The final countdown – A Clear-cut recipe for Insanity

Almost 4 months ago I bravely wrote with loads of anticipation what was to be the 2nd last blog in the “Building from a distance” series entitled “The Finish Line is in Sight”. How could I have been that naive to think that we would get to a state of project completion within a relatively short timeframe? Whilst the whole world reminds us daily that a building project is a protracted, frustrating, exhilarating and mentally deranging process, not even logic prevailed in trying to get past the “finishing touches”. In fairness to the builder, we are “almost” there, but it does seem at times that “almost” will remain just that, never quite complete but ever so close, a bit like about to bungee jump off a cliff but just not tipping off the edge.

Building pitfallsLooking back to the start of 2019, one cannot help but wonder if the Jinx Master did not have us targeted to be a classic example of not counting ones chickens before they hatch. Upon reflection it does seem as if the chickens hatched, took off in fright and returned as eggs waiting to tease us into submission for another round of confusing and repetitious work. The unfortunate part is that being an OCD profile with an eagle-eye that sees as little as a 1mm difference in anything, the contractors have had a tough time dancing around the ever growing snag list which grows at a much faster rate than it reduces.

As homeowners for the past 30 years, we were renting since our move to Hermanus and were violently nauseated by having to pay rent for any longer than we had to, we set a deadline (or more like it was set for us by our landlords) to move out of our rental at the end of January 2019. Realising that yet another move-in date deadline was to be passed, (first completion date was end November 2018, then end Jan 2019 which came and went) we had to make alternative arrangements for ourselves and the hounds. We gave the builder a target to have the garage completed and lockable in order to become a storage facility for our possessions, whilst we did another interim move for yet another 2 ½ months. All credit to the builder, come the 31st January 2019, the garage was ready and secure enough and within a few hours was chock-a-block to the brim with just about everything we owned.

A word of advice to anyone getting to the “perceived” end of a build – clear your diary of any superfluous plans and appointments because the amount of time you will need to spend in project managing the project manager and the “finishing” team as you go into what you thought was the final run, will somehow manage to fill your day beyond any realistic expectation you may have had. You will find yourself in that “decisions and choices” phase (revisiting the contents of a previous blog) when certain ideas turn out to be less than practical and a quick decision is required. And as much as I have harped on planning throughout this process, even the best plans gets thrown a curve-ball and with that your sense of humour and ability to control your emotions goes belly up and your desire to commit murder becomes as appealing as devouring a bag of koeksisters when on a sugar low.

In and amongst the normal building challenges, we experienced some events which most likely could’ve been avoided if all parties at play were in synch. A few of these became points of reference for the team of virtual psychiatrists (i.e. close friends who one could offload on when sanity seemed to have left the planet) when trying to understand our behaviour and frustration through the process. These are a few of the ones, aptly titled, where we believe the Jinx Master had come to roost:-

  • How to savage your newly laid brick paving – after the paving contractors had done a perfect job in record time and claimed the prize for being, in our opinion, the best contractor in the mix, we had to summon them back to repair a section of the paving due to damage caused by the delivery of 30 cubic metres of soil and an overenthusiastic truck driver who, at the awe and amusement of onlookers not only took a misguided turn but also managed to nick a corner of the newly erected wall.
  • Dimmer switches possessed by gremlins – in our decision making process we decided to have a number of two-way dimmer switches as our preference is always for subdued lighting. Whilst almost all of them have behaved as they should, one in particular has a penchant for surprising us when least expected. At the time of writing it has again, for the 3rd time, donned its self-automated control and just switches on and off when it likes, dimming and brightening like sun hovering in and out behind clouds. After a number of attempts, it does eventually switch off, only to pop back on again when it gets the desire to irritate me. Clearly this is still very much a work-in-progress snag.
  • When furniture is too big – remove a window pane – it was inevitable that at least one piece of furniture would be a struggle to get into the house and not for any reason other than a passageway to the study with a few stairs that was literally a few millimetres too narrow for the bottom section of a cabinet to get through. After much deliberation and off-the-wall creative ideas which included either chopping a section of wall out or dismantling the entire unit in order to move it, one of the contractors had the brilliant idea to remove a large enough window pane in the study through which the unit was graciously passed through without any damage. As they say in the classics, “never say never”, there’s always a way when the right heads are in synch.
  • Irrigation contractors – WTF Happened? – The biggest surprise of the build process came towards the end when we went through the process to select an irrigation contractor. With so many individuals and companies in town professing to be the leaders of the pack, we decided to take the lead from the landscaper who had worked with a number of them before. Little did we know that this was going to be the start of the most eye-opening run-around highlighting the worst and best of contractors around. Not only did it take forever to get quotes out of this selected group, all bidders were in very much the same budgetary ballpark so it became an eeny-meeny-miney-mo choice. It’s no wonder I never excelled at school at games like this as our choice was very much the worst of a questionable bunch.

Deal done, deposit paid and the nightmare began almost instantaneously. The contractor vanished from sight having announced that he had taken a permanent position with a local company but was “committed to finish the contract”, leaving two labourers to dig the trenches. The entire job should’ve taken 2 days of labour. Suffice to say at this stage that after 8 working days, ½ the trenches not dug, reverse logic used to position sprayers, incorrect wiring installed for the controller, wrong pipe size used and a string of other incomprehensible actions. Two lone labourers who were more attached to their cell phones and irrational conversation between each other than the work at hand, disappeared from site never to be seen again.

Admittedly they were getting a lot of pressure as the landscaper was delayed by over a week and the “now-permanently-employed-contractor” was still sprouting forth with his commitment to finish the job. The skulduggery that followed is too insane to repeat at this stage as the matter has not been laid to rest. Suffice to say that the saviours of this shambles turned out to be a far more reputable company who rectified the mess within 48 hours and did the best they could with what they took over. They displayed a level of professionalism and co-operation seldom seen and that at a cost to themselves, for also having been dropped by the “now-permanently-employed-contractor”.

  • Kitchen cupboards – A Comedy of Errors – this is the only way to describe what took place when it came to our kitchen cupboards. We had a specific design and colour scheme with duco and wood finishes and design photographs that could be followed by a paint-by-number expert of 10 years old. Having viewed prior examples of the contractor’s work, which was of the quality we expected, and coming with recommendations, we selected them from a group of 4 that had quoted. As the carcasses were installed the framework was taking shape and then the first red flag raised – the edges of the carcasses in the scullery were the wrong colour. Rework number 1 began to repaint them. As the doors were being installed, red flag No 2 raised its head when it was very apparent that the duco process was not being done by a professional spray painter as promised and expected but seemingly by a group of kids from the local crèche who were enjoying a spell of finger painting or some similar approach.

From then on  the red flags made daily appearances when the “resprayed” doors were re-installed looking worse than when they were first redone, some had marks, streaks or runs on them and a few had bumps in the doors themselves. Only the door and drawer fronts were re-done and not the sides or insides which were seemingly delegated to that group of crèche kids. The final crunch came when some of the doors that were meant to have glass panels were solid and some that were to have solid fronts had glass. The day of expunging the contractor through the proverbial door had arrived.

Further inspection highlighted that some of the drawers were opening unevenly to those next to them and there was enough sway in the drawers that the only way to stop it would be to put bricks in them. Turns out that different runners were used on different drawers and if ever there was a case of incompetence at its best, this was it. In fact, it’s a neck and neck race at the moment between the cupboard and irrigation contractors as to who wins the prize for the worst experience in the entire lifetime of a senior citizen with many building projects under the belt.

The positive outcome was that we found a secret and highly competent gem in this town that took what was an in-your-face disaster of grandiose proportions and did the best he could to turn it back into our dream kitchen. He subsequently was awarded the contract to build our lounge cabinets and shelving and the entire experience was so positive that it almost made up for the daily reminders of what could have been had he not stepped in.

Whilst I suspect this may not be the last in the “Building from a Distance” series, as we are still navigating our way through the snag list, I am a great believer in timeous acknowledgement of people or companies who have overstepped the finish line to provide a quality service no matter what the circumstances. As much as a side of me would like to name and shame the sometimes incomprehensible incompetence we endured from some of the contractors, I have no doubt that will come out on its own when Karma* decides the time is right.

* Karma – means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect).


Service Provider Acknowledgements

If it wasn’t for the following contractors who truly went the extra mile, our sanity would not be just a bit tested but would most likely be a case for further study by the world’s most astute psychiatric professionals:-

Divvie van Deventer from Divvies Furniture, who took on the unenviable task of converting a patchwork shambles of a kitchen into something we can be proud of.

Andre Barnard from FloRite Irrigation who with rapid fire action turned a half-baked excuse of an installation into a fully working system. 

Ivor Heneke from Walker Bay Paving whose team worked at breakneck speed to produce an impressive and professionally completed paving area and then returned with the same sense of urgency and pride to fix the damage caused by the soil delivery maverick.

The Finish Line is in Sight

In a prior blog in the “Building from a Distance” series I referred to “the mind-boggling realities of the ever-changing building process which continues to throw curveballs at you albeit generally not major ones”. Little did I know at the time the extent to which we would prove this to be true a number of times over. The highs and lows of this process can be somewhat tiresome and when you get to the end of the year with the builders vacation in sight, you can easily switch off to the challenges hoping they might just go away and leave you alone. And they do, albeit only for a few weeks during which time the euphoria of not having to make any decisions is experienced and enjoyed every day.

The Finish Line is in SightReality, however, has a way of hitting you in the face like a bucket of iced water being dropped on your head and that is how the final stages of the build began at the beginning of the New Year. Having recovered from the major “surprise” of 2018, that being the equivalent of Trump’s Mexican Wall that we had to build at the back of our property, we pondered this 40m long and 3.6m (to be) high edifice and prayed for no more surprises of this magnitude. Our financial advisor was also found to be in a state of prayer and very relieved to hear that there were no more like that around the corner.

Our stated mission was to get the pressure taps opened full steam on the builders in order to meet various deadlines we were faced with. As we had to move out of our rental house by the end of January, the builders had exactly 2 weeks to finish our garage and make it lockable, as that was to become our storage chamber for all our possessions whilst we relocated to another temporary abode for the remainder of the build.

In the space of one week, we saw progress the likes of which we wished (unrealistically) was always prevalent. There were contractors over-foot, underfoot, on the roof, in the ceilings, tiling the floors, skimming the garage ceiling and beavering away like a bunch of frantic Guinea pigs at a wheel spinning festival. But hats off to them, by the time the removal truck arrived on site, they were ready for the onslaught of furniture and boxes that in no time filled the entire space with almost no room to breathe. When I finally locked that door, I had a sense that we were out of the starting block for that final marathon to the day when we wake up in the house for the first time.

The message in this diatribe is that no matter how well you plan things, at the final stages of a build you are having to hop, skip and jump to make even more decisions that you had thought you were done with. You need to be available at the drop of a hat else delays will creep in very quickly. It’s one thing saying “I like that range of light switches” and then you forget that you still need to decide on which type of switch in which location in which room.

In this technological day and age, you have to consider where you need traditional SA three prong electrical plugs vs two prong plugs, don’t forget the USB ports that you may want in select rooms, then you may want “switch-free” points which do not have a traditional on/off switch and when you plug in anything, it is on, and stays that way till you unplug it. And don’t expect your builder to give you at least a day or two’s notice. It’s more like a call that says “how many widgets of which size and colour do you want and we need to order them today”. Seriously? Not for the faint hearted or those like me who like to have everything planned and controlled according to my plans. It doesn’t work that way.

In the middle of switches, you get dragged into a “shower door” conversation only to realise as the discussion continues that the initial plan for which way the door will open won’t work. Why? Because there is a toilet in the way and I can see into the future where someone opens the shower door in haste and it shatters as it hits the loo. So what was initially intended as an “open outwards” door becomes an “open inwards” door. The message here is that you can plan for so many aspects but only when installations start happening do you see the impact of certain elements which no-one had thought of in the theoretical phases of the build.

Probably the most challenging part of the final stages is to avoid upsetting the applecart by pointing out snags before you are even close to moving in. Builders have a process they follow which in a layman’s eyes sometimes does not make a whole lot of sense but when you see it roll out then you get the picture. By all means, build your snag list as you see things which you are not happy with but choose your timing to highlight them if you want to avoid the “glare and stare from hell” from the project manager. Of course, if you have invested time in building the right relationship with the building team (which is very advisable) then you can always take a stab at testing the snag waters without upsetting too many people.

When I say the finish line is in sight, that’s only the end of the beginning, as the final stage of turning a construction site into a home with a garden has yet to begin. As with the build, it has to be planned and that is something which you cannot do until all the levels are defined. One thing we have learned through this process is to spend loads of time thinking about the end result, imagining it, researching your options and before you know it your next project will have come to life. For now, we buckle down and head towards that finish line.


So You Want To Build Where?

Continuing in the series of “Building from a distance”, we are taking a slight deviation from the mind boggling realities of the ever-changing building process which continues to throw curveballs at you albeit generally not major ones.

This “slight deviation” is in fact all about your selection of an appropriate piece of land where you will test your vision, patience, sanity, human tolerance (of architects and everyone else who thinks they know what you do and don’t want) and your reasoning for why you make the decisions you do.

So you want to build where?There are many schools of thought about where one should build and at the coast the inevitable “I want a sea view” is always the key point of discussion. That is until you live at the coast and suddenly realise that you do, in fact, have a second option – it’s called a mountain view. For the purposes of this comparison, we will leave out any reference to the third option which is the “views of neighbouring walls” which is not what most people would want, particularly if you have retired to the coast having spent most of your life inland with no mountains, no sea and plenty of walls in built up residential areas.

There are 7 key factors one must consider when making this choice. Unfortunately the most critical one which is often the one that decides your build for you – the Budget. We all know that any property with a sea view gets top marks on the scale of “how much extra should I ask the bank manager for”. That budget filter can ease up quite a bit when you look at a mountain view “only” scenario and somewhere in between is that perfect (or so you thought) solution – both sea and mountain views.

But before you get too excited about that option, think about the gradient of the piece of land you have your eyes on. It is one of life’s biggest challenges to think pragmatically when you have the most amazing views and the brain does not comprehend that there are various obstacles that go with that desire. These could be anything from the slope of the property to the practicality of a design which does or does not favour steps and multiple levels. Obviously a 2 level house requires steps, a lift (if that “Budget” word isn’t an issue) or, hopefully sometime in the next millennium a “Beam me up Scotty” alternative which is more of a wild dream than a reality.

There is one rule of thumb that does not change – the steeper the gradient, the more costly the build and the inevitability of steps immediately eliminates any ideas of a single level end result. It doesn’t end there as another factor which comes into play as the gradient gets steeper is access to a garage and parking. And what’s worse is if you are at that stage in life where everyone says “plan for the no-steps, wheelchair access, stair lifts” and so on, you will be on the receiving end of the chirps of all the critics who seem to think that once you are over 60, there is no hope left for you to be able to live a life that includes steps in it. The message is that if you must have steps because of the gradient and the desired views, work with a design that minimises the amount of steps inside the house and have wide enough external steps to build that ramp that everyone seems to think you need many years before the time, if ever.

If you have been involved in buying a residential property in South Africa, you will recognise the mantra of “North facing, south entry” being the preferred lay of the land. That is all good and well until you factor in the location of your views depending on which part of the country you live in and if fortunate enough, on which coastline. In a perfect world at the coast, you would want the best combination which would be north facing with a sea view. But what to do if the sea is south facing and the mountain is north? It is here where some of the most fundamental building mistakes happen and can only be corrected by finding that Pot of Gold at the end of the mythical rainbow.

There is really only one realistic solution for this, particularly when faced with the inevitable coastal wind factor which is ever present and will determine your tolerance level with each windy day. Your main entertainment area cannot be anywhere but on the northern side and if you intend to factor in a swimming pool then there is no question as to where it must be located. Get creative with your design so that you can have a protected entertainment area on the northern side and a viewing area/room/patio/balcony on the sea facing side for those times when the weather allows you the luxury of a calm day to enjoy your sea views. Also make sure you understand the angle of the sun during the different seasons as that will have a huge impact on the overall design of your home. Be wary of a west facing entertainment area in summer as the afternoon and setting sun will make the area extremely hot and will necessitate a large supply of sunglasses and fans.

An absolutely essential factor when deciding on the size, shape and location of a stand, is that you think about the end result of what you wish to achieve and how all of that will work on the land you have chosen. Too often people build a “dream” only to find that some very basic elements were not thought about at the early stages. These could include closeness to neighbours, road intersections and schools. More importantly, in a new development, make sure you understand regulations regarding building height restrictions and building lines as you could end up being very disappointed if you build with a plan for certain views, only to find that when your neighbour builds in front of or next to you, those views get obstructed for life.

A key lesson learnt by us in this process is to make sure that your architect has the vision and creativity to be able to interpret what you want and to realistically incorporate that into a design suitable for the available piece of land. An even better plan would be to choose an architect first and have them assist in the choice of stand to suit your desired end result.

Choices, Choices and More Choices

ChoicesAs we continue with our series on “Building from a Distance”, one thought that comes to mind immediately is that the build process somewhat resembles a roller coaster ride – especially when it comes to all the choices and decisions you will have to make. There are times where it’s simply a case of up, down and around and then, if you are courageous by nature and are attracted to some of the world’s largest roller coasters like Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, you could find yourself being subjected to shifts from vertical to horizontal positioning within milliseconds, then doing tilts and drops, 180 degree turns and a feeling that all control you thought you had has been transformed into a sense of nausea and paranoia. Whilst this is an extreme comparison, there are moments through a build when you either feel like you’re on the roller-coaster or wish you were just to avoid the decisions you have to make.

Everyone says that the fun part of a build is choosing all the different fixtures and fittings you require, which is all good and well until you start the process. You suddenly find that you are being hit with so many choices and options that you imagine yourself a ball juggler in a circus and hope you can manage them all without running away from what seems like endless balls being thrown at you. Even the most hardened, professional shoppers will take a step back and so they should. The only way to avoid feeling like you are drinking from a fire hydrant is to plan (there’s that word again as a constant reminder of the number 1 success factor for a build).

You have every right to ask yourself, “Who plans shopping?” Most people do not have unlimited budgets and need to balance it across so many determining factors for the desired end result. But once you start that juggling process and venture into the world of “what do I want” in difference to “what do I need”, that’s when your decisions will be governed by practicality, sensibility and that stifling word “budget”.  If you are anything like us, with a champagne taste and a beer budget, that juggle becomes more of a wiggle at times when trying to convince ourselves that really good quality is a sensible choice but then “that” knockout design at double the price from across the oceans would really look great. STOP, just simply ask yourself “can the budget handle it?” For those who aren’t good at managing a budget, this could be seriously frustrating and turn you into a borderline depressive.

Who would have foreseen the potentially mind bending dilemma of deciding on something as simple and straight forward as tap mixers, bathroom accessories, sanitary ware and things called “traps’, “angle valves” and the hilariously named “Wirquin Jollyflex Extra short with fins”, which is nothing more than a section of pipe. A lot of Googling suddenly takes place in order to understand the quotes you receive and then to make comparisons between one supplier and the next. Then the fun starts – you have to start thinking about shapes, sizes, dimensions, positioning and other integral aspects when all you really want is “a bathroom with basins, a bath, a shower and taps”.

By the time you are through the first lot of options, no one could blame you for wanting to bolt out of the store in sheer frustration and confusion. One’s lung capacity does increase substantially with all the deep breathing you need to do to keep your head focused. One very quickly gets an education that could qualify you for an in-store sales position once you have gotten to grips with the “wall-hung, underslung, drop-in and countertop” style basins followed by the bath and toilet options that leave one amazed that over time some of the most basic bathroom items turned into a smorgasbord of pressure inducing decision making.

If you think that’s easy, try deciding on something like flooring. There are so many options from the sublime to the ridiculous in both look, quality and price so again, let the budget do the dictating else you may find yourself with a half-finished house, peppered with all the “but it looks good” (and expensive and imported) stuff and no windows. Once you have established your budget point for each category of purchase, try really hard not to be swayed by the “I want” voices in your head and hopefully the “I need” voices will win many of those battles – the message here is simple – allow flexibility in how you allocate your budget to permit a higher cost on some items that you absolutely MUST have versus more economical items that needn’t be at the highest spec and price point. If nothing else, you and your other half will be having numerous “conversations” at various shriek pitch levels when trying to agree on the difference between MUST and MUST NOT. And if you can’t reach consensus, ask the dog in the hope that you may find a sane point of reason in your midst.

The madness of choices never ends and extends to each and every part of the build process right down to the blessed door hinges and locks, light switches and door handles, interior and exterior light fittings and you often wonder if it will ever end so that you can focus on other aspects of your life. Well, the good news it does, eventually, and the trick is to just take time out every so often, recalibrate your thought processes and then continue on a path of self-induced mental muddle until all choices are made.

A final point to remember is that just when you thought you had ticked all the boxes and could sit back and relax with a frosty in your hand, someone “in the know” (and they all know more than we do), will make a suggestion, throw in an idea and before you know it you could easily be back on that rollercoaster but this time going backwards, downhill, as the fear of having to rethink a decision already made becomes too much to comprehend and you just wish you were back on terra firma. It’s just not that cut and dried but it does remain and exciting, challenging and creative period which you will remember each time you think back on the process to create your dream.

Building Decisions On The Fly

Building Decisions On The FlyIn this, the 3rd in a series about Building from a Distance, we start to look at the incredible amount of detail that you must manage from the early stages of your build. The picture you have in your mind is slowly starting to form from the foundations but don’t be daunted by what you see in front of you. With each day the picture gets clearer and it is important that you follow the process to see each stage evolve from pure steel, bricks and mortar to the beginnings of what will be an expression of your personal creation.

A suggestion would be to play “Paparazzi” and take as many pictures and video clips of the progress from day one so that you can build up a digital album of the entire process and have something to refer back to should you need to at various crucial stages in the build. What we have found very valuable is to share this progress both digitally and with local friends and colleagues that can see each stage on site, as the amount of input and ideas we received have helped us clarify some of our thoughts about what is practical and what is potentially a design challenge, especially from those who have been through a build themselves. Nothing quite like removing a planned window due to its total impracticality and adding a convenient storeroom that otherwise would’ve been a filled hole had some quick, creative thinking not been deployed just in time.

One of the things you will need to get your head around sooner than later is where you eventually want to have your electrical, plumbing and water points situated. You may well ask why this is important in the early stages but if you are not agile enough you could easily find things being planned in a way that favours design preferences rather than the practical placing of these critical facilities. This brings us to one of the most important plans at your disposal and that is the “electrical layout” plan. You need to build an intimate relationship with this plan and try to “live it” virtually, especially if you do not have a 3D animation of your plans. Many people do not realise how early in the build these conduits get laid out and once the concrete has been thrown for the floors, it can become quite a mission to change the ultimate location – not impossible (as we found out ourselves), but if you, like me, views “re-work” as a waste of time and more irritating than the incessant drone of the summer mosquito parade, then rather avoid the frustration by being on top of things. One day you see the conduits and plumbing pipes lining the floor space in between foundation steel and plastic waterproofing and before you know it, concrete has been thrown and it happens quickly. Nothing is too late to change, but with that change goes unnecessary additional expense and a shift in budget priorities.

Another suggestion to make the build an exciting and uplifting experience is to celebrate the build stages as another achievement in the timeline. After all, what is life if not celebrated with the people who influence it and are going to be part of enjoying the end result for years to come? And those who say “any excuse for a celebration” can use this platform anyway that suits them. Pop those corks (or unscrew those bottle tops, whichever floats your boat) when the first sods of soil are lifted (and if there are plants on the plot that you want to keep, dig them up, put them in bags and nurture them elsewhere till you can replant them). Remember, when the build is done and there are areas that need to be landscaped or filled with plants, chances are you haven’t quite set aside enough budget for that. When the floors are laid, pop those corks again and with each key phase, take the time to reflect on what has transpired and enjoy the sensation of sharing the progress with people that matter. All of these spontaneous actions will inevitably result in a positive build experience that you will reflect on for decades to come.

Another part of the build that does move fairly quickly is the plastering. It brings with it a sense of momentum again if you have had to endure the slow stage of having beams boxed and prepped for more steel and concrete. Because this is a specialised task that requires great accuracy and detail, expect to feel that you are watching paint dry (or better yet air moving) as it can take what seems like an eon before everything is ready. But once the plastering starts you need to get your eagle eyes active again focusing on lots of detail regarding plug points, light switches, air conditioner and TV locations, water points and light positions both internal and external. You will soon see that there are bound to be some switches in the wrong place, areas where you may need extra points, doors that need to open the other way and light fittings that are not always placed optimally in the plan versus what you see on site. If you are on top of what is happening then this should not be a major but if you are not having these aspects checked to the plan, the dreaded “re-work” will create more time delays and cost and for some people a medical intervention may just do the trick to tackle the stress that this can cause at a later stage.

Once the plastering is nearly complete, take that electrical plan again and walk through the entire building. Check that each and every plug point, light switch, light fitting location and TV points are where they should be and not hidden under a layer of plaster as it “wasn’t seen” when the plasterers were in their zone. Make sure that the location of light switches leave enough space for where cupboards will end and do not have doors opening over them. There is clearly a science to these design elements but we have also seen that between the architect and the builder, a few things can go awry and the owner should be able to highlight these if the other two culprits haven’t. Some schools of thought say that it shouldn’t be the owner’s problem – reality says that the owner, as the person who employs the architect and building contractor, should be as involved and add a different dimension to cross-checking details of this nature.

There are a few actions that you will have had to go through to minimise the frustration of last minute decisions once at the plastering stage so add those to the list i.e. Know what size and make of fridge/freezer you will have and check that it can fit into the planned space with the right power and water connections; the same applies to the oven of choice; make sure that the space allowed for cupboards in all areas has enough depth to allow for standard sizes; check that walls are wide enough for accessories such as towel rails, bathroom accessories and kitchen rails; pay particular attention to window frames and their opening directions when you have views that you don’t want to compromise and apply the same thought process to sliding and/or stackable doors. Above all, let reality prevail and if your gut feel says you should change something to suit your style of living and it isn’t a costly or time-consuming exercise then do it.

Some stages of the build will move quickly, others will move slowly and the sanest way to deal with the cycle is to try your best to be one step ahead of the game and know what you need to action before you are pushed into making an irrational or impractical decision.

Planning Your Build

In a prior blog, “Building from a Distance”, we made reference to the importance of planning all aspects of your build. Having now lived through that phase for a few more months, the saying “Hindsight is an Exact Science” has once again proved to be so true. Ideas are one thing, the end result is another, but all that goes on in between is where the wheels often fall off when building your dream home.

Planning Your BuildWhat has become very apparent in the process is to “live” the build each and every day from the moment the excavation begins. Some of the most obvious errors can get missed if you are not keeping an eye on the vision you have. One needs to be able to visualise the next step in the process in order to avoid the pitfalls of bad judgement, not enough involvement and other people making decisions for you without you having the absolute clarity of what may be the issue. Whilst you may spend many a sleepless night during the build process imagining what everything will look like, it will not be in vain when the finished product is exactly what you envisaged.

Let’s start with the plans for your home. We have witnessed a number of disasters where the property owner wants to cut corners to such an extent that they choose the wrong architectural professional or draftsman to design their house. If the design is wrong for the lay of the land and the available views, you will regret it from long before you move into the finished product and beyond. Rather apportion more of your budget to getting the right design that takes all elements of the land and your lifestyle into consideration. Also consider what impact the positioning of your neighbour’s property will have on your privacy or, if you are building in a new development, what affect your neighbours build may have on your views, property access and garden layout. Don’t just rely on pictures of prior work done by the architect. Insist on seeing the end results in person and ideally discuss the experience with prior clients. And never forget to do your own research independently to establish the credibility of your short-listed architects.

On the assumption that you have a reasonable and realistic budget to build and have decided on the land, your choice of the right builder becomes absolutely key. You are entrusting your dream (and your budget) into the hands of someone you don’t know and if the “click” between owner and builder is not there from the outset, step two of your planning could already be your biggest mistake. Rather take the time to evaluate as many builders as you deem necessary (in our case it was 7) until you make that connection with the one who you feel can deliver on your expectations in all aspects. You will be taking a lengthy journey down this road and it has to be a path of mutual understanding and respect, with the comfortable feeling that you can engage, debate, argue, disagree and challenge whenever you feel it is necessary without it becoming a negative experience. And like for the selection of the architect, make sure you go through the same due diligence with your preferred builder in checking out their track record, examples of the finished product and the clients satisfaction levels with the builder. In doing so, remember one very important fact – your personal standards and expectations may be very different to other people so even though someone says “it was a great experience and we are happy with the builder”, will the finished product meet your standard of finishes and aesthetic perfection. It’s all about personal likes and dislikes and many people will accept an “OK” end result when in reality it could’ve been a lot better.

If you do choose to go the owner/builder route, then this becomes even more challenging because you then have multiple relationships to manage, not just with a builder. Be sure you have the time, inclination and above all the ability and sanity to juggle all of those. Never underestimate the amount of time and frustration you will deal with if you are doing your build yourself, it could not only kill your bank balance but your personal relationships too, including those with the household pets.

So you now have your plans drawn up (and approved) and you have a builder. Before going any further, it is recommended that you “visualise” your plan intensely (or even better get 3D architectural animation of the house). Many people look at a plan but do not “see” some of the key elements that should be understood at the outset e.g. where are the light switches going to be located, where and how many plug-points are there, what lighting do you require inside and outside, how big will your windows be and the list goes on and on. If, for example, you take the architects recommendation without actually understanding the dimensions of windows, you could be disappointed when the job is done. Take that tape measure, check those dimensions against existing windows and decide if they meet your requirements because once those window frames are in, they’re in, unless your budget (and sense of humour) allows for lots of re-work which is a total waste of time, money and numerous brands of tranquiliser.

Many people underestimate their own ability to understand everything involved in the building process and choose to contract the architect to manage the entire build process on their behalf, or to keep the builder “honest” so to speak. Whilst this can work well for those who have a growing budget, the majority of people cannot afford the expense of having the architect manage this process, which can be 3 to 4 times the cost of the creation of the plans themselves. It makes a massive difference to your architectural fees if you handle this yourself or use a 3rd party to act as your eyes and ears. We considered this approach in the beginning but very quickly saw a clue that this could be a huge waste of money – the architects “generally” do not appear to actually want to do this as their prime choice is to be creative and to design, not project manage. Whilst some firms may disagree, you can bet it’s more because of the potential revenue stream than the actual desire to play project managers. A top class architect wants to create and design and any deviation from that focus will cost you dearly when you could have had the joy of the experience for yourself, and not pay someone to have the thrill on your behalf.

You are now ready to break ground and to see the transformation of a piece of land from nothing into an emerging representation of yourself, your likes and ideas. Don’t short change yourself by missing out on this creation.

In our next blog, we will cover the finer details of what you need to do once the structure makes its way into something recognisable.