15. How do I choose a builder?
There are two main considerations when selecting a builder: the quality of their workmanship and site management and the price they charge to do the job. Often you will have recommendations from friends or neighbours and we also maintain contact with builders who we have worked with successfully in the past or whose work we know. It is important that you have seen previously completed work by the builder and feel comfortable with having them in your home.
Selection of the builder can either be by negotiated tender with one candidate, based upon our detailed drawings and specifications, or by competitive tender, where the same information is issued to a number of suitable candidates and they are asked to submit their best price. It is often assumed that it is always preferable to select a contractor by a competitive rather than a negotiated tender. It is not always the case – the cost of materials and to a large extent labour will probably be similar for all contractors, variation in price therefore comes from the cost of fixed overheads that builders incur, the profit margin they wish to make, and the speed and efficiency they can apply to the project. In turn, these will depend upon how much other work they have on, how comfortable they are with the project and their assessment of its inherent risks. Sometimes a low tender price can mean that they really need the work, or they have misunderstood the complexity of the job, which will lead to problems later on. On the positive side, a good but reasonable price should mean that they have experience of similar work and have estimated it accurately, but that they run a tight ship and are confident that they can deal with it efficiently. Sometimes these aspects can be teased out more readily by negotiating with one contractor and working with him to make sure that everything required has been included and is clearly understood. This also enables us to take advantage of any practical efficiencies that he may able to suggest on the design and detailing of the scheme. In a competitive situation a builder will be less willing to work in detail with the client and the architect at this stage as the job may be more likely to go elsewhere.
There is no absolute rule about this – which way to go depends upon judgement, but in either case it is essential to ensure the contractor is tendering not just on price alone, but on value, which includes an assessment of their workmanship and finish and their approach to the project. Assessing a tender on price alone can store up problems once on site – it has been known for builders to ‘buy’ a job with an uneconomical tender price, hoping to make back the profit once on site with claims for extras and delays. We will assess every tender carefully across all these aspects and issue a detailed tender report to you with a recommendation on the contractor appointment.