Package Houses Explained

Working with a package company could be the no-nonsense route to your dream home, says Chris Bates
Chris Bates, Editor of Build It magazine
by Chris Bates
26th November 2012

Embarking on a self-build project doesn’t have to mean laying every last brick yourself. In reality, most people rely on some degree of help from a specialist housebuilder. That’s where package suppliers come in. These firms offer you the chance to be as involved or removed from the endeavour as you desire. Their sliding scale of services allows you to choose just how much of the design, material supply, construction and fitting out of your new home is catered for by that single company.

Choosing your package

If you’d rather steer clear of the nitty gritty and leave most of the work up to the professionals, then a turnkey solution is your best bet. “Around 15 per cent of our clients opt for this method,” reveals Joe Martoccia of timber-frame specialists Potton. For some, that means engaging the package company to complete each stage of the build, but most choose to employ their own builder.

“It’s an attractive route for people who don’t have time to get too involved in the project, or for those who can simply afford to do things this way,” says Joe. You might also prefer this method if you’re not confident in your ability to oversee everything. Nine out of 10 self-builders are first-timers, and there’s no shame in relying on the experts to make sure you get things right.

The alternative is to go for a part-finish service. Typically, this involves the package company supplying and erecting the structure, leaving you in control of arranging groundworks and kitting out the house.

There are variations – some firms will require you to go to the wind- and water-tight stage with them, for example. Consider employing a project manager (PM) to oversee the remaining parts of the build. “I’d recommend this route if you’re not sure you have the level of expertise required to manage the project yourself,” says Joe.

While any builder you employ directly will make money on costs for materials, PMs usually work for a set fee. This may account for 15 per cent of the total build, but an experienced project manager will have a good nose for securing budget-friendly deals with reliable tradesmen and materials suppliers.

“By engaging a PM or opting for turnkey, you’ll find that it’s easier to stick to schedules,” says Joe. Labour can account for a massive chunk of your costs – as much as 60 per cent in some cases – so it stands to reason that running on time will be a huge boon to your budget.

Working with a package company also offers you the opportunity to seize the reins. “Self project management is likely to be the most cost-effective route, provided you follow your package company’s build manual,” says Joe.

You can make further savings by taking on some or even all of the part-finish work yourself. But if you’re thinking of tackling the majority of the project as DIY, it’s probably worth asking yourself whether you really need a package at all.

Design options

The first step in creating your package home is to decide on a build system, be it timber frame, brick-and block, steel frame or structural insulated panels (SIPs). Companies tend to specialise in specific areas, and their staff will be more than happy to discuss the relative merits of each system with you.

The design and supply of the framework will be the key components of whatever package you select. You might choose a standard structure from a company’s catalogue, for example, which can be personalised to suit your needs and the quirks of your plot. The great thing about this is you’ll be investing in a high-quality, tried-and-tested construction.

But don’t rule out packages if you’re looking for more flexibility – many companies will also allow you to work with an in-house design team on bespoke creations.

“We operate like a firm of architects and work to a brief according to the client’s budget, the site and any other criteria,” reveals Mark Windsor of Design & Materials. “We’ll then guide customers through planning and building regulations, help them find a builder and supply all the structural materials. The client can then choose their own brickwork, roof tiles, staircase and windows, as well as internal fittings.”

Package companies have a good reputation when it comes to delivering on value for money. That’s partly because they usually work to set fees agreed early in the process, giving clients the best possible chance of staying on budget. But the big question for self-builders is whether a package house will hit the mark in terms of design.

It’s a common misconception that package homes look staid and faintly European. But stunning designs from companies such as timber-frame experts Border Oak and brick-and-block specialists CB Homes have really blown that myth out of the water.

In fact, you can work with your chosen company to get pretty much anything you want, whether it be a Tudor-inspired cottage with traditional green oak beams, or a super-modern pre-fabricated SIPs home.

Engaging contractors

Even if you choose not to buy turnkey, you can still take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of your frame provider for the rest of the project. “Most package companies will be able to recommend good builders or project managers in your region,” reveals Joe Martoccia.

Firms such as Potton regularly assess the work of the contractors they vouch for. Nevertheless, it’s always worth asking to view examples of their previous builds and find out whether the clients were happy with the process and finished result. And, of course, ensure your chosen builder has experience working with the materials you’ve selected.

Main image: Self-builder Angie Martin used design & build specialist Potton for her project… full story

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