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5 warning signs that your project may be in trouble

Regardless of the scale of your project, it is vital that you maintain control of the scope and progress of the work and of course, the costs. Without a robust control system in place you could find that you are effectively letting your builder control the work and even the costs, which could leave you seriously out of pocket.

These warning signs are a reliable indicator that your project may not be going quite as well as it could.

1. Your builder keeps asking you for money. 

This should not happen. When you start any project there should be a properly written Payment Schedule which is linked to the progress of the work, so that you are never paying for work that has not been done yet. Even if you agree to pay something up front - perhaps for materials or a mobilisation fee, this should be accounted for and clawed back, as a percentage from each subsequent payment. A well constructed PAyment Schedule will ensure you only pay for works that are completed and up to standard. The intervals between payments should also be agreed and form part of the Schedule. For example you may agree to make a payment each week, or each month, so a short time before the agreed date, the builder should submit an application for payment, based on completed or part completed work. You should be able to check this has been done, before you make the payment.

2. Your builder keeps asking what you want done.

This should only happen very rarely. Even before you get any quotes, you should take the time to prepare a complete and detailled, Scope of Works. This document will state exactly what you want done and the steps involved, from start to finish and will be the basis ( along with the project drawings ) for the quotes you receive. The Scope of Works should include everything from the excavation to the painting and is probably the single most important document in the project. It will take some thought and time on your part, but will be well worth while. By the way, you dont actually need to know how to build in order to do this, you just need to know what you want. Any competent builder will then use that to calculate his quantities and work out his quote. 

One work of warning - if any builder you approach for a quote, does not use that Scope of Works as the basis for the quote and instead presents you with something he has worded himself, do not consider him for the project. There may well be an ulterior motive.

3. You find yourself asking the builder to do little extras.

This is dangerous territory. What looks to you like just a little job, may well cost a lot more than you expect. Especially if it is an alteration to work already started or even finished. Be aware that anything that gets changed may well cost three times what it originally cost. This is not necessarily profiteering -  it could well be the real cost. Think about a scenario where you decide to move a window perhaps 300mm. Just a tiny job you may think. But the window is already in, so that cost is included in the quote. However taking it out, altering the opening, moving the lintel and the cavity closers, reinstalling the lintel and the window then making the walls good, could easily cost three times the original quote. The  multiply that by all the little changes and very soon your budget could be under serious strain.

The way to avoid this is by forward planning. Take the time to plan n and write the Scope of Works accurately. Study the drawings and make absolutely certain that everything is as you want it, before even getting quotes. It is far easier and much cheaper to alter a drawing or a document than to alter the buiilding.

4. Your builder asks for extra payment to cover things he says were not included in the quote.

This is common practice, particularly when the project has not been meticulously planned. For example, if you ask for a quote without a detailled Scope of Works, you are effectively letting the builder quote for what he thinks. This can mean that an unscrupulous builder can omit things which he may well know need to be done, in order to keep the quote artificially low, in the hope you will take the lowest price without checking. Then he can charge you whatever he likes for the " extras ". I have actually seen quotes that have used smaller quantities than required, just to keep the bottom line artificially low. If this is allowed to happen, it can have devastating consequences. You could find your self unable to finish the project because the costs have risen far beyond your budget. 

The way to avoid this is to plan the project carefully, have a detailled Svcope of Works, use a Quote Comparison tool which will highlight any discrepancies like this and have a robust Schedule of Payments in place from the outset.

5. There are periods when no-one is working on your project.

If there are times when no-one is on your project - perhaps with the excuse that they are " waiting for materials " or " the plumber is tied up on another job " this is a sure indicator that something is seriously wrong. It is highly likely that the builder is short on cash flow and is trying to get other jobs under way, to generate some revenue. A day or two, on occasion, may be forgiveable, even justifiable, but of there are longer periods of absence the alarm bells should be ringing.

A typical scenario may be that the builder needs cash, so will move on to a new job, perhaps one which is not well managed, make a start and get a payment up front. He can then use that payment to subsidise another job, of pay his merchant account, or whatever. Inevitably the money will not be used for the job it was meant for. If that happens to be your job, then you are in serious trouble and need to make some hard decisions quickly.

The way to avoid being the victim of this sort of practice, is to have a structured management system in place, before you even go out for quotes. That way, when you ask any builder for a quote, he knows you are serious, you have structured the project properly and there is no room for dodgy practice. 


Of course, you can avoid all these pitfalls and, by putting thes principles into practice, ensure your project is the success it should be.