It’s the number one nightmare for self-builders and renovators: a project spiraling wildly out of control, with the budget blown and financial disaster ahead. The good news is that, despite what you might think after watching an episode of Grand Designs, this situation is easily avoidable.

Everyone starts out on a new build or renovation project with a set figure in their head of what they would like to spend. There’s probably also a figure in the back of their mind that is the absolute limit they can go up to. These figures – the budget – are critical to the success of the project regardless of its scale or ambition.

The trouble is that for most people new to the process, getting a realistic idea of what these costs might be is very difficult — for various reasons. Most commonly, when a new self-builder asks what it might cost to build their own home, the answer is simply impossible to give, because there are so many unknowns.

If getting an accurate idea of what your project will cost – and, just as importantly, ensuring that it stays within your budget expectations during construction – is important to you, then you’ll need to do some in-depth DIY estimating, or get some professional help.

Quantity Surveyors

Quantity surveyors (QS’s) are commonly used in commercial construction projects and are a familiar face on housing development projects, but they also play a major (and essential) role in the kind of projects that self-builders and renovators take on. In simple terms, a QS will provide a detailed assessment of the materials you will require for your project (based on the detailed building drawings you’ll need to get drawn up for submission for Building Control approval) and use these quantities to come up with a detailed and accurate analysis of the costs of the project as a whole.

Many building contractors will pay a QS to produce their quote for a project. The more detailed and accurate the information they are given, the more accurate the estimate will be.

According to Claire Barratt from the RICS: “There will be QS’s that specialise in self-builds and they will normally come from a residential property development background. As such they will be used to dealing with cost value comparisons and costs-to-complete exercises during the works.

“Quantity surveyors can assist on a self-build by being involved in the creation of the original budget used for loan security. A chartered valuation surveyor will do the residual valuation but the quantity surveyor can produce the estimate/cost plan for the works. This means the self-builders have realistic and achievable budgets before they start, and any loans taken out on the project will reflect the true cost as well as the project’s value.

You can use a QS at the start of the project to come up with, at the simplest level, a ‘take-off’ of quantities and costs based on your building drawings. However, some self-builders employ a QS during the project to ensure that costs do not spiral out of control. On this basis, the arrangement would be on a supervisory fee basis, i.e. a percentage of the build costs.

To an extent, successful building projects rely on employing trusted professionals who can help the beginner (in particular) avoid potential pitfalls. The additional fees charged by a QS are mitigated particularly on larger projects by the potential savings they can find.”

Articles like this Comments
  • David MacDonald

    As a quantity surveyor and a self builder, I was interested to see your observations on cost control and I am still amazed that people do not use QS services on self build. It is a huge financial and emotional commitment and cost management + control is a key part of the process. We offer full cost control services and have many years of experience on building projects on a variety of project values, literally no housing project is too big or too small. Using JC+P services acts as a filter on proposed designs and we are skilled at offering alternative solutions that provide lower costs or best value for our clients. We provide fast accurate electronic measurements from cad or pdf files and can structure contracts between clients and builders to suit their requirements. We believe in getting things right early, well before work starts so that site changes are kept to the absolute minimum. Our fees are modest, we work all over the UK and believe we can add real value to any project. I can be contacted at

    Kind Regards,


  • Anonymous

    Can I add a cautionary tale. We employed a complete team for our renovation project – architect, contact manager, QS, M & E consultants and structural engineer. When things when wrong, instead of taking joint responsibility as you would expect from professionals, they blamed each other. This was bad enough but much worse was to follow.

    Following Practical Completion the project QS drew up a draft final account but, so he claims, this could not be finalised because the builder repeatedly failed to respond to a few outstanding queries on the account and failed to fix the defects. Because of our age we decided not to take legal action because that was not how we wanted to spend our retirement.

    Out of the blue and FIVE years later the builder produced his own "final account", which no one had seen before, as part of an adjudication claim HE brought against US. His claim failed in it entirety but this did not deter him as he then embarked on a High Court action with a completely different "final account". It amazed us that we had to take these new accounts seriously as ours had been sitting on the table since 2006. We had to employ another QS, with expert witness status, to refute the builder’s claim. His conclusion was that, far from us owing the builder any money, he owed us £93k.

    What happened in the end? Having put us through 18 months of the stress and expense of an adjudication, mediation and defending a High Court action, the builder finally dropped the case before it came to court.

    So, I’m sorry to say, don’t put your faith in the professionals in the construction industry. Between them our team turned our dream house into a nightmare. Clearing our name has cost us our comfortable retirement.

  • Vince Holden - Construction Project Manager Holden

    Could I just add that the most important person missing from the scenerio above was an experienced Project Manager, since unfortunately this is not actually an unfamiliar situation. Ironicaly, the more individual experts that you employ, the more you leave yourself open to "that was not my responsibility"
    All the other "professionals" are working to their own agenda simply providing (or not) their own service, with no one working solely for the clients interest to knit everything together.

  • Anonymous

    Naively we thought that was the contract manager’s job.
    I agree that our experience during the building project is sadly not unusual but I hope what happened five years later is very rare and that our experience will serve as a dreadful warning to other clients of the construction industry.

  • Vince Holden - Construction Project Manager Holden

    I think that the moral of the story is that there are professionals and there are Professionals on both sides of the fence.

  • Keith Colder

    It is a well known fact that 50% of the "professionals", whether contract or project managers, or QS’s are below average 🙂
    The problem is not what you chose, but who you choose…and remember a the end of the day it is your money, and you are the ultimate manager!

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