Three things to consider before any home improvement project
In advance of the work, agree the cost, make all your decisions and nail down the design
If you have any doubts about any aspect of the design make sure they are resolved before the builder prices for the job. Photograph: Getty
It’s the time of year when people tackle home improvement projects, and there’s so much to think about, from managing budgets to picking out finishes and fittings. Unless you are well prepared, things can become stressful very quickly once the work starts. These are three questions you need to answer before the project ever starts:
What’s the total cost?
Budgeting for a project is one of the most daunting aspects for many people. It’s also one where there is a lot of conflicting advice. The only way to get an accurate price for the work you intend to do it to get quotes. This is because, despite there being typical rates for various aspects of the work, they are only a guide and will vary depending on who prices the work. When negotiating with your chosen contractor, it’s best to agree a fixed price for the project – never agree to an hourly rate.
On top of the contractors’ price, you will need to factor in items you have to purchase yourself. These include things like windows, kitchens, bathroom fittings and finishes. The contractors’ price should include all construction works, electrical and plumbing works, internal doors and the fitting of all finishes and sanitary ware. It will often include fitting of finishes like flooring and tiling but it is best to check before the price is agreed exactly what is included and what isn’t.
Professional fees are another cost you will need to factor into your budget. If you are planning on working with an architect, speak to her about how the fee structure works. Other professionals you may need to engage include a structural engineer, a quantity surveyor, landscaping designer, interior designer and lighting specialist.
When calculating your total budget, make sure you include any additional costs such as rent if you need to move out, storage, planning contributions and so on. When you have a firm idea of what your budget is, you will need to set aside at least 10 per cent as a contingency for any unexpected extras. Keep track of your spend throughout the project and if necessary engage the services of a quantity surveyor to help.
What are you responsible for?
It’s important to have a clear understanding of what items you need to purchase well in advance of the work starting on site. Ask your architect or the builder for a list of everything you need to choose. Ask for some guidance on when all of these “client supply items” will be needed on site.
A programme of work, with critical dates highlighted, is the ideal way to ensure you have a firm idea about when each of the items you are responsible for will be required. However, not every contractor is great at paperwork and that’s okay. Rather than wasting time trying to extract a spreadsheet from your builder when it’s not forthcoming, my advice is to have everything chosen and ideally purchased before the work starts on site. This way everything is ready as soon as the builder needs it, meaning the likelihood of delays happening or panic decisions being made will be completely avoided.
The things you may need to purchase will include sanitary ware, kitchens, flooring, tiles, feature lighting and so on. There are also items you will need to select that you won’t be directly responsible for purchasing. These include selecting paint colours, choosing external finishes such as paving, render colour, roof tiles or slates. It’s best to try to stay well ahead of the contractor with all of these things, and if you need help ask for it early on.
Are you sure about the design you want?
Never, ever start a project without being absolutely certain you are getting exactly what you want. It may be tempting to get started on site to keep your project moving with the idea you can figure things out as you go. Not only are you likely to make multiple mistakes but you will also cost yourself time and money.
If you have any doubts about any aspect of the design make sure they are resolved before the builder prices for the job. Making changes once you’ve agreed on a price with a contractor and architect means changes to the cost.
Making changes once the work starts is even worse as it will not only add cost but it will also add time to the project. If you are renting, any delays mean you will be paying over and above the extra build costs, even for something that seems small. Making changes or last-minute additions to the design will be things the builder had not priced for and will add up quickly to bring you over budget.
It’s vital you take the time to put in the work before you send anything out to price. The more you invest in this stage the more you can relax and hopefully enjoy the transformation of your home.