I have a theory about builders, prompted by way too much time spent pondering why so many of us, myself included, have such sorry tales to tell with regard to their competence and reliability. It goes thus… “builders” tend to be at the far end of the manly-man-bloke scale. In other words they are seldom sensitive waifs. Leave them alone to bash things and fix stuff, and they are quite content. But the end result might not be quite what you’re after and it’ll be six months late. (Please forgive the blatent generalisations as regards definitions of manliness here for the moment, and stay with me…). And so, with all that lovely extra testosterone comes proportionally less of an ability to multi-task, apply foresight and communicate: three qualities essential to running a building project, paramount being the principle of Managing-Client-Expectations. By which I mean, the comprehension that one action, or lack thereof, permits, or not, another. So if the house won’t be ready by Christmas, the sooner I know this fact, the sooner I can plan to be far FAR away from it.
And so, as I contemplate further building work, and after years of infuriation, trial and error, I proffer the following seven step programme for a (relatively) stress-free build…
1 When interviewing tradesmen, ask lots of questions. They need to know up front that you’re going to be a pain. The good ones won’t mind because they take pride in their work, and they’ll want to impress you. And if you don’t feel you can trust someone, you probably can’t. Your house is likely to be the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy, so be careful who you give the keys to. And ‘interview’ at least four people per trade you intend to employ.
2 Be crystal clear about the “small” stuff you do in fact sweat… For me, alignment, symmetry and the feed pipes for radiators being absolutely vertical (I know, I know, see point one on being a pain). Again, make it clear you’re not joking and that you will insist on these things being changed, at their expense, if they’re not right.
3 Never pay up front. Any reputable tradesman will have a sufficient float to cover all basic materials required, plus they get discounts on hardware like boilers. The exception would be the purchase of very specific items, like designer taps or a particular loo. Remember all taps are not created equal. To most builders, they are.
4 Try to remember that tradesmen/builders are people, not automatons. Tea, biscuits and a big dollop of charm will go a long way. But don’t go overboard, they can get their own lunch. And if you’re not happy with something, speak up straightaway so it can be fixed. Do not simmer and leave things. With regard to building work, this is the fast-track to disaster. Check and fix as you go along.
5 Plan to make unexpected pop-ins. You were just passing and wanted to check they had everything they needed. It’s your home, which means you can turn up absolutely whenever you like, don’t ever forget this. Besides, see above.
6 If you change you mind about something, which is inevitable as work progresses and one’s perspective alters, expect to incur additional delays and costs. It’s akin to planning a dinner party, and having bought all the food, laid the table and starting cooking, one of your guests calls to say they’ve become a vegan. You get the picture.
7 Likewise sometimes work reveals unanticipated horrors. Sadly no-one has X-ray vision. But a delay in the short term, albeit irritating, prevents costly mistakes in the future. And at the end of the day, adapting your home to fit you and your family in all the right places will be worth every penny, everyday. Good luck!