Luckily we are now in the fortunate position to have a team of trusted tradesmen we work with in the North West on all of our projects, however we had to learn a few lessons from some dodgy dogs before we got to the dream team we have now. That's why I wanted to share this brilliant podcast on The Property Hub - "How to Find a Good Builder and Set Your Project Up for Success". Take a listen, or you can read my summary below.
How to find a builder and what should you be looking for?
You don't just want to find any builder, you need the right builder for you to ensure your project runs as smoothly as possible. This requires a bit of work.
Ask around and take references. Make sure these references are recent, from the last 6-9 months. Go and take a look at their work. See and feel their end product. Meet the builders with an open mind. What is your gut feel?
A good builder is all about communication. Communication will be vital to ensure the success of your project – and you’ll only get that instinct from meeting someone.
What happens if the builder you want is unavailable?
Again, this is about finding the right builder for you.
Ask yourself, what is most important to you? Someone that can start on the exact date you want/need them to, someone that’s the cheapest, someone that consistently delivers on time?
Find what is most important for you and go forward on that basis. As with anything, it’s unlikely you’ll get everything you want – e.g. cheap, reliable, available – and so it’s best to prioritise and go from there.
Do your research, plan ahead, and get you priorities straight.
How do you compare builders’ quotes?
Before you get any quotes you need to be clear on what the outcome of the finished project needs to be for you. You, as the investor, needs to control the process of the quote on behalf of the builder.
A good builder should give you some idea on what their quote is based upon, but the only way to guarantee that is to go to the property and ideally do this when you’re viewing the property to work out accurately what your offer price should be. As far as possible start with a template of each room, and in each room identify what you want to be done down to plug point positions, tv points, wallpaper or paint, light fittings, what type of extractor, what type of kitchen etc. That way every builder you ask to quote is quoting for exactly the same spec, and you can compare apples with apples.
Set out a schedule and take control of the process. This way you can control the quality of what’s delivered, with no (or limited!) surprises.
How do you choose between quotes?
This becomes much easier once you have a template as you are now receiving like for like quotes and know they're comparable.
What is included, and what isn’t included in the quote? Be clear on this – don’t assume anything. Understand what may be left at the end of the builders work to be done.
Manage the overlap between trades to avoid unexpected costs. For example, the builder is unlikely to fit your flooring, so you need to make sure they prepare the floors as necessary in order not to incur any additional charges from the floorer (technical term?). Make sure this is included in their scope of works.
Is there room for negotiation on price?
This has to be a two-way street. If you ask a builder to reduce their costs, can you offer them more favourable payment terms? Or a flexible start date?
As far as you can negotiate around things that do not affect the quality of your product. Value for money is good, but cost certainty is better.
Make sure everything is agreed in writing beforehand. Define start and end dates, include everything you would like done; including supply of materials, safe removal and disposal of waste, snagging and ‘making good’ after all the work is finished.
Again, it all comes back to communication. Try and have weekly video calls or sit-down meetings, visit the property, check in every other day – keep yourself informed and deal with challenges as they arise.
When and how should you be paying for the work? Staged payments are the way to go, agreed between yourself and your builder, often for hitting certain milestones. It's a sensible idea to keep a retention, e.g. 3% of the total cost back until 3 or 6 months after the work has been completed. This means the builder is still incentivised to fix any issues that appear as the work settles.
How do you control the cost of the project?
Allow contingency in the price when you start a project. Talk with your builder and find out where unexpected costs can crop up, then factor these into your calculations. For example when taking off old wall paper, plaster can sometimes crumble away meaning that wall now needs re-plastering, floorboards can be rotten and joists may need replacing.
Things will go wrong, but it’s how you react to the situation. Having a contingency in your budget means you can deal with things upfront and remedy any issues that present themselves. Do. Not. Panic. Things will go wrong at some point in property, accept that and work on the solutions.
What do you do when projects overrun?
This often happens when extra work is found. You can ask your builder to put extra resource on the job, but this will all depend on what other work they’ve got on at that time.
Be proactive in your communication, try and ascertain milestones going forward, judge where you’re at in the process to where you’re overrunning. Communication is key, make sure you take an interest and are informed of the progress of the job. Then you can plan accordingly. As with cost, try and build time contingency into your plans.
How can you be sure you’re being given the right information?
Visit the property, take a look for yourself. Or make sure you have a project manager who is doing this for you.
The builder should be updating you regularly. Ask them to speak to you in plain English to allow you a better understanding, avoid jargon on both sides. Educate yourself, learn some of the basics and make the effort to understand what’s going on.
What should you think about as a project nears the end?
Arrange a date with your builder to inspect the property and go through a snagging list. Then set a mutually agreed time for completion. The builder should handover all relevant certification to you, along with keys. They should walk you through the property and explain how to use everything.
If you’ve used retention in your payment plan, you should visit the property just before the end of the three months and make a note of anything that’s appeared and needs fixing e.g. small cracks from the building settling etc.