Building Blox: Week 5 – The complicated client-contractor-surveyor love triangle

What we did:

  • Oversite
  • Drainage layout
  • Bricks finally ordered(!)
Lessons in diplomacy and drainage...

The tangible nature of property development is a major thing that draws me to it, but construction, at least in the mainstream, is a very labour and people intensive industry. This means managing this build is as much about people/personality management as technical knowledge.

When you’re hiring people to do something you don’t have much experience in, you have to trust they know what they’re doing, which is partly why I met 25-30 builders before making a shortlist and inviting them to tender.

Identifying this characteristic was difficult enough, but finding someone you want to work with is another matter. For me this means both sides being professional and transparent, taking pride in what you’re trying to create, but also being able to enjoy the time working together. As I can have open and mature conversations with my contractors, whilst also having a healthy amount of banter on the site, so far so good.

This is all great, but the key part of the relationship should not be forgotten – are the client, as well intended as everyone is, your priorities and intentions are not well aligned. An example is when working under a fixed price contract, I want the best possible workmanship and standards, whereas the contractor may be happy with “good enough”; the majority of materials and specifications can be built into the contract, but details like how best to support a drainage pipe underground may be a level of detail too far.

The most obvious misalignment and place where disputes will most likely occur is when it comes to payments. To ease much of this pressure, the JCT (Joint Contracts Tribunal) contract helps by stipulating that a third-party Contract Administrator (often a surveyor) must oversee the contract. He/she dictates how much is due to the contractor and when; generally, only once the work has been completed and materials are purchased and onsite, should payment be due. This could be quite straightforward if everyone plays ball, but it’s not an exact science, so if e.g. you’ve agreed £30k for the brickwork and only part of it has been done, how much is due?

In my case, everyone has agreed about payments so far, but working practices have come up. My surveyor has been great, an experienced and knowledgeable professional who gives me a lot of time to explain processes and technical points. The contractors also seem competent, however like to do things their own way at times, contrary to the accepted and common ways.

This may conflict with the surveyor,...

…either directly or indirectly when I have to relay his comments onsite. Likewise, when I raise payment issues, this will go through the surveyor. All of this means by my design, my surveyor bears the brunt of criticism to make sure my relationship with the contractors can run more smoothly and we can continue to be pals on site.

Another part me being the client means I should check their work, particularly after the foundations issue. Prior to the build I often joked with the contractors that I’ll be reading my textbooks and becoming a ‘desktop builder’ to check if they’re keeping to technical standards. This meant reading up on the current or upcoming work and asking a million questions to check things are being done properly. I’ve had to up my study time here, but also make sure the simple checks are done. This included going to site on Sunday and checking measurements. The good news is that all seemed fine and as a bonus the contractor actually caught me with my measuring tape, so knows I’m keeping a close eye on them!

On to the actual work this week.

Things were actually quite slow as a lot of time was spent planning drainage, utilities, etc. and ordering in materials. The oversite was completed, involving removing excess soil so everything is nice and even, and plastic membrane put down to ensure against weeds and dampness.

…was scheduled following laying of the main drainage pipes. A large pipe was laid under where the beam and block floor will sit, which will take waste from sanitary ware out to the drains. Turns out these don’t have such a steep decline for gravity to take waste away, which may explain why some properties get a lot of blockages…well one of the reasons…

Drainage layout

Drainage layout

In other news, the rats moved in. Judging by the size of that hole and thickness of the floorboard, we’re all watching our backs now…

Rats getting in on the action

Rats getting in on the action

The bricks were ordered on Friday.

As you will now know, taking deliveries can be a logistical nightmare, so delivery of the 12,000 bricks on a large articulated lorry (think truck with a trailer) is scheduled for 6:30am on Monday to limit disruption to the local businesses. I’m sure there will still be some comments so diplomacy skills will have to be on point again next week!

4 Replies to “Building Blox: Week 5 – The complicated client-contractor-surveyor love triangle”

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