Getting the most from your builder

Is your builder a master builder?

The Master Builders Associations expect its members to maintain a high standard of conduct and efficiency and has accordingly drawn up codes of conduct to which all members are required to adhere. The codes focuses on the following critical elements:

Skill

A member is required to possess the necessary technical qualifications, knowledge and practical experience - or to employ, in a position of responsibility, a person or persons therewith - to ensure that all building projects are carried out in a workmanlike and economical manner.

Integrity

A member is expected to satisfy the building requirements of the client and/or fellow members by complying with the spirit as well as the letter of his contractual obligations and to handle all business transactions with fairness and honour.

Responsibility

A member is expected to organize their business administration effectively, to maintain adequate financial resources for the proper discharge of all contractual obligations, to assist wherever possible in the training of the future skilled manpower needs of the Building Industry and, where applicable, to comply with all wage regulating measures for the Building Industry.

Getting the most from your builder

Once you've decided to add on that extra room or convert your outbuildings into a granny flat, or maybe you're all set to build your dream home. Suddenly you have a thousand important decisions to make, decisions that involve costs. Where do you start? Every day hundreds of people build successfully with no problems. How do they do it? The basic answer lies in proper planning, budgeting and using the services of a reputable building contractor.

Start with plans and planning permission

Whether you want to build a house, add on a granny flat, or alter existing buildings, you need to know whether planning permission is necessary. As a general rule, you will need plans or planning permission for all building work except minor alterations in your home. For additions or major alterations you should ask an Architect or qualified Draughtsman to draw up plans and specifications for the work required.

Choosing a building contractor

If you don't know a suitable building contractor, talk to friends or neighbours who have had building work done. Better still, search the directories of the Master Builders Associations of member enterprises operating in your area who do the type of work you want.

What about the price

Your building contractor will discuss the work with you and give you an estimate of the cost. If you have proper plans and specifications prepared, it's always a good idea to ask for quotations from more than one reputable building contractor. If it's a small job that doesn't need proper plans, it's essential to provide your builder with a detailed written description of what you want and/or to explain to them your requirements carefully on site, so that they can ask questions. You can then ask them for a detailed estimate in writing. Don't forget, there's a big difference between a cost estimate and a detailed, written offer to carry out the work. Don't sign anything until you are sure that your builder's offer is firm and clear and covers all your requirements.

Accepting the building contractor`s quotation

If you ask more than one building contractor for a quotation, make sure that each one is quoting on the same written specifications and conditions, so that they will all price on the same basis. Ensure that the question of VAT is clear on the quotation. If the work is extensive, make sure that all quotations are based on model contract conditions. When you've chosen your building contractor, make sure you confirm your acceptance of the quotation in writing.

Conditions of contract

Sometimes a small job can be carried out without a standard form of contract. A written quotation and a signed acceptance of the agreed price will protect both parties in law. If the work is substantial, it would be wise to use a model Building Contract, which is approved by Master Builders South Africa. These are well established and ensure a fair deal for both parties. In any event, don't start work without a definite written agreement, which sets out clearly what has been agreed, as well as the rights and obligations of both parties to the agreement.

Insurance

Before starting any building work, check that your building contractor is covered by the appropriate insurance, such as Public Liability and Contract Works Insurance. It's also essential to inform your own insurance company you're having alteration work or renovations done and to make certain that you have suitable insurance.

Before the building work starts

Before any work is started, discuss questions such as storage space for materials, the provision of a place for workers to have their meals and use of ablution and toilet facilities. You will also need to be sure of arrangements for the supply of water and electricity while work is in progress. Once again, proper planning before you start work can save you and your family a great deal of possible inconvenience.

Order of work and removal of debris or waste

To avoid unforeseen problems, discuss the order of work with your building contractor first, so that the necessary rooms or spaces can be cleared, items stored away, dust sheets laid over furniture etc. Your contractor should clean up during the work and when the job is complete. Don't forget to discuss the question of a convenient place for debris and rubble and confirm who is responsible for its removal. Make yourself aware of the local by-laws regarding noise, dust, litter etc. Remember that building operations may cause a nuisance to your neighbours and damage the environment.

Payment

As a rule, you should not be asked for any payment before the work commences. Beware of the builder who asks for money up front for whatever reason. You could be heading for problems.

Final inspection

When the work is complete, inspect it with your building contractor, who may ask you to sign that the work is complete. If you have any doubts about any part of the job that cannot be put right straight away, it is essential to make your comments in writing immediately.

Defects

As a consumer you are protected in law against any defects which may appear within a reasonable time after the building is finished. Be sure to put your complaints in writing as soon as any defect becomes apparent. Model forms of contract such as those available from the Master Builders Associations protect the consumer against patent defects, i.e. where materials or workmanship deviate from the specifications set out in the initial agreement.

Should you prefer, you can wear your underwear instead of a bathing suit. Alternatively disposable underwear will be provided.

Complaints procedure

If you have any problems with the building work that you can't solve easily, there are people who can help. If the building contractor is a member of a Master Builders Association, write to the Association stating clearly your complaint. Be as clear and concise as possible and suggest a solution that you would find acceptable. The Association will contact the member and ask them to give attention to your complaint. If the matter is not resolved, the Association may also help with mediation and dispute resolution procedures if a member is involved. If the builder is not a member of a Master Builders Association you can contact the Consumer Council for advice.

A final word of advice

Remember that a good building contractor values their reputation as much as they do their satisfied clients. As a professional the contractor will be as keen as you to see that the work is done properly. But don't forget that even the most skilled person can't do a good job for less that its true price. In the end, like everything else, you get what you pay for.