The Dangers of Cutting Corners During Your Self-Build Project

by Mike Hardwick
8th March 2017

As part of the service I offer self-builders who attend my courses at the National Self Build & Renovation Centre, attendees get advice about issues they’re having with their schemes and the invitation to get in touch. Obviously, I’m not offering to manage everyone’s projects, but if there’s a question I can help with, I’m happy to do so.

It’s satisfying when people send me photos of finished schemes, and perhaps a nod of thanks for pointing them in the right direction – or in some cases lending a hand so they can avoid costly errors. My record to date for helping someone save money is £18,000. This person was erroneously invoiced for VAT on the labour element of their self-build project – I caught that just in time.

I also get emails asking for my views on people’s approach to a project, often wanting to know my opinion on whether an idea they’ve had will help to cut costs. I try to be objective, and while some of the proposals could potentially save a few pounds, some of the more novel concepts could end up costing a fortune.

My advice for first time self-builders is as follows. Firstly, hire a competent architect or designer. Next, get that person to create and submit your planning drawings, followed by Building Regs drawings for full plans approval by either the local authority’s building control department or an approved inspector.

These documents allow your designer to price the scheme up accurately and understand what’s required, while the inspection regime from a full plans building control submission makes sure it’s built correctly.

The trouble is, all of the above costs money and people may cut corners. One recent correspondent was convinced his architect was ripping him off. He asked me to confirm that putting a few dimensions on the planning drawings and using a building notice (ie not submitting Building Regulations drawings), while relying on individual trades to know and apply the relevant regs was a good idea to save money.

Once I had lifted my jaw off the desk, I wrote a response that suggested he was headed in the opposite direction to the one I would recommend, and invited him to think again. Would his approach have saved some cash? On paper, possibly. And who am I to say the whole thing couldn’t have gone without a hitch?

However, with no detailed drawings, no formal inspection regime and a bunch of individual trades who might know some bits of the regs, but not all, savings at the front end of the build would most likely be lost in a snowball of misunderstandings, mistakes and costly reworkings. All of this could result in overspending. It’s simply a false economy to bypass these key components.

Apart from the client, no one is doing this for the love of it, so firms involved will be making a profit. Your aim is to get the finished article completed on budget, and ideally for less than its final market value. The bigger the difference, the better. Taking the right approach might mean a larger outlay, but it’s worth it.

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