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Home Improvement Guide For A Recession

In the current economic climate Irish property owners are choosing to invest in home improvement projects rather than purchase new homes. Now, more than ever, it has become essential to ensure that property owners receive both value and quality when undertaking these projects. Through this guide onlinetradesmen.ie has compiled advice and information which can assist property owners in achieving these goals whether building, renovating or repairing in their homes. While some of the advice will only apply to building projects, the general concept is applicable to every type of home improvement project going.

Pre-Project

Set your limits
The devil is in the detail. Prior to commencing any home improvement project, from building a new home to laying a floor, it is vital that homeowners pre-agree the scope and budget of a project. While it sounds like common sense these are the very things that have a tendency to change during a project – causing financial and emotional stress to all concerned. By nailing down exactly what you want to get done, and limiting your financial outlay from the outset, you are putting controls in place for your project and protecting it from your tendency to change your mind. Enter into a mock contract with yourself or each stakeholder if needs be – just write it down!

Reality Check
Next thing is to check if both your project concept and, as importantly, your budget are feasible.

Prior to getting in touch with a trade professional, do some research to see if what you are looking to achieve is possible and to learn a bit more about it. This goes from mid sized projects right up to building a new home. The easiest way to research is to browse the internet for content that matches your project, visit retailers, shows and talk to people who have already undertaken such a project. You will get an overall feel for what you can do here and the approximate costs. Be prepared to refer back to point i. above if you need to – if the money is not there maybe you need to change your scope or save a while longer! This will also direct you on whether you need to hire an architect or other trade professional and whether you need to apply for planning permission for your project. Contact your local authority if you need initial guidance on planning permission.

The Hiring Process

Use A Qualified Trade Professional
We always recommend that you only engage with qualified trade professionals such as those on onlinetradesmen.ie. In Ireland FAS is the government agency responsible for training and educating tradesmen which they do to a high standard. In addition to this regulatory bodies such as RECI (Register of electrical contractors of Ireland), RIAI (Royal institute of architects) and the PSA (Private Security Authority) have been put in place to uphold and maintain standards within their chosen fields. Irish property owners should take advantage of these standards and use the onlinetradesmen.ie service to access trade professionals who are qualified and regulated by these bodies. This will provide peace of mind for your project.
For building projects unless you have decided in going down the self build route, we suggest that you engage with a registered architect through onlinetradesmen.ie as your first point of call. An architect will not only design your structure and assist with the planning process but can also project manage the build process from start to finish if required. A quantity surveyor can also assist with specifying materials for a job if required.

Get Quotes
Armed with your new found knowledge on the project, it is time to get some pricing estimates / quotes in. You will find that the more you know about the project, the more accurate the pricing you receive and the harder you can bargain.
Here are some tips:

  • Get a minimum of 3 quotes in for every job. If needs be you should meet with each party and give them access the relevant project details (such as site surveys for construction and renovation work)
  • As above make sure that they are all qualified and, where relevant, have public liability insurance.
  • Always ask for quotes from each supplier in a uniform format. This can as an overall project price, a price per square meter or a daily rate. By doing this you can compare like for like.
  • Make sure you are quoted the correct VAT rate - the VAT rate for building services is 13.5%. The same applies for the building materials used on the project if their overall cost does not exceed 1/3 of the total build cost. However, for the normal supply and installation of fittings the VAT rate is 23%.
  • If you are game for the additional work load involved, ask your shortlisted tradesmen to itemise and cost out the materials for the job. You can potentially save money here if you are willing to shop around for materials and fittings. While you will not get the same level of discount that a tradesman will get from the local building supplier, internet sites like Handyhardware.ie can save you money on your project.
  • When choosing your contractor cost should not be the only consideration. Remember that you will most likely get what you pay for. A low cost operator may not have the qualifications or experience of a more established trade professional and may not use the same quality of materials. In the final mix ask your chosen trade professional for references and, for building projects especially, see if you can visit them.

    Compare Quotes
    Nobody wants to pay over the odds for a project. On a level playing field, where each tradesmen has the same credentials, insurance cover and standards of work, pricing should be roughly similar. However prices will vary from county to county as the cost of living in each dictates, with urban centres such as Dublin, Cork and Galway proving more expensive than rural areas.

    Contract & Hire
    It is essential that property owners enter into a contract for anything but the smallest of jobs. A contract will protect both parties in the event of things going sour and helps provide a clear picture of what it included in a project. For building projects check with the RIAI (Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland). Onlinetradesmen.ie also makes a sample contract template available online for projects in the property owner section of its site at the following web address: (http://www.onlinetradesmen.ie/PropertyOwners/tabid/239/Default.aspx).
    At a minimum your contract should cover off the following:
  • A detailed specification of the project (with plans if applicable)
  • An exact specification of what labour is included
  • A detailed bill of materials
  • A full cost breakdown of all each element
  • A payment schedule for the project with defined milestones
  • Any items specifically excluded from the project
  • Any contingency payments and limits
  • Compliance to relevant building regulations
  • Warranty periods

Managing the Project

Monitor progress
Now that you have started the project you may think it’s time to put your feet up. Not so. It is still vitally important that you monitor the progress of the project – whether you have hired a project manager or not. The reason for this is that unforeseen issues can crop up in every project and the earlier you identify them the better for all concerned. Schedule meetings with your architect, builder and / or tradesman as required discussing the progress of your project and address any issues early.

Compliance & Qualifications
Always remember that buildings projects such as extensions, conversions etc. will need to comply with the building and/or planning regulations of the day. For this reason you need to ascertain whether any new building work requires a compliance certificate from a qualified structural engineer or similar. Achieving compliance should be a condition in your contract with any builder and final payment should not be made without it.
 
Often contractors will subcontract work to other tradesman – such as a builder using a preferred electrician or plumber to carry out the work. While the builder may have verified their own qualifications it is worth making sure that each sub contractors used is also qualified. For electricians, for example, you should ensure that they are members of RECI – which they will need to be if they are to connect a new structure to the main electricity supply.
 
Sign Off & Warranty
This document has outlined a number of checkpoints for you prior to signing off a project and parting with your hard earned cash. Prior to signing off on a project you should ensure that it is completed to your satisfaction and complies with any relevant regulations. If required you should hire a surveyor, building engineer or snagging professional to check each element of the job.
 
Many builders will provide a warranty on a structure as include it in a contract. This will cover any defects that become apparent after a project has been completed such as subsidence. As standard a builder should provide a minimum of 1 years warranty cover for any defects. Builders who are members of Homebond can provide cover for new homes for a period of 10 years on all structural defects. Property owners should apply a minimum warranty period to other trade professions in their contract document.
 

Summary

  • Set realistic limits and stick to them
  • Research your project
  • Only approach qualified trade professionals
  • Get quotes, compare them like for like
  • For sizable jobs, insist on a contract
  • Monitor the project
  • Ensure compliance

Rating
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