Building a home is a lifelong process, because our needs change in conjunction with our lives. These reasons for change differ from person to person, but the process to bring about that change is surprisingly similar.
If you’re thinking of building an extension or converting your loft, remember that the process is a long one, full of logistics, full of expenses. But if you keep some things in mind as you begin planning a big build, your project should progress successfully.
A big build will take months to complete, even if specified otherwise. If your project is a new build or extension, you will need to hire an architect and a project manager, and if it’s a loft or general conversion, you may need to hire a structural engineer. Finding these people takes a while and once you do, you’ll need to invest time in communicating your vision to them.
It’s generally advised not to skimp on hiring an architect or draftsman to help you plan your build. As Justin Upton, a loft conversion specialist from Phoenix Construction and PM Services, shares:
“Not many builders would be overly confident in providing you with a fixed price for the work if there is insufficient information on the drawing. I have tried time and again to explain to potential customers that a little extra spent in the early stages will save money in the long run.”
After you have a plan drawn up, you may need to apply for planning permission, which will involve filling out an application that takes up to eight weeks to process. After you get approval, you will need to check that your proposed build complies with building regulations, a separate process that comes with its own fee and an officer coming to your home in stages to check up on the project.
All this work is just pre-production. Once the build kicks off, you may have to rearrange furniture and adjust your schedule to accommodate the work that will be going on. Make sure that you’re at a point where you’re absolutely ready to put in the time and energy a big build requires. If you work full-time, consider taking a couple of days off, or speaking to your employer about taking time away from the office in case you want to periodically check in on your home. Make sure you’ll be in the country and if not, make arrangements to have someone else on call.
In short, think carefully about your life schedule. If you have a lot of other things going on, consider postponing the big build, as going forward with it right away might stress you out.
Talk to your neighbours
You should inform your neighbours of your project before it commences. You don’t necessarily have to seek their permission for noise or for something else that might physically affect them, but different councils have different rules. Make sure you check what is and isn’t appropriate etiquette in your area. Either way, it never hurts to be considerate!
On that note, be thoughtful when designing your project. If you’re building an extension, for example, have you considered that it might block the light to your neighbour’s patio? It’s not just the noise of your project that may upset your neighbours—they may not appreciate the way your structural changes affect them. Think things through carefully, and give them a chance to approve your plan once you’ve decided what it’s going to be.
No such thing as too much information!
There’s a lot you can do before hiring a builder to make sure that they are right. Most builders on our site have plenty of feedback from previous customers. These reviews are detailed and there completely for your benefit! Read them carefully and try hiring a builder who has received reviews for work similar to the project that you want done.
Once you’ve shortlisted builders and are in touch with them ask for the contact information of their recent customers so that you can contact them for references. Ask for pictures and if they are willing and live nearby, pay them an in-person visit. Evidence of a builder’s previous work is the best way to see what their standards really are. After that, double check any accreditations listed, ask for proof of address, check bankruptcy records, insolvency records, and/or for CCJs. Set up a time to talk to all your shortlisted builders: share your questions and if their answers aren’t satisfying, reevaluate their competency for the job.
Know what you want—and communicate those expectations
When you’re hiring a builder for a big project, make sure you visualise what you want the finished project to look like. Do you want windows? Do you want spotlights? Communicate this to your builder before hiring them, so that they know what your expectations are. Many builders will complete the structural work for you, leaving you to hire window-fitters and electricians once the basic work is complete. You need to decide, together with your builder, what you would like them to complete. If they’re going to see your project through from start to finish, ask them who they subcontract and what their process of hiring these subcontractors is.
Another reason to be careful when communicating at the beginning, is because if you don't mention the little things you want tweaked until later, they can charge extra. You can end up paying a lot more this way without realising it. Our tradesman of the month, Neil of NMW Building Services, an extension builder of 30 years, shares how miscommunications in the beginning of the building process can be super frustrating for builders later on:
“Many builders tend to do extensions but don’t include everything in it. If a homeowner asks for skirting, but if skirting isn’t on the original quote then it’s an extra cost. That’s when things fall apart for us, because the client thought everything they wanted was in the original quote, whereas for us that’s not the case. Some builders that have cheaper quotes don’t include skirtings and architraves and that sort of stuff. They may be doing this just so their potential customer thinks they’re cheap and so they can win the job. But then all those extra costs pop up later. It’s always best to clarify what the quote actually includes before making a hire."
Draw up a payment contract
Always ask for a fixed quote rather than an estimate before you hire and as Neil mentioned above, beware of quotes that are too low. After that, draw up a payment contract so that neither you nor your builder are under any illusions. Try to avoid paying a large deposit and arrange instead to make payments in instalments. If your builder is going to purchase the materials required for the job, make sure to ask for receipts. Most importantly, make sure you keep the relationship professional at all times.
Prepare for an epilogue
Some of the most frequently asked questions we get for the big project categories on our Ask a Tradesman forum are from homeowners after their projects have been completed. Sometimes a loft conversion done in summer might prove to be too cold in winter, or a new build might develop the odd hairline crack. It’s worth talking to your builder about potential after effects of your build and to prepare yourself for these.
Are you looking to hire for a big project? Find a local builder here!
Read related articles here: How to avoid disaster on a building job