Project plan­ner

Choos­ing the ideal per­son to build your dream ex­ten­sion is es­sen­tial for a suc­cess­ful out­come. Here’s what you need to con­sider...

Real Homes - - CONTENTS -

Dis­cover how to find the right builder to en­sure a suc­cess­ful out­come

The ma­jor­ity of ex­ten­sion and re­mod­elling projects rely on a main con­trac­tor for most of the work. Some ex­ten­sion projects are man­aged by the owner (so you would be the main con­trac­tor in this in­stance) but a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion will rely on a pro­fes­sional to ar­range ev­ery­thing. As the cen­tral point for the project – the per­son who is re­spon­si­ble for co-or­di­nat­ing the trades­peo­ple and the ma­te­ri­als – hav­ing a good re­la­tion­ship with your main con­trac­tor is the most im­por­tant in­flu­ence on the suc­cess of the project.

What’s a main con­trac­tor?

To be clear, a main con­trac­tor is the pro­fes­sional that you have the main build­ing con­tract with. They might em­ploy their own sub­con­trac­tors (e.g. plum­bers, plas­ter­ers) or, if they are a big­ger op­er­a­tion, have their own salaried staff mem­bers in those fields, but the prin­ci­ple is the same. You pay the main con­trac­tor, and they pay the trades. Many main con­trac­tors re­fer to them­selves as builders, and vice versa, and while it’s usu­ally con­sid­ered to be the same thing, some builders might have a nar­rower def­i­ni­tion of the ser­vices they of­fer – for ex­am­ple, brick­lay­ing spe­cial­ists. It’s worth clar­i­fy­ing ex­actly what ser­vices your pro­fes­sional will of­fer (and what you need) at an early stage.

Defin­ing the con­tract

As ev­ery main con­trac­tor needs a con­tract to man­age, it’s im­por­tant to very clearly de­fine the scope and scale of the project early on in your con­ver­sa­tions. For in­stance, does ➤

the main con­trac­tor want to do a com­plete pack­age of works, not just in scale (from foun­da­tions through to floor­ing) but in scope; do they in­sist on pro­vid­ing all the ma­te­ri­als them­selves, or are they happy to let you or­gan­ise the things that re­ally mat­ter to you? This will give every­one in­volved a clear sense of what’s ex­pected and what the main con­trac­tor can then price for.

When to make con­tact

Main con­trac­tors are ab­so­lutely in­te­gral to the suc­cess of the project and can of­ten ad­vise on prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to de­sign and build­ing prob­lems (e.g. po­si­tion­ing of beams and posts) that pro­fes­sional house de­sign­ers might not to be able to en­gage with on plan. As a re­sult, it’s usu­ally best to try and put the main con­trac­tor at the fore­front of the project – so get them in at the very early stages. Most will hap­pily spare you the time it takes to drink a cup of tea to talk through the project and give you some very use­ful build­ing ad­vice. Crit­i­cally, they can help you de­fine the scope of the project to make it prac­ti­cally de­liv­er­able within your pro­posed bud­get – some­thing that house de­sign­ers oc­ca­sion­ally strug­gle with. Also, on that point, good main con­trac­tors will be able to rec­om­mend ex­pe­ri­enced house de­sign­ers that they like to work with, and whose plans have been clear and prac­ti­cal. Es­sen­tially, the ear­lier you make con­tact, the bet­ter – you may find they’re able to help with the early plan­ning stages more than you think.

How to find a good main con­trac­tor

A ma­jor worry for many home ex­ten­ders and re­mod­ellers is the in­fa­mous ‘cow­boy builder’. In truth, the phe­nom­e­non has been mas­sively over­hyped, and the oc­ca­sional in­stances of main con­trac­tors not de­liv­er­ing get mag­ni­fied through me­dia cov­er­age – al­though when it does hap­pen it can, of course, be dis­as­trous. Most re­la­tion­ships end very smoothly, and for those very few that don’t, plac­ing blame isn’t easy: the fault of­ten lies some­where be­tween the main con­trac­tor, the de­signer and the home­owner.

Find­ing some­one you can trust with your beloved home (not to men­tion a lot of money) is a mix of art and sci­ence, of in­stinct and fact. Ask­ing for rec­om­men­da­tions from friends and fam­ily re­mains the best way to source a con­trac­tor on the whole, while ask­ing de­sign­ers and even a friendly lo­cal build­ing con­trol in­spec­tor to point you in the right di­rec­tion is also a good op­tion. You should use the trade as­so­ci­a­tions, such as Plen­tific, Check­a­trade and the Fed­er­a­tion of Mas­ter Builders, as well. Lastly, look for projects that’ve been done lo­cally – par­tic­u­larly if you’re new to an area – and knock on doors and ask. All of these things will help you in pro­duc­ing a longlist of around 10 pro­fes­sion­als to talk to. Call all of them (most main con­trac­tors are not vo­ra­cious email­ers), ex­plain the project and see if they’re will­ing to talk to you.

That’s when the art/in­stinct bit kicks in. When you meet them, how do you get on? Do they lis­ten to you, and ask you ques­tions? Or are they telling you what they think you should do? Be wary of peo­ple over-sell­ing them­selves. It re­ally is in many ways like that all-im­por­tant first date. Do you think you could bear to be around this per­son for the next six months? Do they talk too much? Do they lis­ten well? Do you ‘click’? Would you feel com­fort­able talk­ing about dif­fi­cult things like money and ex­pec­ta­tions? All of these things are very im­por­tant, and you need to get a sense of be­ing able to trust them.

Once you’ve nar­rowed your list down to two to three, pro­ceed through the de­sign process and get fixed price quotes from them. Mean­while, con­tact their pre­vi­ous clients (most will hap­pily put you in touch) to talk with them about the main con­trac­tor; and do any fi­nan­cial checks you can to see prior trad­ing his­tory. If all of that works out, and the price is within your bud­get, you can feel con­fi­dent that you’ve hired the right per­son.

The ear­lier you make con­tact with a con­trac­tor, the bet­ter – you may find they’re able to help with the early stages of the project

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