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Building Trouble Shooting

Building Trouble Shooting

Article one

Introduction and Subject matter one

Business Day: 4 March 2005

This column is brought to you by Peter Allsopp, former MD of the National Home Builders Registration Council, who is now in private practice providing trouble shooting services to Home Owners who are in dispute with their Builders, and sometimes vice versa.

The column will over a series of three months show the many pitfalls that Home Owners and builders experience, how to avoid them or what to do if suffering from them.

This weeks article covers one of the most prevalent predicaments Home Owners find themselves in, the initial quotation.

So you want to build a new home, or extend that bedroom, or add a granny flat, what do you do? You look for a builder.

You may even do the right thing and take a walk around your estate and see the various builders' boards outside other sucker's houses. You can tell who is having building works done, there are untidy piles of sand and stone and precariously piled heaps of bricks ready to topple over when fido cocks his leg. There are also heaps of rubble waiting for removal or the recyclers to take what they want from broken toilets and bits of timber.

You may even knock on the Sucker's doors and ask, who is your builder and how is he doing. Great they say, honest as the day is long, no complaints.

A few phone calls later and the charming and handsomely tanned builder has told you all about himself, how he has been in the "game" for 10/20/30 years and how he will always use the best of labour and his own subcontractors.

"How much", you ask? "I'll get back to you," he smiles.

Two days later he returns with a quotation, hum not bad you think, my retirement payout/bond extension will cover the cost, well OK let's go for it, when can you start?

"Next week Wednesday, but I'll need 50% of the contract value for materials, see it says here on my quote." Hum well, OK (he came well recommended after all and he is such a nice man). So you pay out the money.

Three weeks later after numerous, increasingly short tempered cell phone calls his workers eventually arrive on site.

Work moves at apace and your recent misgivings are put aside. Now we are at floor slab. "I need another R10 000 please". What! That makes 60% of contract value." "Yes but its here on my quote". "Oh!, OK but make sure we get the roof up and you change that wrongly shaped room as soon as possible as it is close to Christmas/the big party day/daddy's birthday.

After two weeks, no workers, he no longer answers the cell. You look on the quote, no there is no office number (or that one is never answered), no there is no physical address.

What can we do? You visit the Suckers from down the street. Strange, the rubble is STILL outside their house. How is it going with your builder you ask? "Oh God! The guy was so nice, now he has disappeared and we still do not have any water/electrics/roof, we hope you didn't contract him, he never answers his cell."

Does any of this seem familiar?

At Baobab Consultants we come across this at least once, if not three or four times a day. Intelligent, well educated, even affluent people, all with the same storey, with variations on the theme.

How can this be prevented?

Firstly a proper, fully detailed working drawing must be produced. Not the builder's desk-pad sketch that we see every day. We will talk more about this in our next article.

This is for two reasons. The plans will give prospective builders the scope of works to price on and will lay down exactly what they must produce for you. Secondly ANY new home OR structural alterations (opening walls adding windows etc) requires approval from the Local Authority.

Secondly prepare a full specification of the works, detailing such things as the type of window, the range of taps, the name of the bath and toilet set, the range of floor tiles, even the type of paint and the number of coats. Do not believe that just because Mr Suntan has been building for 20 years he has been doing it right and you can trust him to know what to do! In fact it is common for us to be involved in a dispute where the builder has said his half-page quote did not include painting or even electrical works!

Thirdly and most importantly get a proper building contract. There are several on the market and we have produced our own, taking the best clauses from those that already exist. The contract must detail the works, the time to be taken, and penalties to apply if delayed, allowances for variations and for genuine delays the Builder suffers which are outside of his control. The contract must also include performance clauses and breach clauses for BOTH parties. 90% of the builder's own contracts we see only have breach clauses against the Owner, with no breach against the builder for delays or non-performance. Essentially the contract must have verifiable physical addresses and a full range of contact details, so that contact can never be lost and notices can be served.

Finally the contract must include when payments are made. Never pay in advance, have a schedule of when payments can be made based on PROGRESS milestones on site, and make sure you keep to the schedule so as not to affect the Builder's cash flow which is important to him to maintain progress.

It is all down to proper preparation and paperwork. If this does not seem like fun to you employ the services of a professional to direct you through the process. It will cost a few Rands, but those Rands spent on the professional WILL invariably be saved during the process, let alone the saving to your stress levels/marriage/family relationships.

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