Should I Hire a Project Manager and is it Good Value for Money?

Self-managing your build may seem like a great way to save on fees; but an experienced pro could prove better value for money. Andy Butchers from Build-Zone Survey Services explains why
Self-Build Zone Insurance & Warranties
by Self-Build Zone
1st March 2021

Once planning and building control approval have gone through on your scheme, someone needs to take the reins and oversee work on site.

This is the project manager (PM), who will be there to handle any issues that crop up along the way, ensuring the build is produced on time and to the quality expected.

So, what’s involved in being a project manager – and is it sensible to take the role on yourself, or better to leave it to a professional?

What is self build project management?

Project managers (PMs) are there to procure and deliver a building within the budget and time parameters set, and to the expected quality level. Key skills include general management, trouble-shooting, problem solving, quality-checking and diplomacy, as well as in-depth knowledge of construction practices and the built environment. The PM will also oversee health and safety on site (including Covid protocols).

A PM will create a schedule for the works. They’ll appoint individual contractors, trades, suppliers and services, and decide when each one needs to be on site. They’ll call in quotes from contractors and negotiate the pricing structure, as well as any discounts with suppliers. Confirming contracts and tenders will also be the project manager’s responsibility.

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PMs need to liaise closely with the homeowner, of course. But also with neighbours, material suppliers, hire companies, contractors, utility providers and building professionals – such as structural engineers, warranty surveyors and building control.

All of this will require a significant commitment. For some project managing a self build is a full-time job; for others an involved hobby. If you’re a self builder considering doing it yourself, the key question is how many of the requisite skills you can bring to the table – and how you’ll fill any knowledge gaps.

All these responsibilities demand a good knowledge of finance and construction, which is where self builders taking on the role themselves can sometimes struggle.

What does it cost to hire a project manager?

Bringing in a professional to take on the PM role costs between 5%-8% of your overall budget, which could run to £10,000s. So it’s easy to see why some self builders view this as an ideal place to trim budgets by managing their own projects. However, having an experienced professional on board could actually offer great savings.

The ability to keep on top of the project’s finances is where the value of a professional PM really comes into play. They are trained to understand exactly what’s needed to bring the scheme together and can therefore budget accordingly. Fundamentally, less is likely to go wrong during the works because they’ll have planned efficiently. Their experience means they’re more likely to know how to deal with trades and to notice early on if something hasn’t been done right, prior to it becoming a major issue.

So before you dismiss the idea of bringing in a qualified professional, consider whether the benefits could actually outweigh the expense. Doing it yourself will come with a host of responsibilities and getting it wrong could cost you a lot of money.

Who can project manage my self build?

It could be your architect, the builder, a freelance PM or other construction professional (such as a quantity surveyor or structural engineer). Every scheme is different, so it’s important
to do your research and appoint the most appropriate professional to suit your bespoke requirements.

Look for an individual who has good local contacts and a verifiable history of similar projects nearby – this is especially important if your self build isn’t close to your current place of residence. Another thing to bear in mind is the kind of experience that your potential project manager has.

For instance, not all architects specialise in one-off builds and there can be huge differences in one professional’s knowledge of the construction phase to another’s. Architects often focus more on the design, technical and contract side of a build rather than actually running a project on the ground.

If you do decide to do the project management yourself, be prepared for the level of responsiblity. The worst approach is to have a go, only for things to go wrong so you end up paying for work twice. Remember you need enough time, too. Coming home late into the evening to work on your project is a tough call – the stress involved can put a strain on relationships with partners and family.

From our many years of experience handling claims made by self builders, at Build-Zone we feel that unless you are really confident about what you’re doing, a professionally competent PM is a must-have.

So before you dismiss the idea of bringing in a qualified professional, consider whether the benefits could actually outweigh the expense. Doing it yourself will come with a host of responsibilities and getting it wrong could cost you a lot of money.

Andy Butchers is a building surveyor with over 25 years’ experience in the construction industry – and regularly shares his knowledge to help self builders and renovators avoid and overcome issues on their projects. He is a director of Build-Zone Survey Services, the technical services company for Build-Zone and Self-Build Zone.

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