A-Z OF MANAGING YOUR BUILDING PROJECT!
From self-management, to using a contractor or project manager, there are a variety of different routes you can take to manage the construction your home. But how do you decide which one is best for you? I sat down with Engineer Emmanuel Agabi; a building engineer with experience spanning over two decades in constructing some of the high-rise buildings around Lagos. He currently works with ITB Constructions and is involved with some of the high-rise constructions ongoing at the Eko Atlantic City in Victoria Island. His tips on how to manage your construction project is what I will be sharing with you in this article and I can assure you, they are quite revealing.
According to Engineer Agabi, self-building a house encompasses a whole range of different approaches, but as long as you do any of the following: finding your own building plot, deciding on an individual house design to suit your unique needs and choose the products to go into that home, then you can proudly wear a badge that says ‘self-builder’ on it: He explains that the level of involvement you choose is entirely up to you, but of course there are financial benefits of taking on as much of the work as possible, and project management is an area where this is certainly true.
USING A CONTRACTOR
Here the owner of the building employs a contractor to run the building site on a day-to-day basis. This will usually involve the main contractor being responsible for: organizing a smooth flow of labour onto the site when necessary (and paying them directly), dealing with the unloading of deliveries, organizing Building Regulations Inspections by Government Agents and Parastatals, running the site itself (e.g. health, safety, toilet facilities and so on) and working from the design plans. The main contractor might also be responsible for ordering materials and ensuring they are on site when necessary.
However as the owner of the building, your input will be that you will be responsible for hiring the main contractor in the first instance, so it is important to choose a competent person. In addition, you’ll need to ensure that the contractor has detailed building drawings to work from and, crucially, a detailed specification of materials; whether he is ordering them himself or not; as early as possible.
You should be prepared to visit the site at least once a week to check on progress, and to ensure that the drawings are being followed, and that the main contractor has everything he needs. It’s also important psychologically for the main contractor to see that his work is being appreciated and encouraged and you will need to be able to maintain telephone contact at any time for emergencies or questions as they arise — communication is critical to the success of the project when you decide to use a contractor for the project.
Although the contractor will be responsible for paying the subcontractors, you will need to ensure a regular payment to the main contractor. Many main contractors will give a fixed price quote at the tendering stage and will present you with a monthly invoice that you should be prepared to pay promptly.
If you are leaving materials purchasing up to your main contractor, be aware that while many contractors have trade accounts (and, therefore, long credit terms) with many key building material suppliers, you might be required to pay upfront for some items. If this is the case, then it is important to ensure that you get them ordered in your name.
A contractor will rely on a percentage uplift or ‘add-on’ to the quotes he gets from his subcontractors to pay him for his own time. This varies according to the market, but is likely to be around 20-40% on top of labour and materials prices. However, many owners of a building who go down this route, view the main contractor’s margin as money well spent to avoid the stresses and strains of running a building site day to day.
Some of the advantages of using a Contactor includes the fact thatgood contractor will have experience and insight into the build and pre-empt many issues before they arise, they are experienced in programming and procurement scheduling, they are responsible for health and safety on site and their credit lines ensure efficient cash flow.
The down side with hiring a contractor is that most times, the contractor will have built in a level of profit (added cost)into your contract price, the scheduling and programming is out of your control, the additional level of communication between you and the trades on site is held by the main contractor, which can give rise to cost increases to cover the contractor’s overheads and management of any changes and the feeling of empowerment you get from managing the process is lost when a main contractor is engaged.
Nonetheless if you are a busy full-time worker who live a long way from your building site; or someone have never built your own home before and might not be confident of the process, the you really may just need a contractor. While you’ll still need to be able to get to site at short notice and field telephone calls, itultimately takes the daily stresses away.
BE YOUR OWN PROJECT MANAGER
Here Engineer Agabi says, the owner of the building 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 artisans, from ground workers to plumbers, organizing 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 artisans, taking deliveries and working out where to store materials safely as well as paying upfront for materials and ensuring they get delivered when needed.
Just like when you are using a contractor, you will also need to be able to visit the site before work starts and once work has finished, every day until the end of the project. In addition, you will 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.
Project management requires early contact with artisans and materials suppliers to come up with a realistic budget. As you offer release of stage payments in arrears of work being done, you’ll probably need to arrange temporary bridging finance to pay the artisans at the end of every week.
When you employ a main contractor on a design and build basis you are pushing all design and risk ownership on to that company. When they price your project they will be building in money and provision to deal with any potential risk they can spot, using their experience and knowledge to try to understand the level of risk, possible costs, and still remaining hopefully competitive in a tough marketplace.
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, asbestos, 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.
If you are a project manager and can fully understand the scope of potential downsides to specific identified risks, you could retain control of these and reap the potential savings.
As the 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. Remember that if you let everyone guess or assume things, you will never ever get the result you had planned.
Some of the advantages of being the Project Manager is that: 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, 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.
The problems with being the Project Manager of your building is that: most times the time required to manage the scheme is always more than anyone planned and your project will require you to be on site each day (or at least a fair part of each day), and your evenings will be spent scheduling, procuring and planning.
The emotional investment required is immense — for every happy, fulfilled day on site, you will have a dark, depressing and debilitating day to match. The nature of coordinating artisans, supplies, deliveries and site logistics is challenging, and is demanding even to those who have done it for years.
It is important to know if you have the right temperament for the role? If you can’t bear the thought of conflict with sometimes irate artisans, 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? Self-management requires a level of technical knowledge to ensure you understand the implications of the information you are dealing with. You also need to be confident that you can appreciate the subcontractors’ requirements, information and demands, and balance this with the legislative and practical demands of the wider scheme.
So ultimately it is important to note that the self-managed route is ideally suited to:People with plenty of time – or a lot of flexibility in their full-time jobs, those who can handle stress and uncertainty; those living close to site and are able to understand the building process.
BUILD IT YOURSELF: TAKING THE DIY ROUTE
According to Engineer Agabi, it means you will physically build the house from scratch yourself. While there are some tasks that you can’t carry out without the help of qualified professionals (unless you intend to take training), it is in theory possible to construct a whole house using your own labour. You’ll also be responsible for interpreting design drawings, ordering materials (and, therefore, having a good grasp of quantities), liaising with building inspectors, taking deliveries and organising the day-to-day running of the site.
See above. You’ll need to combine the physically demanding tasks of groundwork, bricklaying and roofing with skilled tasks such as plumbing and plastering. There is nothing to stop you mixing your own labour with bought-in labour where required. Bear in mind that your own lack of experience might mean that you are likely to be slower than those around you and you’ll need to ensure that you’re not holding up the build process.
DIY is the only way to build individual houses for incredibly tiny sums of money. Cash-flow implications are much easier to manage than with the other routes, as the only outgoings are for materials, for which you should arrange credit terms. You’ll need to factor in the lost earnings you’ll miss out on, particularly if you’re giving up work for a couple of years to take on this role.
The advantages here includes: massive cost savings, complete control over the project and no worries about finding labour, and a huge sense of achievement and knowledge of every detail of your finished house.
Some of the disadvantages of DIY for building your own house will include: progress will be a lot slower than with professionals and the quality of work produced might not be to professional standard and in this case building inspectors are very likely to be a lot more stringent in their checks.
However the DIY route is ideally suited to: either people who have been around the building industry and are willing to give up their time, or retirees who have a practical mind and can view the project as a hobby.