Going Out to Tender: What you Need to Know

Going to tender and not sure if you have the right skills and strategies? Tim Doherty offers advice on how to make sure you understand your builder's quotes
by Tim Doherty
7th December 2018

When you’re undertaking a major building project you need to make sure that what you’re paying fairly reflects everything involved in the job.

The best way to do this is to be certain you’ve got all the info in place to help contractors draw up reliable quotes before you decide to employ them.

Taking an organised approach will give you the best possible chance for comparing like-for-like on quality and price when you make your final choice of which contractors and trades to employ.

How you intend to manage your build programme will massively influence the kind of quotes you’ll be looking for from contractors and trades, so this is the first thing to consider.

Where you are appointing just one main builder to manage the works for you, the successful firm will be overseeing health and safety, sub-contractor appointments, material deliveries and overall accountability for the timely completion of the works as whole.

But if you’re looking to project manage the scheme yourself then it’s up to you to understand the differences and choose the best trades for the job at hand.

Regardless of the route you take, the accuracy of the quotes you receive will be directly proportionate to the quality of the information provided in the tender pack (ie the details of what works will be included within the price quoted).

Construction tender pack contents

The list of works to be done must be prepared in advance of going out to builders, whether this is put together by you or a professional that you’re working with, such as an architect.

Some self builders set out to find just one main contractor but then, due to the high cost, decide at a later stage to project manage the works themselves by seeking multiple trades.

So it’s a good idea to prepare your tender pack for quotes to cover both options. Here are the key elements to include:

Planning drawings

Contractors need to see these – ie floor plans, elevations and a site plan.

If you’re employing just one contractor then they should also have a copy of the planning consent, because there are usually some conditions that require action before work starts on site, such as agreement to brick, tile and window samples etc.

Opening a trade account could save you money on construction materialsIt’s perfectly reasonable to ask your single builder to provide those agreed samples to the council in order to satisfy the appropriate condition.

Building Regulations notes

The structural drawings must include all the written notes which confirm what specifications are to be used and/or what standards are to be met as per Building Regulations. So make sure the info is clear for the tradespeople quoting.

Engineering calculations

Most schemes will need some structural details produced for beam sizes, connections, foundation design etc.

This engineering is sometimes on separate documents or added to the building control drawings by your architect/designer. The contractors need to see it and be aware of what is planned.

Soil report

If this will inform the foundations, drainage and service supplies, then a copy should be given to the contractors.

Written specification & schedule of works

Referred to as the SSW, this welds the technical drawings and engineering together with your individual requirements, which may not be transparent from the plans.

This can be lengthy and, to keep your build management options open, should logically work its way through the individual tasks needed in a sequential way.

Builders looking at plans

A logical project schedule would be: preliminaries, site prep and enabling works, foundations, ground floor, drainage, structural frame (if using off-site), external and internal walls, roof structure, joinery, electrics, plumbing, heating, specialist products, insulation and wall surfaces, decorations and ceramic tiling, flooring, external works and outbuildings.

Where you have yet to make a decision on a specific item (such as the kitchen) then you can include a provisional sum (PS) for either its supply or its supply and fix.

It is not unusual to have between five and 15 PS’s at the tender stage. As long as an appropriate allowance is included in the quote, your overall budget calculations will still be very realistic.

Preferred timetable

Don’t forget to clearly set out your ideal building programme so that any firms preparing a quote can be sure about when they will be needed.

Finding a good builder

Lots of people have a fabulous experience with their builders and are very happy to recommend them on to others and this is a great place to start.

If you haven’t come across any firms via word-of-mouth, then you’ll need to use the trades websites that mostly attempt to pre-screen members, and where you’ll be able to see written testimonials from customers.

Regardless of how you initially make contact, it’s best to have a long phone call and preferably a face-to-face meeting as early as you can, as first impressions and chemistry are really important selection criteria.

It takes a contractor a long time to prepare a quote, so they will want to meet you and decide for themselves if your project is of interest to them.

Going out to tender skills and strategies

If you’re seeking only one builder who will be doing the entire job, they’ll need the full tender pack and one or two meetings on site to get a feel for the project before compiling a quote.

If you’re commissioning a series of individual trades then each will require the regs drawings, engineering if relevant and the SSW.

You can refer them to the sections in this that you want pricing for and they will also have the opportunity to see the full project scope if they’re interested. But, the carpenter, for example, may need to quote for works in external walls, roofing, joinery, flooring etc.

To ensure you’re absolutely on the same page, your accompanying letter or email should summarise what you have sent them and a list of exactly what it is you want them to price.

For main contractor quotes, it’s a good idea to provide them with a template so they can present prices in the clear groupings that you want, which will make it easier for you to compare one builder’s price with another.

The template also helps to encourage the contractor to break the price down into elements that make sense to your project.

Individual trades are less likely to use templates, but then a full breakdown is not so important, and the key objective is to be certain about what has, and has not, been included in their price.

Alternative builders’ quotes

In the absence of a full tender pack and quote template, you may get any one of the following returned to you:

Verbal quote or text

The latter is better than the former, but neither are adequate.

If the firm cannot manage a written quote, then you should write back to them qualifying what information you have provided for them.

People signing a contract07Include your understanding of the number submitted, what is included within it and, in the case of individual trades, whether or not it involves multiple/separate periods on site.

Written email

A simple message with a number is not much better than a text, but at least you’ll have a clear email trail.

You should send the same qualification summary as above to remove any doubt and ask them to acknowledge this by return.

Contractor qualifications

Some will send through a written quote with little more than a paragraph or so of text referring to their overall charge, the address of the site and a brief description of the job in hand; ie “new house at… etc”. 

But many will also attach a summary of qualifications and assumptions; eg the price of bricks, type of window or roof tile included, no inclusions made for wardrobes or ceramic tiling etc.

However, the probability is that there is a significant difference between what you think should be included in the figure and what the contractor has allowed for in their mind.

The best route forward here is to have a meeting to work through the project from the ground up to identify gaps so additional prices can be provided in advance.

Always summarise the outcome in writing.

Contractor terms & conditions

Some builders have their own trading conditions and payment terms and will attach these.

They are often contrary to any more formal industry contract documents and T&Cs should be negotiable rather than automatic, but you should probably qualify this when receiving their quote.

Renegotiating prices once work starts

It’s common for specifications to evolve beyond a contractor’s quote and along the way you will doubtless have discussions and/or meetings where prices are mentioned.

Keep a note of all of these and once your specification or scope of works is agreed, summarise any changes in writing to your contractor. This may only be a list of additional verbal prices already received or it could mean that new costs need to be prepared for additional works.

Either way, you should seek an amended quote based on your clear paper trail before final appointments are made.

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