most difficult thing so far has been understanding the best way for Terry to apportion his overhead costs to the project. We’ve discussed this aspect more than any other in terms of cost. If we go on to use this approach with our clients, how this is explained and packaged will be very important. We needed that strong working relationship to start with, as we’ve been able to raise concerns freely with each other.
Inevitably, taking an involved role in the project as well as running our architectural practice has been a bit stressful, but also enjoyable and very rewarding. The procurement route has had the unexpected benefit that the guys on site are more invested in the process and the ultimate outcome.
NexT moNTh: work begiNs oN siTe
it is hard to believe that a year ago I started renovating a two bedroom stone cottage in South Wales. It wasn’t just on a whim — personal circumstances meant that I had a limited amount of money available, which is why I chose not to go with a modern building, but one with more character, even if it meant more work.
I spent most of my limited budget on replacing the old windows with new double glazing; replacing lintels over the front door and upper window where the original wood had rotted; replacing some radiators; making good upper timber flooring in the bathroom; new electrics; and new internal doors throughout. Outside, costs concerned new fencing in the back garden and laying decking to create a courtyard area by the back door.
Otherwise, the majority of my renovations have involved unpicking the disastrous DIY efforts of previous residents and using my ingenuity to make budget improvements.
I am fortunately blessed with a good imagination, which is helpful when renovating on a shoestring. I blocked the defunct fireplace opening with a piece
of plywood covered with brick-effect wallpaper and purchased a small electric woodburner. To make it look more realistic, I bought a small piece of plumbing pipe and placed it on the top of the burner facing the wall to make it look like a chimney flue. I think it works well, it only cost £65 in total and it makes that section of the room look so much cosier and more welcoming.
I have enjoyed doing the work. There have been frustrating moments of course — waiting for someone else to start work on the property has been my biggest bugbear because it consequently held up all other tasks. There was also the fact that as a woman on her own, my jobs were not deemed top priority and were frequently downgraded to “weekend work” and the start dates changed.
It has been fun and it’s been satisfying to see so much achieved with so little in the kitty, but I think one renovation is enough to be going on with!
jonathan durndell is a chartered building surveyor and is building his own home This month we have continued to build up the walls to first floor level. Progress has been quite slow due to work commitments and my father having a knee operation! All the corners of the house have now been built in blockwork up to the second floor joist level, with the intention of commencing the brickwork in the coming weeks.
We have also loaded out all the blocks and bricks ready to continue building, which has made a little bit more room around the site. I have been busy spending some time cutting half bricks ready for building up the window reveals, which will hopefully save a lot of time when laying.
My father – despite his knee – has constructed his own window templates which will help keep the brickwork upright. These are designed to be easily removed without disturbing the brickwork. Over the coming months we hope to make a bit of progress with the walls to enable us to think about installing the next batch of floor joists.
tamara and Martin Hamill are renovating and extending a 1980s bungalow to create an accessible home for their family
It has been both a frustrating and yet still quite exciting period. We have our plans now, the drawings for the main extensions have been approved by building control, the garage and porch are in planning, and we have shared our plans with our neighbours over tea and cake.
The tender process meanders on, and we have had four quotes back from an initial set of seven builders. They all seem to be constructed slightly differently and with the level of detail varying from none to some! Spending a few hundred pounds with a quantity surveyor to cost up our proposed works, before we actually bought the bungalow, has become invaluable as a “ready reckoner” to compare the quotes for both price and content. We have created a lovely spreadsheet to track the quotes and start to build a cash flow forecast.
We are now down to two potentials. However, closing this part of the process has become tortuously slow, having to constantly wait for revisions and updates, other trades/suppliers to quote and then realising the plans didn’t actually include the vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom — more delays and another bill from the structural engineer!