Unless you are a self-builder who designs and builds his (or her) own home without the need for any professional help , at the very least you are going to need an architect and a builder, as well as some specialist support – e.g. structural engineer, heating & ventilating contractor etc.

Project structure

There are different ways of organising your building project. Arguably the safest, if not the cheapest, is to:

  • appoint an architect to design (and supervise) the work
  • appoint a main contractor who is responsible for the entire building project.

The first step in the process is to work out with your architect what it is that you want, and over a period you will go from the initial concept to a detailed design, which in turn leads to a detailed specification for the work to be costed by the contractors who are invited to do the work.

During this process you need to decide with the architect how best to procure the work – i.e. will you appoint a contractor for the entire job or will you parcel it out to more than one firm. Sometimes the decision will depend on circumstances – e.g. if you want a contractor to demolish an existing building and undertake ground works before you are ready to appoint a builder to erect the new building.

Other considerations involve cost and administration. If you appoint a single contractor to do the work, he will usually subcontract work to a variety of different trades and the contract price will include a fee to cover the cost of administering the different subcontracts and the risks, especially if there is a fixed price for the contract. If you appoint different contractors for different trades – e.g. one to build the main structure, another for the roof, and separate contractors to install the wiring, bathrooms and plumbing, you may well save on cost but the project needs to be managed carefully so as to avoid one contractor delaying other contractors who then claim extra money because of the delay. It does give a client more direct control over the process but you will need your architect or another professional to act as project manager or construction manager.

Contractor Selection

Once you are ready to obtain a price from a contractor, you need to find the right contractor. Recommendation from a reliable source is a good approach, but even here, it is wise to invite more than one contractor to give you a price.

References should be requested from your preferred contractor(s) and it can also be sensible to get a credit check: the last thing you want is a contractor who has financial problems, and there have been a lot of insolvencies in the construction industry over the years.

It is often said that there is no such thing as a fixed price in the construction industry, so be prepared for some cost overruns even if this is what you are offered. What is important is a fair price. You may need some professional advice on the quotations you receive to see that they cover what is needed, but it does not necessarily pay to try to beat the price down. Contractors can usually find ways of claiming extras or, even worse, they might skimp on some of the work to save money.

Once you are satisfied with the price, you need to sign a contract with the selected contractor. Indeed it can be sensible to give a form of contract to the contractors when you ask them to provide a quote.

Forms of Contract

As for the form of contract to use – there are very few templates designed for home builders. The JCT (Joint Contracts Tribunal) who supply most of the standard forms for the construction industry, publish the Building Contract for a home owner/occupier. And ContractStore has developed a range of documents in conjunction with SelfBuild Zone including a Building Contract for a home owner or home builder. These can all be found at www.contractstore.com/homebuilder

The contract is needed to deal not only with payment but also the procedures to be adopted for administering the project and dealing with changes and unforeseen events. Nest time we will look at some of these issues.

Giles Dixon is a solicitor with his own practice specialising in commercial and construction contract drafting. www.gilesdixon.com

Giles is also the founding director of ContractStore, www.contractstore.com , a website selling a wide range of downloadable legal document templates, including contracts for self-builders and contractors.

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