As far as the ‘build management’ is concerned, the term self-build is actually a bit misleading with only a small proportion of individuals actually building on site for themselves.  Most will employ a team of builders or, at the very least, the individual trades so that the rights skills are being used for most, if not all, of the physical work. Just like every other decision you have taken so far, the choice is down to you and hopefully you’ll recognise the right combination for you from the more popular options set out below.

From a procurement perspective you can carve up the contract in whatever way you want but it is advisable that you do this right at the beginning so that it is properly planned rather than as a reaction to some sort of distress or forced variation.  Builders are often happy to supply competitive prices on a labour only basis at the outset but, where you have originally asked for a supply and fix price and then wish to change your mind, you are unlikely to get the full material credit as a reduction.  It’s better to secure the prices that you want in the form that you want right at the outset and certainly prior to engagement.

Your lender will want to see a comprehensive summary of costs with all the component parts included.  This needs to be in the form of a main contractor quote or a summary of all costs (material and labour supply) put together by you or your appointed project manager.  In my view no-one should start a new build project without this level of detail which, being realistic, could include some provisional sums for a few key large items like the kitchen, the floor finishes or the external works.  Too many of these, however, will leave you financially vulnerable.

Procurement appetite

I usually split build management, and procurement responsibility, into 3 categories:

  1. Execs – those who wish to armchair manage from their office or home by paying bills only to someone else. These people are unlikely to be interested in building, certainly won’t want to be involved in the finer detail and will want to be presented with the minimum number of options once the design itself has been agreed and their key shopping list absorbed.
  2. Project Managers – those who intend to be actively involved with the project’s management and who will certainly want to go shopping for some of their materials. This is a broad range and dependent upon their level of project management ‘activity’, may employ a main contractor (with input) or may split the project down into the individual trades.
  3. Traders – those who intend to organise everything, manage everybody, buy their materials, and undertake a significant part of the physical work themselves on site.

Procurement impact on cost

The chart below is designed to provide easy recognition for the three management/procurement options together with a sliding scale showing the impact on cost.  The yellow band at circa 20% of all annual projects represents our execs, the blue band at circa 60% our project managers and, finally, the brown band at 20% for our traders.  These are indicative only and have not been measured empirically but are, nonetheless, an easy division to understand.


A chart showing three self build procurement options

Our three self-build procurement options

And now for a word of caution; for consistency it is best to measure the footprint of your building using a gross internal area (GIA) measurement which means all of your floor space from the inside of the external wall.  This is the measurement which most valuers will take when advising you on end values and it seems sensible therefore to use the same for your initial guidance on cost. It does make a big difference as in a 100m² square bungalow there will actually be 12m² (129ft²) of floor area just for a 300mm thick external wall around the perimeter.

Traders can get building prices down to £550/m² (£51/ft²) because, at this level they are only factoring in the cost of materials. All building labour is their own and this is not being charged to the project.  At the other end of the spectrum, there is no limit to cost but usually this threshold starts at about £1500/m² (£140/ft²) for those who want nothing to do with the on-site management.

Throughout the blue zone, overall cost will fluctuate quite widely as a direct consequence of the management role undertaken.  Those splitting the project right down will have lower overall costs than those employing a main contractor to undertake the work for them. And all of the above needs to be considered within the context of your site, your material specification, the building’s size and its design complexity, as set out in April’s article on establishing your budget.

Architect versus package company

If you know which package company you want to use then their services can be excellent with some providing fabulous design, key component erection on site and often really helpful ancillary information concerning the associated material products. Although these services have ultimately got to be paid for within their package price, for those splitting the remainder of the build down into individual trades, having your superstructure delivered and erected can make the overall project much more manageable.

If you are not certain about a package company and its design capabilities and material and component specification then you would be best working with an independent architect (technician or designer) and testing the supply market for prices once you have all of your drawings. You can still purchase the supply and erection of system-build components if that is your preference but with the ability to gather competitive prices from a whole range of sources.

A word about time

Managers, by definition need to be seen and those of you who are keen on project management must be available on a daily basis throughout the week. Even for the best planned projects, logistical decisions will be necessary and constant contingency planning for missing personnel and materials.  Sites left uncoordinated are more prone to shabby unfinished work, material theft or costly damage and quickly develop a reputation as a site to be avoided. So, if you are intending to project manage and maintain an income generating job at the same time, some flexibility in your working week will be essential as well as enhancing the status of one of your sub-contractors to be your ‘de facto’ foreman when you can’t be there.

A word about quality

Some project managers have excellent organisational skills but lack the confidence to manage quality control for many of the trades. If you find yourself in that lower level of the blue project management category, then it’s probably best to engage some professional help to visit site for routine quality control purposes, especially where work is only temporarily on display.

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This article was written by Tim Doherty, and originally published for Build It Magazine. Tim is the Director and Principal Surveyor at Dobanti Chartered Surveyors, a building surveyors based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Dobanti offers a wide range of property services including design and planning applications, tender development, appointment of contractorsproject management of self builds and renovations, building surveys, and more. Get in touch for more information, or read more online now. Further articles and blog posts can be found here.