How to best manage property renovations
Category Property Maintenance & Costs
It's a relatively safe bet to say that everybody seems to know somebody who knows somebody whose neighbour had a bad experience with a builder or project manager. The stories typically range from the irritating-but-easily-remedied to the far more serious they-made-off-with-the-money.
"Neither of these situations is something you want to have to deal with. When it comes to property renovations and improvements, it's usually something that a property owner has put a lot of thought into and something that requires substantial financial investment, and the kind of thing that we believe will enhance our experience of the property," says Steven van Rooyen, Principal at Leapfrog Milnerton.
In other words, home improvements are not something that should be taken lightly.
Luckily, forewarned is forearmed, and knowing what you're letting yourself in for when it comes to renovations and improvements is one of the best ways to ensure you get the result you're expecting and, more importantly, the result that you're paying for.
Do your homework
Take the time to understand the scope of work, what your ideal outcome looks like and what is possible within your budget. "Then make sure that you're effectively able to communicate this vision to the builder or project manager," Van Rooyen advises.
"The process of appointing a builder or project manager is one that needs to be approached thoughtfully and rationally. Again, do your homework. Ask for references, request to see examples of completed work," Van Rooyen suggests. Have a conversation to determine whether the person understands your vision for the project, and make sure to articulate your needs and expectations very clearly, both verbally and in writing.
"Too often we hear people saying that the builder did X but they wanted Y, and when we ask but did you explain this to them properly, including in writing, they usually just mumble something about how useless builders are," Van Rooyen shares.
This kind of attitude doesn't serve either party, and just as the project manager needs to take responsibility for the work done and services rendered, so too does the property owner need to take ownership of the project by checking in regularly to ensure things are going according to plan (and budget!).
Once you've done the homework there's nothing wrong with approaching the builder or project manager that you deem the most suitable for the project, and to ask them questions about their portfolio, their approach to the project and more. Here are some examples of the questions you should be asking your builder:
- Can you show examples of projects you've worked on recently? What did they entail?
- How do you manage projects in terms of cashflow and timelines?
- How many projects are you currently with? How will you ensure my project gets allocated the time and expertise I am paying for?
- How do you manage labour resources and/or sub-contractors?
- Do you give a complete breakdown of all costs and line items?
- How do you manage safety and security onsite?
- What happens from your side when something goes wrong?
Naturally there are many more questions that could be asked, but these should offer a sufficient departure point.
A non-negotiable when employing a builder or project manager is to ensure they're registered with the relevant council or authorities, such as the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC), or the Master Builders Association. The NHBRC's explicit goal is, according to their website, to "protect housing consumers who have been exposed to contractors who deliver housing units of substandard design, workmanship and poor quality materials".
"There is always recourse in the case of things going wrong, but naturally the ideal is to manage the project such that recourse isn't necessarily as fixing any problems is usually costly, time consuming and rather disheartening," Van Ro says.
Manage your expectations
"An industry colleague noted to me that these days the internet is the expectation we're up against. People will see beautifully styled home with state-of-the-art finishes and expect the same from their miniscule budget. When it doesn't pan out quite like that, they're upset with the project manager," Van Rooyen observes.
While shoddy workmanship or an inferior final product should never be excused or tolerated it is important to consider the limitations of your budget, the physical possibilities of the project, and then to manage your expectations accordingly.
"The more involved you are in the process the more likely you are to get the outcome you want," Van Rooyen concludes.