Building Blox: Week 20 – Plasterboards; Managing disputes and changes

What we did:

  • Plasterboarding started

This week we started putting up the plasterboards, but more on that next week when there is more progress. Unfortunately, much of this week was spent trying to manage an external conflict with the contractors, so in this post instead I’ll describe my approach to not let this impact the works. I’ll also touch on how best to approach managing changes.

Don’t muddy the water

As you’ve gathered now, the relationship with contractors can often be stretched, particularly in a high-stakes environment. With the project throwing up surprises and potential issues all by itself, it’s wise to avoid turning the screw any more…

One mistake I made earlier on was to ask the contractor to do some emergency work to one of the existing properties, without agreeing a fixed price in writing #schoolboymistake. That meant at the end of the job we had a conflict, which inevitably spilt over to the project – The issue here was that I felt they had charged an unreasonable amount for the work given they were already onsite and had the equipment to hand.

Although generally not a great philosophy way to live by, I felt the best solution right now was to ‘kick the can down the road’, by offering to pay an interim amount and settle the remaining disputed amount later, delaying the issue to a later date.

That seems to have done the trick, for now… lesson learnt.

Plans WILL change – how to deal with them

I saw the below post on Instagram, courtesy of @constructionmemes, and understood the kid’s pain! Changes for contractors mean changing schedules, materials and instructions, even if they ultimately get paid for it.

It’s inevitable some specifications, layouts, etc. will change along the way, leading to disagreements and delays. This is why when choosing a contractor, you should always ask their references how they dealt with changes. Also, your contract (e.g. one of the JCT Minor Works contracts) should explain the process for changes – changes and cost implications should be agreed and recorded in writing before work is carried out.

Of course in this project it hasn’t been done to the contract, owing to a combination of i) costs not being calculated quickly enough and ii) my contractor’s habit of doing work before it’s been agreed. That has resulted in some retrospective costings, which so far have been reasonable, but have the potential to instead have me looking like the upset little kid!

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