Working out the building services you need

If you are looking to undertake a home extension, loft conversion or fit out your commercial property then, unless you are experienced in construction, you will need to find a competent builder to do the building work.

Unfortunately, not all builders are created equal, some building companies specialise in specific types of work such as house extensions, or shop fit outs, or healthcare premises or only minor structural work for example. Even loft conversions are complex projects that require specialist skills and construction experience. It is important to work out exactly what building services you actually need so that you can focus your search for the right type of builder. More to the point though, you will need to be able to give your builder a good understanding of the building work that will be involved.

Your property is probably your most valuable asset so it is important that your project is properly planned in order to meet all your requirements, any relevant regulations and be in line with any applicable law. Appointing a designer will help put in place all the necessary approvals and paperwork before building works start, and also ensure that the proper information is provided to building companies. Importantly, this will outline the full scope of the construction work you will need. Your designer will be able to recommend and help you assess a range of builders’ quotes, as well as oversee works to ensure the designs are accurately constructed.

Some building companies offer a degree of planning and design services, known as “Design and Build” contractors. The benefit of these is that they can provide you with both drawings and construction all in one place. This is quite common of loft conversion / extension specialists. Be wary where these designs are sold as “free”, as the costs associated are normally just built into the overall construction quote. You should be aware that using design and build contractors often means relinquishing some level of control over specification as the contractor will make most of the decisions. This can make it difficult to be sure you are getting good value for money but a key advantage is that they can provide a fast track service under one roof.

If you do not have a designer to help you, and are looking to use a traditional builder, you will want to write down, in detail, all of the construction work you want doing so that you can give a brief outline to builders when you first make contact. This will help them ascertain if they will be able to deal with your building project effectively.


How to avoid building disputes

Translating designs from paper can be a difficult task and lengthy process. There are lots of opportunities for grand and expensive mistakes, especially for the in-experienced. If your designs are not down on paper then it becomes almost impossible for your builder to translate exactly what you want and a building dispute is almost bound to arise at some point during construction.

Building disputes can occur for a number of reasons, such as building over-runs, fluctuations in price and disagreements over quality. However, most building disputes occur as a result of mis-communication with the builder. It is important to be absolutely clear on what you want from the builder and that the builder makes it clear exactly what is being built. Having full plans and details prepared for a building company will ensure they know exactly is expected. Disputes may be raised from neighbours too, normally around the working times or practices of your builders. Some local authorities, or legal agreements, set restrictions on when building work can be executed so be sure builders are fully aware of things they can and cannot do.

It is well worth appointing experienced building professionals to help mediate contracts with builders (such as a Contract Administrator). They will be able to explain the effects that unforeseen building works can have on cost and timescale.

But what should you do if you do have a dispute with your builder? The exact course of action may vary depending on the nature of the dispute but you should always seek advice firstly from a construction professional. They can assess the nature of the dispute and help form a suitable course of action. They will speak to all parties and try to resolve any issues.

Many people are not aware that most building disputes can be resolved without the need to appoint solicitors. The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act makes provision for a process called ‘Adjudication’ which is often the primary method for resolving building disputes. Adjudication is regulated by a strict timetable that ensures decisions are made quickly, often within 1 month. The process is designed so that building disputes that occur in the middle of a build can be sorted out with minimal impact. Adjudicators are independently appointed officials with experience in the building trade and their decisions are legally binding.

All building contracts should provide provision for either party to seek adjudication. This means that, for example, a home owner can raise a dispute over the quality of work and likewise a builder can raise a dispute over non-payment.

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Construction Workers Looking at Roof

How to choose the right builder

Knowing where to find a builder is one thing, but how can you be certain that the builders you find are the right ones for your project? Choosing the right builder can be one of the most critical decisions in any project as they will be responsible for delivering it smoothly, safely and importantly; on time and on budget.

If yours is a commercial building project, whether an extension or fit out, then it is important to select a building company with experience of commercial building services. This is because commercial building projects are subject to a range of additional legal requirements and paperwork which a domestic builder may not be familiar with but which you will ultimately be responsible for! Builders with commercial backgrounds will be experienced in preparing the broad range of necessary paperwork and be able to provide the additional management required. However, the right builder will not necessarily need experience in your specific sector as long as you have employed a competent designer to put together a full detailed package of drawings and specifications providing all the information needed.

Home extensions are altogether much simpler construction projects to manage but can be very intricate and will require a builder that is understanding and aware of the home owners requirements and wishes whilst being able to carry out building services in a safe and professional manner.

One of the best ways to ensure that a building company is appropriate is to check their previous projects to see if they have experience carrying out construction work similar to what you need. You will need to ensure that the builders you shortlist are of a suitable size and scale to be able to deal with the services you need. A small home extension can easily be undertaken by a small sole trading builder whilst a new build development may be better suited to a larger sized building company. Work on larger developments such as large infrastructure projects will require the services of the largest building companies and developments including work on tall buildings or specialist projects will benefit from suitably experienced specialist contractors.

In other words, just because you already know a builder, this does not necessarily mean that they will be an appropriate choice for your project. If you have an architect or designer dealing with your project then they should be able to help with recommendations and to assess the suitability of a range of builders.

Builders Association

Entering into a contract with a builder

The purpose of a contract is to protect you and the builder by stating each persons obligations to one another. Any agreement between two parties to execute building works in return for remuneration, whether it is verbal or written, constitutes a contract. Verbal contracts are not recommended, these can be easily misinterpreted and are difficult to prove in a court of law.

Due to the volume of information and the complexities involved in most construction projects it is always advisable to enter into a formal written contract with your builder, this turns a builder into a contractor. Comprehensive design drawings and schedules should form part of the contract documents, as well as a full breakdown of the builders quote. These all help to define exactly what is expected of your builder and represent what you’re paying the contractor for. For commercial projects, such as an extension to your business premises, the contract must also protect your business from any breaches or construction delays.

Many builders will offer to draw up the building contract but you should be aware that they will write it to benefit themselves. There is nothing to stop you taking the time to write up your own contract, but your builder is not duty bound to sign it. There are a range of construction industry standard contracts for different types of building projects so the most effective method is usually to appoint an impartial ‘Contract Administrator’ who can select a fair and unbiased construction contract appropriate to your project and then administer its terms. This ensures that the interests of both parties are protected and will also allow for a degree of flexibility appropriate to the nature of building.

Drawings, details and schedules should all form part of the contract documents. Although these may be designed by an architect or designer they may not themselves be party to the contract. Many designers will offer to work as a Contract Administrator – ensuring the terms of the building contract (and their designs) are followed.

As building works are carried out there is often a need to amend the details of the signed contract, including the drawings etc. these changes are known as ‘Contract Variations’. This could be a request by the builder (i.e. because a particular fitting is no longer available); or by the client (i.e. to add another TV); or as a result of an unforeseeable event or problem (i.e. because ground conditions require foundations to be deeper than expected). Variations can result in fluctuations in cost and completion time so need to be tracked and monitored very carefully.