If everybody is quoting on the same thing, prices should not vary by more than 10 percent at the most.

After only a few days back after the builders’ holidays, I remember why I want to sit on the stoep. To be a success as a contractor in the Western Cape you need to be able to answer 50 e-mails a day, second guess every client’s needs and have the motivational skills of a prophet.

I need to emphasise again the need for open and clear communication between client and contractor. Many of you will be going into the year, looking to renovate, build from new or just repair, so let’s look at trying to get you the right price for what you want to do.

In nine out of 10 cases you’ll be looking for various quotes, and that’s where the communication must start. So it’s a good idea to put your thoughts down in writing – I guarantee that if you call in three tenders and verbally tell them what you want you will get three different prices and at least two of them will be for something you did not want in the first place.

Also, in many instances, somebody else will have to stay at home to “explain” to the contractor what is required. So start off by putting down in writing exactly what you want, and then check with the rest of the family that they are in agreement. There is nothing more embarrassing for a contractor than listening to the family arguing over what is required.

This applies to all contracts, large or small. If you are having a large alteration or building a new home, the communication with the builder will take the form of a plan, but you will need an architect to draw the plan, so you need to give him a list of your requirements. This will also ensure that you get a design for what you want, rather than what the architect thought you wanted, or what he thought you should have.

Please have plans drawn before you call in the builders to quote. I have lost count of how many times I have arrived at a client’s home, only to be asked how much will it cost to build a new granny flat here, about 5m by 4m. You are just wasting everybody’s time.

Plans in themselves will not show all that is required; they need to be supported by a specification and schedule of works. Then there can be no excuses if the plan did not show what you wanted, so all these other things are going to be extras.

An even better form of communication is to appoint a quantity surveyor to prepare a bill of quantities for the works. This not only explains what you want, but how much of what needs to be done, and it also acts as a guide for adjusting the final price for what is actually completed. It will involve some initial outlay, but I guarantee that you will receive a more competitive price at the end of the day. Builders do not have the time to measure a drawing properly and their quotations are usually full of guesses. I would recommend that on any contract over R1.5 million a quantity surveyor should be involved.

Your final piece of formal communication should be a contract document, one that is fair to both parties. So don’t just sign what the builder puts in front of you, and conversely, don’t try and impose your own possibly unfair terms. Your local Master Builders Association will be able to provide documents that have been drawn up over many years by representatives of both clients and contractors.

Contractors need to communicate too, and just following a few basic rules will make your life easier. On the smaller contracts especially, ensure your supervisor or foreman visits the site and checks out what the estimator has allowed for before commencing work; ensure that he makes himself known and that he is familiar with site conditions.

Ensure that you phone the client, before arriving to start the work. Make sure your men are easily identifiable – overalls and name tags work wonders.

Take the time to teach your staff how to introduce themselves to the client and, most importantly, ensure they know what they are on site to do. There is no worse way to start at a client’s house than by your workforce asking the client what they are supposed to do. - Weekend Argus

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