Five Secrets to Building On-Budget

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Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
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In this article, I am attempting to address some fundamental steps toward commercially successful projects.

Whether it is a multi-storey development or a renovation to your bathroom, I believe these key steps will substantially improve your ability to achieve your budget goals whether you’re a construction veteran or a complete novice.

Secret 1: Stop. Prepare and Plan

“I’ve got a builder coming round to give me a price for a new bathroom.”

All too often, people identify their need to build, refurbish or extend and then rush to a builder or sub-contractor for a price for the works. Whilst you might get an estimated cost, going in unprepared does not give you the time to frame your requirements.  First consider:

  • What is the scope of the project? Consider what you might want to retain, restore or replace. Placing boundaries on the scope will allow you to reduce the number of assumptions, exclusions and caveats that your builder will need to build into their price.
  • What constraints does the project present? Place yourself in the builder’s shoes and consider how they may carry out the work. Do you have easy access to the work area? Do you have sensitive neighbours? Do they have to work around kids and pets? If you can identify, remove or mitigate constraints on the construction process, your builder will have less cause to add ‘buggeration’ factors to their price.

Secret 2: Leave your optimism to sport

“The builder will be right.”

He or she might, but then again, he or she might not. Leaving the success of your project to ‘the gods’ will inevitably leave you disappointed. Projects and people need to be driven to success. Construction should not be a gamble.

Remember, you are a customer buying a service.

The construction industry, like any other, has those who are keen to serve and provide a high-quality product, and a minority who appear preordained to disappoint. Hold people to their commitments – including yourself.

Just as builders place parameters on their price, you must place reasonable parameters on the performance of their work. Setting out start and completion dates and conditions such as removal of waste, car parking and reasonable working hours will avoid some of the most common issues which arise on domestic and commercial projects.

Secret 3: Don’t Fear Formality

“We don’t need to bother with a contract…do we?”

Contracts can often be seen as an over-formalisation of a ‘simple’ transaction. However, even the smallest everyday purchase is subject to implied and expressed terms of contract. Construction and renovations can be amongst your single greatest capital investments. Whether it be your neighbour’s son or a national building company carrying out some tiling work for you, you owe it to yourself to protect your interests.

Remember, contracts are to protect both sides of the transaction. A commitment in writing will dramatically reduce the risk of dispute, be it a written quotation and return comments or a more formal contract form. A commitment by you and your builder to reach consensus on expectations at outset will help smooth the path toward success.

Secret 4: Don’t Be Seduced

“I’ve got this great builder, they say they can do it all in two weeks…”

We’ve all seen tears and tantrums on the latest incarnation of The Block, and whilst there is almost certainly some dramatic license used in these shows, the emotive nature of construction and renovations holds true in most projects. For whatever reason, we hold our projects close to our emotional being – and on this basis you must step back and not get carried away. You must go into your project with healthy scepticism.

Interrogate the asterisks, question what’s not included and remember to ask “what’s in it for me?” and just as importantly “what’s in it for you?” No builder, tradesman or organisation is in business (or likely to remain in business) to work to your every whim. Remember, flexibility comes at a price.

Secret 5: Avoid Finish-Fixation

“I don’t care anymore, I just want it finished.”

It is fair to say our optimism peaks at the very inception of projects. It may drift down as you understand the full extent of the actual work required, and it could go either way when you get your first price in.

However, right in the midst of the most disruptive and inconveniencing point of construction, too often homeowners, developers and clients reach a point of frustration. Perhaps it’s the apparent impossible task of reaching the completion date, or it’s the proverbial straw that broke so many camel’s backs when variation number 174 comes in.

Often what ensues is what I call “Finish-Fixation,” typified by a “finish it at all and any cost” and “I just want the bloody thing completed” approach to project management.

It is most important to recognise this frustration, step back (a common theme developing in these five steps) and understand the outset objectives of the project. You are doing this for the end result, not the enjoyment of the construction.

If you manage to step back and re-group, you will maintain a steady and rational control on the project, avoiding Finish-Fixation, steering you more directly toward achieving your outset cost and time budgets and ultimate project success.

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