The news is full of stories regarding the inadequacies of the UK's house-building industry; we are building too few houses and the houses that we are building are not only extremely expensive, they are extremely poor. A recent YouGov survey (Guardian, 1 March 2017) found that 51% of all purchasers of new-build homes found major problems with them. For the motivated one option to overcome these cost and quality issues is to self-build. The government is in agreement too with a statutory requirement now befalling local authorities to keep a register of all those seeking to build their own home. Shawm was an ambitious and complex build; from this and from my previous experience on more conventional property development projects, I condense below three of the key principles that are worth bearing in mind. These are just first principles and by no means comprehensive - I will be publishing a detailed 'self-build guide' in due course that I will advertise via this site. There are a number of forms of self-building, when I speak of self-building I am referring to a scenario whereby the you, the future occupant of the property, take complete control of the management of the build, employing teams of sub-contractors to carry out a build programme led by yourself.
Whilst I do believe self-building is a route open to those with little construction experience (prior to this project I had done only a handful of relatively conventional property renovations) it is important to recognise that you are very much the leader in the equation; you will most likely be the biggest factor in the success or otherwise of your project. You should select your build team with considerable care to ensure that they possess the necessary professional and personal qualities to support you in your endeavour but you should also be conscious of your role in the process. The buck stops with you. The vast majority of people you employ, if the job goes wrong, can afford to walk away and chalk it down as a bad job and a potential loss. As a self-builder the time and the money you put in will likely be one of, if not the, most important investments you make in your life. Given this it is essential you prepare yourself to adopt and embrace that leadership role - do not put your fate in the hands of others.
I spent an inordinate amount of time researching our project; i regret only that I didn't have time to do more. Again this will be one of the major investments of your life; putting in the time so that you understand intimately your building and the process of building it will be heavily rewarded. Start first with the basic principles of what you are trying to achieve - how you want your building to behave. Weatherproofing, energy efficiency, ventilation, vapour management are all dull sounding topic areas; but they are the foundations (pardon the pun) upon which the rest of the package follows. You will enjoy so much more the fun bits of the design process, the finishing details, if you can make them safe in the knowledge that those fundamentals are taken care of and your building is a strong healthy one. This research is particularly important if you are trying to build an environmentally ambitious home where the attention to fine detail can be critical to success or failure.
As someone with a psychology masters I am perhaps more aware than most of the power of incentives, and they are as important on building projects as anywhere in life. Giving due consideration to how you incentivise those who work for you may well pay dividends. One of the perennial issues of managing any building project is the trade off between fixed price and payment by time. Unless you are fortunate enough not to be concerned with overall spend you are likely to be working to a budget; as such you often want the certainty of a fixed price. However on a project managing multiple sub-contractors, where packages of work often overlap, clearly delineating what is incorporated in that price can be difficult. The sub-contractor under fixed price is incentivised to get through his work as quickly as possible and to do the minimum necessary to satisfy whatever fixed price agreeement is in place. Conscientious sub-contractors will go the extra mile to satisfy you as a customer, perhaps picking up those areas of work that they aren't necessarily obliged to. But the incentive works in the opposite direction. The alternative to fixed price is payment by time. Under payment by time there is no loss to a sub-contractor if any unforeseen works emerge that wouldn't have been included in a fixed price agreement. The flexibility exists to respond to circumstances on the ground often facilitating the successful interface of different packages. It often works out cheaper too as under a fixed price a sub-contractor will often price in an element of risk in case the job takes longer than estimated. However under payment by time there is no incentive for the sub-contractor to actually press on with the work - he/she is being paid regardless. The key to successfully orienting incentives on the project is to assess the package of works and the sub-contractor carrying them out. If a package of work can be clearly separated, delineated and detailed on paper then fixed price may be better. If not payment by time may be more appropriate and then man management skills can come into their own. If you require a level of certainty regarding overall cost then paying to spend some time with trusted sub-contractors to work through estimates before eventually undertaking the work under a payment by time basis may be a worthwhile investment.