Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ten tips if you are building a house

1. Don't do it. Do you really need to make one? There are loads of houses out there. Just find one. There are lots of people already making houses. Do you really have to add to all of this?

2. OK, so you've ignored the first tip. Next then, don't trust anyone who knows everything. If they don't tell you about mistakes they have made and things they have done wrong, then either they have done very little, they are lying, or they are deluded. 

In fact, don't trust anyone at all. There are almost limitless options and permutations in building, and everyone has preferences and prejudices. If they like some material or technique, it may be because their favourite architect used it, or because they have a friend who is good at it and buys them a drink every time they send business their way. If they don't like it, it may be because of a single bad experience, or because they saw it once on a building and it didn't match the colour of their socks.

So if they are recommending you do something, or worse and more common, assuming you are going to do it, ask why, find out the options, get a second opinion. 

In considering advice, you should be particularly wary of anything coming from a blog by someone who has just built their first house.

3. Evidently you've ignored the first couple of pieces of advice, so it seems hardly worth continuing, but I will.

Dedicate a couple of years of your life with this project as your main concern. The way life works out, there's a good chance that building a house will coincide with having small children, and working very hard at your career, both of which may seem, and in fact are, more important.

4. Work out who is in charge. It probably should be you, but if it's not, everyone should know who it is, and you need to make sure you have a good relationship with them. It may not be apparent who is in charge, the architect may try very hard to keep himself as your sole contact and prevent you from talking to anyone else. He may then leave everything up to the site foreman.

It probably isn't you, so if you want to be in charge you may have a battle on your hands unless you are really going to build the house yourself. This seems like it will take much longer than relying on professionals, but if you are going to try to get what you want then it might not take any longer, and would probably cost less, as long as you don't make any disastrous mistakes.

5. Assume that everyone thinks you are a complete idiot who knows nothing about anything, especially house building. For the most part, they are probably right. The building trade, like many other trades, works on the principle: a fool and his money are easily separated.

People will only be interested in what you think or what you want at the beginning. Very soon they will just ignore you and work on what they think you want, or they may not even think that what you think you want is what you really want and they will ignore that too. Once they start working and after they have finished working, they will have less and less interest.

6. Don't let them rush you. Take your time. Spend another few days making that decision. It's like shoes: if they don't feel comfortable when you try them on in the shop, then don't buy them. They won't ever feel comfortable on your feet outside, you won't grow into them, and they won't be just right when you've worn them in.

There are two main reasons they will want you to make a decision quickly. First, they want to get your project out of the way, and start working on the next one. Second, they have told one of their friends in the building trade that they are going to be contracting some work at a particular time. Third, they have to go to a dentists appointment. 

But don't let them relax and take their time. Remember, they are working for you.

7. Make the decision and move on. Although this advice opposes the last piece, sometimes you just have put the decision behind you and start treating it as an unchangable fact that you will have to live and which there is no point in agonising over any more.

8. Don't worry about changing your mind. Again, this is the opposite of the last piece of advice.

You will probably be living in the house and possibly paying back the loan for the rest of your life, and it should be just what you want. 

9. Beware of asking for what you want--you may just get it. The ideal home, what you want, what you ask for and what you get are four different things.

A large part of an architect's job is, or at least should be, persuading you that what you are getting is exactly what you wanted.

10. When it's all finished, if you get more than about half of what you wanted, you've done really well.

11. It is likely it will take longer than you originally thought, or were told.

12. Also, they may try to charge you more than the price you thought you had agreed on. In the feedback questionnaire from the builder, one of the questions asked us whether the extra costs had been explained adequately. I have a problem with a question about extra costs being included on a pre-printed form and so obviously a part of standard practice. It's like being charged for how much salt you used when you're paying for your meal at a restaurant.