Durban - A new home will probably be the largest purchase you’ll make. 

Whether building your first home or upgrading a “fixer-upper” into your dream home, you need to read this first before taking the plunge.

Builders have a terrible reputation for being cowboys - they’re notoriously always late, over-budget, taking chances and not delivering the works. 

If you select the right builder, it will be a pleasurable experience; choose the wrong one and it can be a frustrating and often expensive lesson.

Clients often have themselves to blame for bad relations with builders because they haven’t done their homework properly or enter into contracts blindly. 

To ensure a successful relationship, it’s important to find out as much as you can and define relations clearly, before you formalise your relationship.

Here are tips to guarantee that you build on a solid foundation with your contractor:

Do your homework

Avoid the bakkie builder and the jack of all trades, who’s desperate for work and “willing to do any building work”. Ask if your builder has the required skills and experience to undertake the proposed project, especially if you’re building in a difficult location or your design requires special construction. If the builder has only done interior fit-outs or kitchens, you probably shouldn’t trust him with building your double-storey home.

Find out how many projects the builder is currently working on. A company with a full book of current projects may indicate whether they are reliable and if their work is in high demand. However, ensure they have the capacity to manage your project professionally because, if they’re over-extended, you might end up last in line.

How long have they been in business?

Find out how long the builder you are considering has been in business and if he has always traded under the same name. If the company’s changed names before, it may be a sign of past issues they wish to avoid, like running away from clients and creditors.

Are they legit?

The builder needs to be National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) registered. Master Builders Association membership is an additional assurance that their work is up to a professional standard. NHBRC registration is a legal requirement, so if there’s a quibble over the quality, you can take it up with them. Check that the NHBRC fees are paid. Also, be sure all the relevant insurances and Labour Department registrations are in place.

Leave it to the experts

Many draughtsmen and architects will not only do the drawings, but they’ll also submit the plans to council, which can be a nightmare for the layperson. And enlist the services of a project manager or a principal agent, who is often the architect, to help smooth over negotiations.

Don’t forget the inspections

Check that the council and the NHBRC conducts the requisite inspections and don’t take the builder’s word for it because if you’ve already reached roof height and the inspector says he hasn’t seen your foundations, you’re going to incur more expenses and delays. Keep an eye on the progress yourself and maintain relations by scheduling regular meetings with the builder. A regular, steady flow of information between you and the builder will help ease the process.

Count your costs

Many builders ask for a deposit. If it’s being used to buy material, that’s perfectly acceptable but if the money’s going to pay wages, that’s a warning sign in big flashing lights. Independent project manager and building consultant Justin Power says most fights between builders and clients are around money and quality, so it’s best to lay it out in black and white: “I always advise residential clients to sign a Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC) contract for small works - it lays everything out neatly, with the scope of works clearly defined.”

Power says it’s essential that you agree upfront on payment terms and a payment schedule, which is pegged to a Gantt chart that measures the progress and milestones. “This is crucial to avoid complications and a situation where you realise you’ve paid someone 80% of the work but they’ve only done 20% of the work.”

A building contract must specify the work to be completed, along with a commencement and completion date of the project, which should be clearly stated. It also needs to lay out all the work that will be carried out during the building process, including plans, specifications, and any particular requirements that you may have.

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