How to keep your project on track

7 February 2018 Mark Brinkley, Author of Housebuilding Bible

By Mark Brinkley

Effective project management consists of three key features. 

1.    A well thought-through budget (with a comfortable contingency sum
2.    A realistic timeline. 
3.    A constantly updated to-do list.  

Get these in place at the outset and keep on top of them, and you should not be hit by any unforeseen costs or delays.

There is a point, early on in all self build projects, where your dreams come face-to-face with your bank balance and you have to make some very hard decisions about just exactly what you can afford and to decide whether the specific scheme you are looking at is actually viable for you.

The budget always determines the size and style of what you can build.

For self builders, there are various sources you can go on to evaluate likely build costs. Homebuilding & Renovating publish tables which give you some indication of current build costs, based on the square meterage of the house.

My book, the Housebulder’s Bible, goes into more detail on each element of the build, so you can get a picture of where exactly the money goes and where you can save money, should you wish.

Falling pound symbols
However, unless your project is very simple and straightforward, it’s probably not enough to base your project budget solely on tables in books and magazines.

The cost tables focus on actual build costs and don’t take into account other costs which may come into play, the so-called development costs. Such costs are similar in many ways to the kind of costs you face when you buy a dilapidated house with a view to doing it up.

Some building plots need “doing up” too in order to get the access right, or the foundations sorted out, or the planning issues sorted. The cost of this has to be factored into your budget at the outset.

Most of the other factors affecting your budget are within your control. The principle reason for cost variations once building work is underway is down to your design and your choice of finishes.

New homes come with widely differing price tags. If your ambitions are modest and you stick within the well-worn palette of designs used by our national house builders, you can expect to build at £1500 - £2000 per sq m, which would give you a 160 sq m four-bedroom house for between £240,000 and £320,000.

You can even save on these figures by taking on aspects of the work yourself. But if you are a fan of the Grand Designs RIBA House of the Year competition, recently aired on Channel 4, you may be disappointed to know that the costs of these award-winning homes is typically two to three times as much per square metre.
So why the large variations in cost outcomes? Take kitchens, by way of example. You can source a perfectly good kitchen from the likes of IKEA, B&Q or Howdens for no more than £5,000 but there are also lots of very lovely kitchens either handmade or imported from somewhere exotic which can easily cost ten times as much.

If your penchant is for zinc roofing, floating staircases, walls of frameless glass and polished concrete flooring, you will not be surprised to find your build costs rapidly head north into the £3,000/sq m bracket.

Which brings us back to the world of budgets and project management. If you want to keep your costs down, you have to set a budget for finishes and then stick to it.

Break the work down into manageable sections (see table) and then ensure that your buying decisions meet the budget.

One of the advantages of working with Potton is that the budget is more transparent than it would be if you were to let the entire housebuilding process to an individual builder.

When you purchase the superstructure separately, the other aspects of the build programme are easier to analyse because they naturally fall into a sequence of follow-on trades.
timber frame superstructure with roof trusses
The Potton-style of building also makes it easier to manage the timeline, as the job as a whole falls into a readily identifiable series of actions whereas with traditional builds the sequence is usually rather unclear as carpenters and bricklayers are switching back and forth several times.

If you do choose to do your own project management, you quickly become aware that there is a natural progression of events and that you need to identify subcontractors to fulfill each step as and when needed.

This is of course much easier to do on paper than it is in reality and there will almost inevitably be glitches along the way as unforeseen events happen and deadlines get missed. This is where the contingency sum and an active to-do list come into their own, as this is how you keep on top of events and ensure that you don’t lose the bigger picture whilst managing the details.
Every week, you should sit down and review progress and highlight any problems and set about resolving them. It’s a good idea to keep a site diary and to record conversations you have along the way. There is no magic to it; just loads of common sense and perseverance. Set out with a good plan and a realistic budget, and you will be able to stay in control right through the project.

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