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Search for the Perfect Builder/Contractor and team

Is there such a thing?

I’m currently (with a small team of mentees) in the process of finding the right builder for a relatively small project in Croydon.  

Our mission is to secure planning permission to convert a large house into two flats – a two and a three-bedroom flat with a garden. 

Surely that can’t be difficult? Well, it certainly is when you don’t know how long the Council are going to take to grant you the permission. If at all. Croydon is also known for not wanting to split large houses into flats so we must tread with caution and offer something back which the Council will look favourably on. 

With that said – here lies our starting point for choosing the right builder/ building team.

The list below is by no means exhaustive or in any particular order. However, these eight points have been the focus for our Decision-Making Process:

1. Manage expectations – Planning permission is a waiting game. Therefore, how flexible is the builder whilst you wait for planning permission. Can the builder be stripping out in the meantime or starting the M&E? Are they prepared to stop the run of the job whilst awaiting for the planning permission?

Some might say, don’t instruct your builder until you have your planning permission, as then they know exactly what they are pricing you for, rather than on a drawing not approved.

2. Location, Location, Location – Does your builder want to travel every day to your job? Is his team local to be on site when he is not?

3. Materials – Included or NOT. Clarity is key. This could significantly change final costs. The obvious offenders are kitchens and bathrooms. For example with bathrooms, who’s supplying the sanitary ware, tiles and taps? If they are to supply them, exactly which ones? If you want to supply the tiles yourself, who’s supplying the adhesive and grout? Unless all such things are clear, there’s potential for misunderstandings and arguments over money once the work has already started.

Consider also, if you buy the materials, is that going to hold up the job? Will you be running around headless and eventually find there was little saving and you then get blamed for delaying progress?!

4. Availability and Timings – When can they start, but more importantly when will they finish? How confident are they that they CAN finish on time? This is by far one of the biggest problems with any works. Are your builders willing to enter into a JCT Minor Works Contract that includes penalties for late completion?

A little tip is to understand how many other jobs they have on the go and what size of team they have handling them. Some will offer the information freely and others will say – irrelevant if we finish on time. For me – RED FLAG!

5. Project Management – Let the builder project manage. There seems to be many different definitions of exactly what project management actually involves, but in my view, the most important manager of a project is the main building contractor. Without them leading the orchestra they often cannot play in tune.  

My tip here is to get the name of a foreperson. Who deputises when you can’t get hold of the main contractor? There is nothing more frustrating than turning up on site with no one to provide an update when you have concerns or simply want to ask a small question about your project.

6. Selection process : Money Money Money – Some would say this is where it starts. If the price is wrong then it’s all over. I would say differently. This is the beginning. Finding the perfect builder is much more than just the cost of the work. E.g. Can you work with them; can your team work with them; what is their set up? Are they going to offer more than just building skills; think outside of the box; offer solutions to problems or create bigger ones? 

Think value. What is that worth and then look at negotiation but with added value in the forefront of your mind alongside budget (and the all important contingency figure). 

Embrace tendering – Competitive tendering is the process of getting alternative prices from different builders for the same work. Clearly, it’s crucial the information against which they are pricing is absolutely clear and specific (otherwise how can two prices compare?) 

7.  Accreditation – Consider, does your builder need to be accredited or from a trading association? Is that important to you? Or is it more important that he/she has completed jobs like yours previously and has a track record of doing a good job; comes highly recommended/rated and has a good stable financial position?

8.  Don’t Rush- the Decision Making Process. Take your time as you could be working with the builder for a year or more and changing builders is costly both in time and money. No one wants to find themselves repenting at leisure!