You’ve worked hard for your money and thought long and hard over your new building project. You may have wondered if it would be cheaper to move, then realised you love where you live or maybe you feel that you really couldn’t afford the much bigger other property you need. You’ve talked it through, over and over, eventually agreeing on how to create your much needed space, whilst staying in the home you love. Decision is made! Now how do you choose your builder? How can you be sure that you, your home and your money are safe?
At this stage, many are full of enthusiasm and keen to crack on with the new building project, but with a little thought, careful planning and patience you will be much more likely to know how to find the Builder that’s right for you. No doubt you’ve already been looking at new kitchens, bathrooms or furniture and that’s understandable – it’s a very exciting time and it can be easy to get caught up in the rush to get things done. However, mistakes made now are rarely rectifiable so there are a few things to seriously consider and understand before a penny is spent. Here are our top 10 topics:
1. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
We always begin by asking our clients, “what first got you thinking about having this new development/kitchen/conversion/extension?”
Everyone has their own individual reason but, often, the answer will fall into one of the categories below:
a) You never want to move again! You love your home, the area, the neighbours and facilities, so you need to modernise and improve your property and grow your space with a quality of work that lasts and lasts.
b) You always planned to do this kind of work on the house, as your family or other needs grew too. The family is growing faster than expected so you simply HAVE to crack on and create space NOW, but you still need the quality that lasts!
c) You want to add value to the property to allow you to move it on for a better price. You don’t want a shabby job but you don’t want to spend a fortune on refreshing the property for someone else to enjoy – or even change! So how much is too much?
d) You don’t want to be there forever but you really NEED more living space in the short term. How do you achieve the maximum benefit for the lowest cost?
In short, you are either planning on staying where you are forever, moving on quickly, or moving on as soon as possible and these reasons can make a big difference to how you choose to proceed.
If you never want to move again, then the cost versus the value of the property becomes somewhat less relevant. You will be building your ‘FOREVER’ home of the future and this will mean waiting for that builder that everyone wants! The one that turns up on time, every time, understands how to price the job accurately and never adds hidden costs, treats you and your home with courtesy and respect and finishes the job to a very high quality standard within time and budget. Yes, we do exist!
If the project is simply about increasing the property value, it is worth looking at www.rightmove.com or www.zoopla.com to determine what is the selling price ‘ceiling’ for similar properties in your area. If you can glean a bit of information from a local Estate Agent, they can also be helpful in determining what kind of people are looking to buy in the area. Are they young professionals who are rarely home or families who are always home, for example. Inevitably there will be a limit to how much people will pay for similar properties in your area, so a careful balance needs to be struck between producing a high standard of finishes and not spending more than will be recouped upon sale.
Think about how much you will spend on your extension against the cost of moving. Consider that, after removal costs, legal fees, stamp duty and resettlement costs, you’re going to want to redecorate and make some changes to the property you move into. All of that money is often dead money by the time you’re up and running so how far would that money go in improving the home you’re in. If you would be altering the property you are considering moving to, then spending that extra money on improving the property you’re in could turn it into a home that you would never consider leaving!
e) There’s just that bit of your home that niggles you every time you see it / use it.
Unless you have a home you really hate (in which case move now!) then for a modest budget, you can usually make some really effective alterations that provide the space you want and makes the whole property work for you, look and flow much better.
2. HOW MUCH DO YOU BUDGET FOR?
What budget do you have to deliver the project? It’s time to be honest and up front.
Many people clam up at the mere mention of the budget, but the purpose of setting a proper budget is so that design time isn’t wasted and the final design is something that can be afforded by you, and actually delivered.
If you know from the outset what your budget is and what you would be prepared to spend, then a professional Builder will always try to bring projects in under budget and provide best value. However, most people want more than can actually be achieved with their budget. Unless you tell your Builder what your budget is, then there is no way that they can tell you whether your expectations are realistic. If you feel you can’t trust the Builder from the outset, then you need to be speaking to someone else. Look for a Builder whole local reputation relies upon their trustworthiness and integrity.
As exciting as your project may be, try to be realistic and honest about the money available. A point to remember is that, generally speaking, extensions and alterations are not zero VAT. Just one or two small house extensions in a year will push the builder into compulsory VAT registration. If you find a builder that is NOT VAT registered, you need to ask the question why? Are they new to the trade, are they not busy or are they legit! Remember how long and hard you worked for your money? Then think carefully who you want to trust with that to build you a quality structure and still be there for you if remedials appear in the 6-month settlement period, following completion. Will you know where to find that builder and will you be able to hold them accountable at a later date?
Bear in mind that VAT will be charged on all builder’s fees, materials, building control fees and professional fees. It is commonplace in the building industry for all prices to be quoted net of VAT but a good Builder will also clearly set out the VAT element and provide you with a complete total cost.
The good news is that there is no VAT charged on planning application fees, or for works to adjust a home to suit the requirements of a person with disabilities, or works to create a new dwelling. However, UK legislation changes all the time, so it is worth consulting HMRC for the latest information.
Every project is different, of course, but a general indicator from 2016, for just the building cost of your project can be between £1250 to £1750 per square metre. This varies in relation to the quality, design and complexity of construction.
Highly experienced builders know exactly how to cost a project and the very best might even offer you a fixed price contract. These can appear more expensive, when first comparing to the non-fixed quotes, but you are guaranteed to have no hidden costs and you are able to clearly and safely budget for each stage of the project.
3. WHEN DO YOU START?
Now you’ve decided you’re improving your property, when is the work likely to commence and how long will it take to finish?
Typically, the process can scan like this:-
- From the day you call your builder, to the day they visit the property = 1 week
- Quotation documents drawn up and sent to you = 1 week
- Now you have to make your decision and that can take, say, another = 1 week
- Contracts signed and Architectural drawings created = 1 week
- Where necessary, drawings off to the planning office for approval = 8 weeks
- To produce structural specifications for building control approval. = 2 weeks
- Contractor to start = 6 weeks
- = 20 weeks
And this is all BEFORE the building work begins!
Clearly, the process can be speeded along if:-
- you make your decisions early and
- no planning permission is required.
Your builder will be able to advise on this.
On the other hand, the process can be protracted if:-
- there are any objections in planning or if
- b) you have difficulty securing your finances.
If you would like the work to begin at a particular time of year, bear in mind that Builders are always booked in advance for the spring or summer. It is common also for prices to rise each January, so booking your Builder in advance can secure your preferred dates AND save you money.
When the project begins, the duration of the build will depend on a number of factors, i.e., the dimensions and complexity of the project and what restrictions you put on the Builder. For instance, do you intend to live amongst the work or will you allow work to continue if you go on holiday?
All building contracts should state that “some work is dependent on weather conditions and the timeliness of some Suppliers. So before contractors even start on site, it could take around 5 months, unless planning is already in hand. In that case, you can reduce the lead in time by 2 months.
If you happen to find a Builder than can start right away, ask the question “Why?” The best Builders tend to be booked well in advance, so it will be a fortunate occasion if you manage to get one to start in less than 6 weeks from the date of your order.
The services within your home refer to the supply of electricity, gas, water and drainage.
Take a look at the space that you want to develop. Is the area where you’re planning to extend going to affect the services to the property? If the answer is yes, then you may need to think about moving the water, electric, or gas meters?
Don’t forget the drainage to the property. Is there drainage in the area of the proposed works? Drainage is sometimes adopted by the local water board, particularly when shared with the neighbours. If you intend your extension to be built over an adopted sewer, a ‘build over sewer’ application will be necessary. If you’re unsure, this is a question to ask your Builder.
5. NEIGHBOURING PROPERTIES
Ask yourself – will your proposal affect the neighbouring properties?
- Do you share a party wall?
- Could there be problems with overlooking?
- Could they complain about their “Right to light?”
- Are there any significant trees on site that may need to be removed? Whose trees are they? Are they protected?
- Who owns the boundary fence, wall or hedge?
- Would your addition overshadow their garden?
6. PLANNING & NEIGHBOURS
If planning is required, the chances are that your neighbours will object. This is often out of a sense of fear of what they feel they are likely to lose, such as light, space, privacy, etc. If you don’t already speak to your neighbours, now is the time to start thinking about when you might have that cup of coffee together, to explain your project and get them on board. Typically this would be pre-planning, however, a really good Builder will be happy to communicate with your neighbours on your behalf and should have processes in place to ensure your neighbours are respected and informed as necessary.
Don’t be alarmed if your neighbours are not in favour with your proposals and the conversation becomes heated. Not everyone can have a rational conversation about something they feel so strongly about. They may want to off-load their concerns and objections to the proposal without listening carefully to the facts.
The key to this is to stay very calm and let them have their opinion. Make sure to record what is said and pass this to your Builder. There may be an easy alteration that resolves their objection.
If your neighbours still object, ultimately they will have to raise a material planning objection and submit this to the local authority. It will fall to the case officer at the local planning authority to weigh up the objections, decide whether there are material considerations and determine if the proposals are acceptable.
7. DESIGN STYLE
In your plan, get some ideas about the styles that you like. If you’re unsure of what style you may want, a great way to assemble some ideas is through Google Images, Pinterest and also Houzz.
Pinterest is a great tool for gathering images as you can collect images on a virtual board and share these with your chosen Builder.
8. THE WHOLE PROJECT
Try to think beyond the extension itself. When organising an extension you can get caught up with planning the extra space and forget about the rest of your existing home.
Your new extension can affect the rest of the house. Depending on what your new plans entail, you may need to budget for spending money elsewhere to make improvements to the overall space.
For example, if you are planning on creating a new kitchen and family space that lead directly onto the garden, you may want to allocate money towards improving the garden, landscape design or even interior design of the house.
Whilst the house is being altered, it is the perfect time to complete other works that create mess and disturbance. If you can, why not get all the improvements done together to save time, future mess and money? Plus, the overall affect will be much more impressive and satisfying!
Is your development an opportunity to improve the thermal performance and lower the running costs of your new home?
Your existing house may currently suffer thermally in areas due to condensation, single glazed windows, poor ventilation and the lack of wall or loft insulation. This could be an ideal time to improve the sustainability of your home, whilst saving you money in the long term.
Older properties have the most to gain in this respect, as there are many easy wins if you know what to look for.
- Cavity wall insulation
- Loft Insulation
- Energy efficient windows and doors
- Upgrade your boiler & radiators – will your existing heating system be able to cope with your new plans?
- Solar panels
- Ground source or air source heat pumps?
Your Builder should be able to advise on the best strategies to make a leap in thermal efficiency in your home. Sustainability aside, this is an opportunity to make your home much more comfortable.
10. WHERE DO YOU FIND THE BEST BUILDER FOR YOU?
It is generally considered the best option to ask other home-owners about any recent work they’ve undertaken on their own homes and then to ask for recommendations. Of course, opinions can vary and not everyone will have your high level of taste or quality. So here are some questions worth asking:-
- Is their Builder recognised by a reputable association – one that takes more than just a subscription fee to join?
- Did the Builder show their Insurance documents to the customer and were they adequate with cover of £2million or more per year?
- Was their Builder trustworthy and reliable?
- Did they turn up on time and when they said they would?
- Did they treat the customer’s home and family with courtesy and respect?
- Was the site kept clean and safe each day?
- Were the Tradesmen polite and respectful to the customer and to their neighbours?
- Were they easily identifiable, perhaps by uniform, as working for the same company?
- Did the Builder allow the customer to have plenty of say in the development, making tweaks and changes along the way, where required?
- Would they use the same Builder again and again and again?
A good point of reference might be your local Trading Standards Office listing, such as https://www.traderregister.org.uk/staffordshire. This is a free listing of local service providers that have furnished the organisation with a complete suite of their business documents and a copy each year of their insurances. You can also view customer testimonials on the website.
There are, of course, many Trades Associations, but few are known to truly monitor the work of their members, unless there is a complaint and, by then, it’s too late!
Having read the above key points you have a great basis upon which to form your brief with your Builder. This will save time throughout the process, allowing you to be clear about your expectations from the outset.
If you have any questions just ask us on our Free Advice page, or why not give Xtenda a call on 01785 817 981 and let’s get your project started!