If building for yourself, check builder out carefully

Lanice Steward gives some advice to owner-builders

Those who build for themselves, possibly after also doing much of the design themselves or in collaboration with a designer, can bring about substantial savings and can gain great satisfaction from the whole process, says Lanice Steward, MD of Anne Porter Knight Frank. They can, however, she adds, also be driven to distraction and even, on occasions, outright fury.

So – if you are tempted to go this route, and are not leaving matters to an architect or project manager, what advice does Steward offer?

Her fist tip is one which, she says, is surprisingly often overlooked: check thoroughly on the builder’s track record before you employ him.

“There are highly competent builders who are also far too good at extracting maximum profit from a project and who regard the non-professional as easy prey. There are also highly incompetent builders who have left behind numerous angry and, in some cases, impoverished clients whose projects were invariably delivered late – so it really pays to check with those who have employed the builder previously. Fortunately there are enough honest and efficient contractors to be found.”

The prospective home builder, said Steward, should also check that the builder is a member of the Master Builders’ Association (which enforces a Code of Ethics) and the National Home Builders Registration Council. The latter is particularly important, says Steward, if you plan to sell the home within five years of its completion – because if the builder was not NHBRC registered the banks will not give a bond on a home until it has been proved structurally sound for five years. (The NHBRC offers a safety net plan for homes on which structural faults appear in the first five years and the builder, for whatever reason (bankruptcy, ill health, etc) is unable to put matters right. As they can threaten deregistration they can usually force the builder to do the repairs.)

Having selected a builder and his quote, it is absolutely essential, says Steward, to draw up a formal written agreement in which the work to be done is recorded in great detail, along with the agreed handover dates. The builder should also commit himself in writing to three or four months snagging list repairs after handover.

On any home, adds Steward, the plumber and the electrician are key tradesmen. The client should insist on knowing who they are and on seeing their references. If they are inadequate, the whole house can be put at risk: poor electrical networks can cause fires; inefficient geysers and pipe work can cause massive water damage; blocked toilets can necessitate the whole outfall being rebuilt.

The more the owner visits the site during the building, the better, says Steward. Daily visits are likely to push the builder into a better performance but if this is not possible there should at least be a weekly site meeting.

Costs can be cut down by the clients ordering many of the materials himself and possibly even delivering them. If the builder has this responsibility, the client should check at each meeting that they have been ordered well in time.

If all goes to plan, the owner-builder could save as much as 30% on what he would have paid if he bought from a spec builder or developer so the huge extra effort required can be worthwhile.

Article by: www.anneporter.co.za