Through my job as an architect and running a small practice, I’m fortunate in that I know a number of high-quality contractors who would do a good job on any of our projects — including my own.

We don’t tend to recommend a competitive tender approach to choosing a builder. We feel that, for most of our clients, a quality product and a quality working relationship is much more important than outright cost.

For most, a project of any size is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it should be enjoyable. We have found through experience that projects driven primarily by cost are more fraught, less enjoyable and also more likely to be subject to cost variation on site.

house in process of refurbishment- window

Paul’s project includes replacing two inefficient extensions and reconfiguring the house to suit the needs of the family

Managing a project (even when you are an architect with experience of running projects) is a time-consuming process. As I don’t have the luxury of this time with my own project – I had been undertaking most of the design work in my spare time – choosing a contractor is, perhaps, more critical and I am even more reliant on a strong relationship based on trust.

So, we have chosen to work with Terry Huggett Developments (THD) who we have worked with before and who I have built a strong working and personal relationship with.

house being refurbished interior

The 1960s house will be renovated to an EnerPHit standard which requires the family to move out while works are completed

Although cost is very important, and our budget is tight for what we want to achieve, quality is still the biggest driver in the project. This is why we have chosen not to procure the works with a fixed-price contract. THD has never attempted this level of performance before (we’re renovating to meet the EnerPHit standard) and I don’t want to pay for Terry to price in lots of inbuilt risk.

I also don’t want to penalise him for doing the good job that will be required to meet our performance target. So we’re using a ‘cost plus’ type contract, where we pay for all materials, site time and preliminaries (skips, scaffold, site welfare, etc) along with a proportion of THD’s overheads and a percentage profit.

Neither of us has worked on this basis before, so it’s a learning process.

We definitely see it as a strong approach that should get excellent build quality while minimising the risk for both parties. We started with a sense check price from a quantity surveyor, which has so far been broadly accurate.

The approach has also made life more flexible for me as the client. I have undertaken a chunk of the big ticket material purchasing where I’ve been able to secure favourable deals; I have also been able to undertake some works directly.This hasn’t required the normal price negotiations that would have been needed in a fixed-price scenario.

semi-detached 1960s house exterior

The 1960s house is being retrofitted to reduce carbon cost in comparison to a new build

The most difficult thing so far has been understanding the best way for Terry to apportion his overhead costs to the project. We’ve discussed this aspect more than any other in terms of cost.

If we go on to use this approach with our clients, how this is explained and packaged will be very important. We needed that strong working relationship to start with, as we’ve been able to raise concerns freely with each other.

Inevitably, taking an involved role in the project as well as running our architectural practice has been a bit stressful, but also enjoyable and very rewarding. The procurement route has had the unexpected benefit that the guys on site are more invested in the process and the ultimate outcome.

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