Ten lessons I have learned from getting the builders in

Exciting news! Right now we’re in the middle of having some work done on the back of our house – a single-storey extension to give us more living space and make the house more attractive to buyers when we finally decide to move on. I mean move on in the literal sense.

I suppose that a house project is a bit like taking on a recruitment partner, in a very distant way. Some similarities, some differences. I thought it might be instructive to talk about what I mean. And at the very least you’ll learn a bit about what’s going on in my private life.

A few months ago, maybe even a year, we started to realise that we needed to increase the size of our house. Not because we couldn’t physically fit in the one we had, but because our long-term strategy demanded it. In our case it’s because we have children who are growing up and already needing more space each. We spend time together, of course, but we also benefit from time apart. There is only so much Topsy and Tim I can watch before I need to retire to a dark corner for a bit of adult soul cleansing. A dark corner that we don’t currently have!


Next we had to decide what to do. Should we move to a bigger house, or increase the size of the one we were in? Cost was an important consideration; relocating involves spending cash you will never see again, on things like estate agency fees, stamp duty, removal van hire etc. Besides all that – we are quite attached to our home (not in the literal sense this time) and we get on very well with most of our neighbours. So we decided to stay, and extend.

But what then? I have many admirable qualities, but being a house designer isn’t one of them. We needed expert help.


So we asked around for recommendations. A number of names came up, and after a few conversations we chose one who was a business partner of a friend, with work that was recommended in glowing terms.

We invited him over and discussed what we wanted to achieve, and he came up with some good suggestions. He took care to point out that he definitely was an architect, but he definitely was not a designer. Naively, we had thought that there was more of an overlap than this. So we were still compromising a bit, but we weren’t planning the Taj Mahal so we were happy enough with that.


He did some professional drawings and we submitted them for planning. We then asked five builders to tender for the job.

Five builders. And how many do you think turned up to quote for the job? One!

We did receive two quotes though. We don’t know how the second firm arrived at their figure, but we don’t care because we didn’t choose them. Not only did they not visit the house; they also ignored the part that asked for a detailed breakdown of costs.

What about the other three? Well, one told us that he wouldn’t be able to fit us in until later this year, which is fair enough. But the other two failed to do anything at all, despite having accepted the invitation to quote. I could go off on a substantial tangent here, because this kind of thing annoys me quite a bit. But I won’t. All I’ll say is that we won’t be attempting to use those two builders again.


So we were left with the only building firm that had actually followed the brief and provided a quote. It was the more expensive of two, but that was OK. We knew they were reliable as they had actually done a bit of work for us before, so going with them was quite an easy decision to make.  Overall, we were extremely happy with the work that they did, so here’s a link to their website: www.harvey-clark.co.uk.

On a separate note – the quotes that came in didn’t include VAT. It seems obvious now, but it was the first time that this additional cost had been mentioned at all! The architect had told us roughly what we might expect to pay but had signally failed to mention that VAT would have to be added on top. Quite an oversight, and we had to rebudget accordingly.

Anyway. They are two weeks in and all seems to be going according to plan. Concrete has been poured, mortar has been spread, and tea has been drunk. But we still have some choices to make. Lighting, radiators, decoration, what happens outside.

So before we make these decisions I’m going to make a quick checklist of what I’ve learned so far. And I’m finally going to relate this blog to recruitment, which is what I hinted that I would do at the start.

Here are the lessons:

  1. No-one cares as much as you do. When hiring experts, remember that they have their own agenda. This applies to architects and builders just as much as recruitment agents. Third-party contributors are primarily motivated by the money, and they don’t have to live with (or in) the consequences of what gets decided.
  2. When choosing a builder or recruiter, pay attention to recommendations but also consider the bigger picture. Actually speak to people they’ve worked with before, or look at real-life examples of their work. Ask them what problems they foresee, and how they might overcome them.
  3. Do listen to your chosen expert – but do also question what they say. They are unlikely to suggest the most cost-effective way forward for you, unless you specifically ask for this. I’m sure we are paying a bit over the odds for our windows, for example, and I’d rather have spent this money on more square footage instead.
  4. Speaking of which: now the walls are half way up, it doesn’t look nearly as big as it did on paper! Maybe I forgot about the space that the walls themselves would occupy. Or perhaps the architect should have made this clearer. Probably both. The lesson? Hire someone who really knows what they are talking about, and who has the confidence to tell you when you might be making a mistake.
  5. Make sure that everything you need is included in the initial requirements list, and quoted for. There are still a few minor jobs on our extension project that haven’t really been talked through, but that need to be done. I’m expecting that we’ll have to pay for these.
  6. Only choose a builder or recruiter who asks you lots of questions! If they just tell you that they can help you out without actually understanding your requirement – well, it’s just going to be a waste of time all round.
  7. Keep an eye on the costs but don’t just choose the cheapest. Our builder is probably at the top end of the pricing scale, but it’s already paying dividends in terms of quality of work, reliability, attention to detail, and keeping to the timetable.
  8. Be involved. You can’t just give an initial brief and then leave the builder – or recruiter – to get on with it. Requirements change over time, and you need to adapt too.
  9. Be open minded. If your recruiter or builder suggests something that you hadn’t considered before, listen to them. Reject the idea if you want to, but only after considering it properly.
  10. Assume that VAT is extra.

It’s possible that this article will have reminded you that you might need to recruit into your IT team at some point soon. If so, have a look at our website www.bluespoint.net for more information about how we work, and feel free to get in touch.

But if you need a builder, I’m afraid you’re on your own.

Ours are busy.