Engaging the Services of a Building Contractor – A Checklist of Homeowners

Chartered Society of Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) published new guide for homeowners embarking on building projects in Autumn 2022. The Guide provides a practical checklist for homeowners engaging contractors. “One of the most common mistakes we see is people rushing into projects without thinking them through fully and then underestimating the costs” – Claire Irwin, Chartered QS on RTE’s Room to Improve.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland has published a comprehensive new consumer guide for homeowners embarking on building projects in October 2022.

The shortage in the supply of new and second-hand homes on the market has led to a steep rise in the number of people renovating their homes or building extensions and the SCSI says the guide is aimed at helping these homeowners avoid a range of common pitfalls.

The SCSI says construction work can be difficult and disruptive and that’s why it’s important the correct measures are put in place to ensure the works are carried out effectively, safely and in line with regulatory requirements.

Chartered Building Surveyor and SCSI Vice President Kevin Hollingsworth urged homeowners contemplating building work to do their research in advance.

“Renovation work and extensions don’t come cheap – especially with the significant increases we’ve seen over the last 18 months in construction costs. So given the sums involved we are always surprised at the number of people who don’t check the references of their contractors, review previous jobs they have done or even check out their offices. Other big misses would include not having a contract or even a written quotation in place – this is an important document should anything to wrong. Another common error we see is people paying too much in advance.”

Mr Hollingsworth said building standards were there for a reason and cutting corners was a false economy.

“Compliance does cost money, and sometimes people are tempted to reduce the insulation in the walls/floors/ceilings of an extension or remove the airtightness work to make the project happen. However, this means that the property will be non-compliant and not as energy efficient as it should be. It will cost the owner more in higher heating bills in the long run” he warned.

Kevin’s top tip – “Check the builder’s references, agree the scope/standard of the job and sign off on a payment plan in advance.”

Chartered Quantity Surveyor Claire Irwin, resident QS on RTE’s highly popular Room to Improve programme said one of the most common mistakes we see is people rushing into projects without thinking them through fully and then underestimating the costs.

“Homeowners often agree works with a builder only to be presented with unforeseen costs later on in a project. Or else they just include the building works. They don’t factor in furniture, fitouts, professional fees, accommodation costs or contingencies. All these add up and can lead to significant upward cost revisions. Delays in drawing down finance if depending on bank loans or failures to apply in good time for grants are other issues which can lead to cashflow problems, delays and inevitably stress for everyone involved” she said.

Claire’s top tip – “Talk to contractors well in advance – they are in demand – and employ a building professional or seek advice from one before you start. It will save you money and worry!”

The SCSI says that for certain complex or larger projects homeowners may wish to consider appointing a Chartered Building Surveyor, Chartered Quantity Surveyor or Chartered Project Manager who respectively can prepare construction drawings and a written specification, cost plan and control, and coordinate and oversee the entire project.

The guide which is entitled ‘Engaging the services of a building contractor – a practical checklist’ is available free of charge at www.scsi.ie

SCSI Top ten tips when engaging a building contractor:

#1 Planning

Does your extension / project qualify as an exempt development or do you need planning. Check with local authority to ensure you’re plans are compliant.

#2 Grants

If you are restoring a property or undertaking an energy upgrade, there may be grants available. Check with the relevant bodies / schemes well in advance eg SEAI, Built Heritage Investment Scheme etc.

#3 References

References: Ask the contractor for references, review recent work they have done and visit them at their offices.

#4 Quotes, Insurance & Contract

Get three detailed quotes and once you’ve selected the contractor, ask for a copy of their insurance before drawing up and signing a contract. Also notify your insurance provider before works commence.

#5 Budget & Payments

Draw up detailed plans and ensure you budget for things like furniture, fittings, professional fees as well as contingencies. Agree a payment plan with the contractor at the outset.

#6 Registration

Ensure your builder is registered with CIRI and the CRO and that all tradespeople are similarly registered with relevant trade and or professional bodies.

#7 Timelines

Agree timeline for start, benchmarks such as installation of key elements and of course a finish date. Find out if you will be able to stay in situ?

#8 Sustainability

Maximise energy efficiency with regard to glazing, lighting, heating and insulation. As well as being good for the environment, you are future proofing your new build.

#9 Regulations

In order to avoid defects, ensure works are inspected at the appropriate time and in compliance with building regulations and building controls.

#10 Safety

Is the contractor complying fully with health and safety guidelines. Check the HSA website for further information.