Can I Project Manage?

Good project management is essential for a successful self-build, but who should take up the role?
Articles by Build It magazine
by Build It
7th December 2012

Project management is an accessible yet demanding aspect of self-building, and it isn’t necessarily a role that just anyone can take on. You need to have fabulous juggling skills to order materials, prioritise workers and sort out finances concurrently.

If this kind of level of organisation sounds like something you’d relish, then maybe you should give it a go – but if you shudder at the thought, then you’re better off getting in the professionals.

A good project manager (PM) will look after the scheduling of labour and materials, and professionally supervise works. Responsibilities include recording who is on site, making decisions on what work to do under what weather conditions, overseeing health and safety, checking and signing for deliveries, monitoring workmanship and resolving any problems that arise.

Crucially, a project manager is responsible for ensuring all planning permissions, site insurances and warranties are in place before building commences – get this wrong and you’ll face serious issues.

Obviously it’s a huge commitment for anyone to take on – professional or not – so how can you tell if project managing is for you?

Doing it yourself

The satisfaction and sense of achievement you’ll get from the hands-on role could offer exactly what you’re hoping to get out of your self-build. Another major benefit of project managing yourself is the money you’ll save. If you’re organised enough to run your build like a military operation, then you could save more than 20 per cent on labour and materials.

If you are sure you want to take on the task, you’re in for daily site visits and can expect to liaise with service providers, site inspectors and sub-contractors. Be prepared to resolve any problems that occur; these will be solely your responsibility.

The role will take over your life for the duration of the project, and will be impossible to handle if you can’t guarantee being on site everyday. According to Buildstore’s project management expert, Robin Batchelder: “You’ll need to rely on Building Control or your warranty provider to pick up problems or issues as they develop. But their focus will be on fundamental structural issues, not the build quality and detail that is often so important to the self-builder.”

Take on board as much advice as possible from the professionals around you. Builders’ merchants, such as Wolseley, employ dedicated account managers who will help you establish what you need, when you need it. They can also give an indication of realistic lead times for delivery of materials and equipment. Architects and tradesmen may also be able to give some guidance in these areas.

Make a database to keep track of materials and schedules, and factor in the availability of sub-contractors. Also essential is making a log of everything that you do, from conversations you’ve had to keeping delivery notes, quotes and a list of inspection dates.

Remember to factor in the VAT, and get VAT receipts, if you plan to claim it back. It’s a good idea to set up a trade account with a reputable merchant, as bulk-buying materials will pay dividends in discounts).

Drawing up thorough and clear contracts is vital, both to protect yourself and ensure you get what you pay for in terms of timings, payment terms and the scale of the work. The Joint Contracts Tribunal website is well worth a visit, as it features range of ready-made contracts you can buy.

“The self-builder is, from an insurance point of view, the main contractor,” says Robin. “That means you’ll be responsible for arranging suitable Contractors All Risks Insurance cover for the duration of the project. Equally it’s important that somebody familiar with the building site environment at least offers guidance on all aspects of site safety and security.”

Nothing can bring a build to a stop quite like a lack of cash. Make sure your finances are in place, stick to your budget and ensure funds are ready to be released when you need them. Have a contingency fund in place and don’t dip into it unless it’s really needed – it’s there for unexpected costs, not to up the spec.

Getting the professionals in

Hiring a professional project manager can save you heaps of stress, the accompanying sleepless nights, and a lot of time. Professional PMs will charge a set fee for their services, which can vary between five and 15 per cent of the build cost, although in the current climate you may be able to broker a better deal.

“In many instances the project manager isn’t appointed until the specification has been drawn up, and quite regularly the architect/draughtsman will just ‘refer’ to branded products with which they are familiar,” says Robin. “An experienced PM will be able to guide the self-builder in the selection of suitable, readily-available alternative products which will do exactly the same job, but potentially cost significantly less.”

By sourcing materials in this way, a self-builder can save around £15,000- £20,000 on their overall budget.

Ask around for local recommendations when looking for a PM. Your architect or frame-supply company will probably know of someone you could use, or you can search online for professionals in your area. Ensure they have experience of self-build and not just large commercial sites.

Your architect may even be willing to project manage your build for you. This can be a good option as they’ll have a thorough knowledge of your new home, which is especially helpful if the build involves unusual materials or techniques.

Alternatively, employing a single contractor to undertake your whole build, sub-contracting as they go, can take a lot of the headache out of the process. This may be helpful if you live far from the site. Again, their experience will help things go smoothly, and they’ll be involved in specifying and ordering things and ensuring the right amount of items turns up on time. Expect to pay a fixed fee, which can cost between 20-40 per cent more than managing your own site.

Once you’ve found someone, set up a contract detailing payment terms and the amount of time they will dedicate to your project, including how much time they spend on site. Remember that however useful a project manager is, ultimate responsibility for the site still lies with you, so check they have all the necessary elements and insurances in place.

Main image: The Sanderson took a hands-on approach to their build, managing trades and doing a lot of the work themselves

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