6 Key Questions to Ask Your Design and Build Professional
Ensure a stress-free renovation by finding the answers to these key questions before you start
“The main idea is that the client must understand the process, as the process is complex,” Alex Strikovs of Home Republic explains. Read on to discover what you should be asking before proceeding with your project.
Professional advice from: Alex Strikovs of Home Republic; Gary Earp of GEC Luxury Design & Build; Aleksandra Burek of Stella Rossa Design & Build
In order to compare quotes from different design and build firms, it’s important to get a full explanation of costs.
“A lot of builders go in cheap to get the work, then add extras on at the end,” Gary Earp says. “The client needs to know if everything has been included, so the price is the price and that’s it.
“There are the odd items, such as foundations, where it can’t be guaranteed what you’ll find, but I add a line saying that, if we have to dig deeper, then a cost per cubic metre will be added,” he continues. “However, these occasions are very few and far between.”
“Ask if the proposed build cost structure can be thoroughly explained,” Alex Strikovs says. He explains that design charges are often similar among all firms and only represent a fraction of the total cost of the project. So receiving at least an indicative updated total build cost with the basic breakdown at every stage of the design phase is crucial for knowing what type of design you can afford.
Gary also recommends you ask how much of a deposit is needed and whether there are stage payments – and if so, how much.
Alex advises you ask for a timeline of every stage. “Clients must know in advance how long every phase will take,” he says. “If the company fails to indicate clear deadlines, it will not work well.”
It’s also important to establish when the project will start. “Although this can’t always be a fixed date due to weather and clients adding extra work to a previous job, a rough start date needs to be agreed,” Gary says.
“When creating a work schedule, it’s crucial to factor in margins to account for potential changes and delays that may arise,” Aleksandra Burek says. “Additionally, remember to ask about the lead time for the products you plan to order, as some may require a significant lead time of 12 to 18 weeks.”
More: What Happens When You Work With a Design and Build Company?
Gather as much information as possible about daily schedules, so you know what to expect from your design and build team. This could include managing expectations about how often the team will be working on-site.
“Will people be there every day or do they come for a few days then go away to another job for a few days?” Gary says. The latter is something his firm doesn’t like to do, but for other firms, this structure works well.
You should also ask whether there will be someone on-site overseeing your project, Aleksandra says. She explains that each of their projects is assigned a site manager who’s responsible for overseeing the work progress and maintaining regular communication with the office.
“In addition, we schedule weekly or fortnightly meetings to provide updates on the project’s progress,” she says. “These meetings serve as an opportunity to discuss any developments, address any challenges, and ensure that everyone involved is well-informed.”
As well as knowing what your design and build company will be doing during the project, it’s equally important to find out what you can do to push things forwards.
“The design and build is a complex process that includes the initial concept and Planning Permission, structural and civil engineering design, Building Regulations, interior design, Party Wall Agreements, mechanics and engineering, CDM [Construction Design and Management] Regulations – and only then construction,” Alex says.
“If this is not explained clearly to the client and they don’t understand what’s required and when, it will be a lot more difficult for them overall. So if the company manages to put it all in simple terms and with all the necessary detail, that’s a great first step.”
For example, it’s useful to know whether you’ll need to move out at any stage. “If there’s a point when you’ll have to move out, find out at what stage that comes in the project and for how long,” Gary says. He explains that most of the external build can be done before the knock-through, so clients would need to move out straight after that initial stage.
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In periods of high inflation or where there are supply chain issues, it’s crucial to know how unexpected price rises will affect your budget.
For example, during 2022 and 2023, prices went up as much as 10% month on month, according to Gary. “If this happens, find out who pays for that,” he says. “Does the builder soak up that cost or does the client have to pay it?”
There might also be instances where you don’t like something during the project, or it isn’t as you imagined at the initial design phase. “This isn’t anyone’s fault, just something that happens,” Gary says.
“Find out whether something can be changed,” he continues. “Does the builder then work with the architect to come up with solutions, as we do, and is there a cost to change things?”
More: How to Plan a Renovation When Prices Are Rising
Renovating your home can be challenging no matter how brilliant your design and build team is, but communication can really help to reduce stress. Ask your professionals how they will keep you informed throughout the project and how often.
Aleksandra’s firm, for example, uses several channels of communication: emails for updates and documents; calls, messages and WhatsApp for a quick and efficient way to communicate, and video calls when clients aren’t based locally. “We are always happy to use Zoom calls to provide visual updates on the project’s progress and make any necessary decision,” she says.
If your professional is using Houzz Pro project management software, they’ll be able to communicate through a Client Dashboard, where they can send you daily logs and updates. A fully transparent system like this can go a long way to improving your experience during the project.
What’s the key thing you’d like to ask a design and build firm before starting your renovation? Share your thoughts in the Comments.