Managing your own self build project means you can delegate the tasks you can’t (or don’t want to) do, but still shoulder a large proportion of responsibility for the build.
- What input is required?
- Cost and cash flow implications
- What’s the risk?
- Management implications
- Who is this route suited to?
- Pros and Cons
- Examples of Self-managed projects
How it Works
The self builder is responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of the building project. This involves:
- interpreting the building drawings on site
- finding, scheduling and directly paying tradesmen, from groundworkers to plumbers
- organising and running the site, from hiring toilet facilities and security fencing to managing health and safety, keeping the site tidy and dealing with the grey areas between trades
- taking deliveries and working out where to store materials safely
- ordering and paying upfront for materials and ensuring they get delivered when needed
- liaising with warranty and building inspectors
You’ll need to be able to visit the site before work starts (8am is the traditional start of a tradesman’s day) and once work has finished, every day until the end of the project.
In addition, you’ll need to be able to get to the site at a moment’s notice to deal with deliveries, meet building inspectors, service providers and so on. There is also likely to be some DIY involvement as you’ll need to fill in between the trades.
Cost and Cash-flow Implications
Project management requires early contact with trades and materials suppliers to come up with a realistic budget — critical if you need to arrange finance, and important to manage properly and keep a tight rein on cash-flow during the build.
As many lenders offer release of stage payments in arrears of work being done, you’ll probably need to arrange temporary bridging finance to pay tradesmen at the end of every week. Alternatively, you could investigate specialist advanced funding through BuildStore or Advanced Flexible Selfbuild Mortgage, which will provide money up front.
You’ll be able to save the builder’s profit (anywhere between 20-40% on labour and materials) but bear in mind that experienced local builders are more likely to be able to negotiate better discounts/trade prices on materials and, to an extent, on labour.
Ensure that you establish a relationship with a local merchant and set up credit terms to help with cash-flow.
What’s the Risk?
Risk has a cost implication, and the ownership of that risk has the same monetary value.
If you are the project manager you are holding ownership of that risk directly. If you manage to mitigate or reduce the risk, then you have saved money and can bask in the plaudits that this brings. But if the risk does become material, and escalates, you do not have any contract or agreement to hide behind, and must pay the costs accordingly.
Typical risks can relate to:
- ground conditions
- refurbishment of existing buildings
- position and conditions of drainage systems, and so on
If you pass this risk down your supply chain, the individual who ends up responsible will make financial provision in their price for this potential cost. So if your appetite for risk is low, then look at a comprehensive contract as soon as possible to pass the risk on, and pay the costs.
As project manager, you need to know technical details, resources, and stage your project is at. How is it built? How does the frame tie in to the foundation? How is the cladding held up? Do the windows sit flush with the external façade, or in reveals? When does the kitchen require ordering to make sure the end date can be met?
You may not know the answers, but you need to know to ask the questions.
As project manager, you are there to make sure that the people and resources you require are working together and fitting into your overall plan.
Hold regular and frequent design team meetings (and minute them with action points) and make sure you always keep track of what is left to do or is as yet unknown — every unknown aspect will reduce the ability to procure effectively.
Nothing should be left until later, until it has been analysed for critical path impact, cost certainty and availability. Once you understand the process and the programme/flow then you can decide its importance or urgency, but not before you have done this analysis.
The self-managed route is ideally suited to:
People with plenty of time – or a lot of flexibility in their full-time jobs – who can handle stress and uncertainty; those living close to site and able to understand the building process.
- You are the boss. Everything that happens comes under your control and you should get exactly what you want
- You control the programme, which can be tailored to match your design development — the need to know the tile colour is less critical when the foundations are being dug
- Direct management of the work can give you greater flexibility. You can accelerate or slow down the works to suit your individual requirements — if cash flow is putting pressure on, slowing slightly or delaying the work for a month may well ease this
- You know you are getting best value when you procure, because the process is open and transparent
- You will save levels of profit and overheads by eliminating the main contractor — anywhere between five and 15 per cent is possible
- The final fit and finish and specification is as detailed as you want it to be — as the project manager, you can look at the design, the drawings and the specification, and add as much additional detail, samples, mood boards and technical support as you feel is necessary to avoid any miscommunication
- Are you ready for the level of input it requires? The time required to manage the scheme is always more than anyone planned
- The emotional investment required is immense — for every happy, fulfilled day on site, you will have a dark, depressing and debilitating day to match
- Do you have the right temperament for the role? If you can’t bear the thought of conflict with sometimes irate tradespeople, maybe you need to think again. If you know your admin and paperwork skills are poor, you may need additional resources to help you
- You need to be sure of your contacts and links to the industry — how will you find bricklayers? Do you know a reliable electrician? Recommendation is useful, but research and more research is vital
- You are funding the scheme, and are responsible for each payment to each subcontractor and supplier individually — you will need to set up a payment ledger to manage this, along with the hassle of individual valuation and measurement of works done every month/week
- The lack of credit line facility may require greater cash flow consideration when self managing
- You will need to carry insurance for the site — individual trades will hold their own insurances, but these will be normally be limited to the value of the works they are carrying out
- Self-management requires a level of technical knowledge to ensure you understand the implications of the information you are dealing with
- You need to be confident with scheduling, programming and preparation of short-term works programmes
- Health and safety on site will become your responsibility overall — the site is in your control
- Logistics will require planning — toilets, craneage, phone line, water, electricity, etc
Advice for those considering self management:
- You need to be the kind of person who can be firm but fair to ensure you get the most out of your tradesmen. You should also understand the various requirements of your contractors to make sure things run smoothly
- Don’t forget that the job of keeping the site tidy comes down to you. On any one day you may have people delivering materials, while windows are being fitted, and the roof tiled. This makes for a lot of mess and for safety and efficiency, it needs organising
- This route means you have a lot of control over the quality of your house, whilst costing you less than if you were to hire someone to do the role for you
Self-managed case studies
Learn more from those who have self managed their own self build project.