Top Tips 6-10

6. Don’t Compromise on the Important Stuff:

Get what I call the ‘infrastructure’ right – in other words, the services. Don’t compromise on the new boiler system, the rewiring, the plumbing, just because you want to get the space right. I’ve seen people do a loft conversion, but not upgrade the boiler that’s knackered down in the utility room or half the plugs don’t work downstairs or they’ve got a damp problem. I’ve seen people spend £10,000 on a new bathroom but the kitchen doesn’t work. It’s mad.

If you’re going to spend any money on anything first, spend it on the services, getting damp problems sorted, even improving or fitting insulation, before you start on big renovations. Think about what spaces need the most work first. The services are probably the most expensive thing, but also the most important thing. If you get a leak in your bathroom because the pipework doesn’t work, you’ll ruin all that new kitchen downstairs anyway. It’s really dull, but you need to get the services right first. I can’t go in and transform a house knowing that a boiler’s going to die in six months’ time. Get it done first, you’ll get peace of mind and you won’t waste money later.

7. Good Communication is Everything:

Communication is really important. You might set your project up really well, you might have made all your design decisions and know exactly what you’re doing, but if you don’t communicate with your builder on site as often as possible in a proactive and positive way, the project will drift. If you’re on top of them in a reasonable way, they’ll be reasonable with you. If they think you’re not pushing them, they’ll start to lose interest in your job.

If you’re communicating with them every day – I hassle my contractors usually every morning, asking who’s on site, what’s being done, what’s been delivered every day – they’ll be kept on their toes, even if they brush you off a little bit. You’ve got to be on their back in the nicest possible way. If you leave a project for a couple of days and then go back to site, you’ll find that things haven’t been done – and there’s often no real strong reason for it. If you’re on a fixed price, it’s not too scary, but it’s inconvenient and a hassle when things drift. And even in this case, if the builder knows he’s mismanaged himself, he’ll find any opportunity to charge you extra.

Not all builders do this. There are good builders out there – fantastic ones – and it’s a shame that the building industry has got a bad reputation. If you get a good one, you should recommend him to everyone you know.
8. Make sure you have a signed contract:

If you can get your contractor to agree on a penalty clause, great. If you’re doing a big project like Wembley Stadium, you’ve got the power to get one. So many small contractors just won’t do it – they’ll think you’re getting off on the wrong foot. And if you’ve got a great contractor, you just won’t need one. If you have found someone highly recommended, you’ve visited their former clients, you’ve got a good contract that specifies the job, when it finishes and how much it will cost, you shouldn’t need one, and if you insist on one, you might lose them.

What I want to say is, yes insist on a penalty clause – but in the real world you might lose a good contractor to another job. There has to be an element of trust. If you’ve got all that other paperwork in place, contract signed, schedule of works, price in black and white, you’re protected anyway. They can’t run away anyway, you can sue them. If they’re a reputable, established contractor, they don’t want to do a bad job or get a bad reputation, or be sued by you, either.

9. Understand the Builder’s Problems: If you’ve got a fixed price you’ve got peace of mind you’re not going to be spending any more money. If your contractor’s got reasonable cause for delay, however – maybe he’s waiting for the Water Board to do something before he can finish the plumbing he may be able to demonstrate that he needs to charge you a little more money.

Even when that’s all gone on, don’t compromise on the finish. Don’t pressurise him to hurry it along to complete the job if that will compromise the finish. Don’t push him too hard at the end – you’ll trash the job and have to get the skirting boards or architraves that they shoved in at the last minute redone, or the rooms redecorated in a year’s time, and so on.

It comes down to communication good relationship with your builder to be reasonable and to understand the problems that they have. Accept any overruns to get the finish that you want, allowing them extra time to finish properly. It’s a shame once they’ve put all the time and effort into things that you don’t see to rush things that you do see (such as paint finishes and skirting boards) – and those are the things that get tired really quickly. Once you’ve got through that stage – having renegotiated delays, you’ve got your snagging list.

10. Keep a Retention: At the end of the job, keep a minimum five per cent retention, even when your builder thinks he’s finished the job, and do your snagging list. If you’ve got an architect, he would normally do that for you. This retention should clearly be in the contract, and will specify that the builder is to put right any defective works.

There are a couple of stages that people forget about – but it’s in the JCT (building contract). One is the six months’ defects liability period. Once the job is finished you need to go around and make a note of anything not properly completed as per your contract (ie, to a reasonable standard) – taps are loose, the bath has no silicone around the edges, etc. If you’re a novice at this and are not sure, you’re going have basic standards, but are going to have to trust your builder a bit on this. He then has to agree to it and then do the work.

Once the snagging is finished, you still hold back the five per cent for six months. Unprofessional builders will probably hassle you for their money at this point. At the end of the six months, though, at their cost not at yours, they’re obliged to fix any problems. Maybe there’s cracking in the decorations caused by changing temperature in the rooms – that’ll happen in every house – they need to come back and fix that. This is ‘ideal world’ here – but it’s how it should happen if you’ve got a good contract. This is the simple basis of any building contract. If he won’t put things right, you’ve got every right to get someone else in and not to pay him this money.

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