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If you have your heart set on your dream kitchen or bathroom, it is very unlikely that you will allow your QS (Quantity Surveyor) to substitute an alternative design or cheaper units.

This rule can be applied to anything bespoke that you have personally chosen for your project, probably following hours of research and many discussions around budget, design and function.

The project is then handed over to a QS in preparation for tender. It is at this stage you need to fully understand the whole tender process and the impact it may potentially have on your dream home.

Why your QS will always find a cost down option

In a nutshell, the tender process is flawed. It is based simply around cost and comparing prices on paper and more suited to construction than design.

The problem is that your QS will focus on function and cost, not form and aesthetics and usually pay scant regard to quality. A QS will always find a cost down option.  For non-bespoke items this is perfectly fine as it ensures costs are kept within budget. When it comes to more bespoke items, such as kitchens and bathrooms, most clients would not appreciate their QS sourcing cheaper alternatives on their behalf – without their express permission and an understanding of how it compares to the desired original.

It’s reasonable to expect that your QS was not party to the hours you spent on the internet or with magazines, looking at images trying to find the perfect look. He was not present either when you rang a dozen suppliers to discuss the finer details of your prospective purchase.  It follows, therefore, he almost certainly cannot understand the emotional attachment you have with a certain look or design.

Kitchens and bathrooms are often ring-fenced within a tender as clients have specifically engaged with a supplier and chosen a design and fittings.  Unfortunately, in many cases, despite the same engagement at pre-tender stage, the staircase does not enjoy the same protection and often ends up as part of the tendered items of a build.

Understanding the implications of cost down on your bespoke design 

Once out to tender, cost is frequently the over-riding factor, because QS effectively focus on price and the ability to do the job above all else; the lowest cost supplier therefore usually wins the work.

Allowing your QS to make the decisions, or accepting recommendations of a QS without understanding the implications of what the tendering/cost down exercise had done to your staircase or project may throw up some surprises as the build gets underway.

How to read between the lines of quotations for your bespoke items

Comparing prices for any bespoke item on paper is always open to interpretation due to the variable nature of the item and its method of manufacture.  It is really worth doing your homework to understand quoted specifications so you can make an informed decision. For example:

  • Glass – If your QS has simply specified glass balustrade as part of the tender information then your quote will be for standard glass with visible green tint and not low iron glass used in many Bisca designs for superior optical quality and reduced tint.
  • Glass fixings –Visible fixings, clips and clamps are used by 24hr staircase suppliers and those offering modular customised options for reasons of speed or cost. A carefully designed bespoke glass balustrade does not need visible fixings as it can be designed without the need for them.
  • Handrail – Firstly, is it included? It is not uncommon for Bisca to be contacted towards the end of a build to retrofit a balustrade, because the company who were awarded the work on cost cannot fulfil the balustrade aspect or omitted it from their quote. Secondly, angular sections of stained softwood will always be much cheaper than a continuous run of hardwood but, of course, look and feel vastly different.
  • Treads – Type and provenance of timber and finishes all vary greatly in price; make sure your solid timber has not been substituted for “butchers block” or stained softwood composition.
  • Steel Uprights –Understand the material, size and shape of the uprights, the process of manufacture and how they will be finished. Uprights from overseas are cheaper than their design led, blacksmith forged counterpart, but may be of dubious quality and visually the two will be poles apart.The cheapest, easiest and arguably the ugliest way of fixing uprights is to include a ribbon rail top and bottom. This method is favoured by fabricators but may come as a shock if it was not part of your original balustrade design.

Does your QS/you understand the difference between a bespoke staircase design, a customised stair and fabricator stair?

Of the three, a fabricator will undoubtedly be the cheapest; the problem here being fabricators are not designers. The resulting institutional looking staircases and balustrades have poor detailing, ugly fixings and little or no consideration to space, layout, interfaces or quality.

In summary design can be an intangible aspect of a project that a QS may not see the value in. It is worth keeping sight of build items of a bespoke nature, staircases included, throughout the tender process.  When the build starts, and the consequences of cost down alternatives becomes clear it is often too costly, to make changes.

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