Building costs.

We are emerging it appears from a fiscally dull period and into a new era. We hope! The time when providing favours to those seeking work has in Dublin at least passed. By this I mean attitudes that I’ve witnessed in people who apparently expect services or works to be carried out below cost as if to pay was charitable. There is also a prevalent opinion that works are as a result of the recession more affordable. The cost of materials continues and has continued to rise and the cost of labour is now following suit.

Recently, a colleague informed me of his difficulties in procuring viable projects. He had in the past two years completed a modest extension which included alterations to a semi-detached house. His clients had established a budget without consulting a professional and had established what was ‘possible’. I can only surmise that the evidence on which this budget was based was pub conversation and word of mouth. In reality it appeared highly unrealistic. Their budget was very low and their expectations very high. My expert colleague managed their expectations very well, to a point. For the tender stage the clients selected a contractor who was included and it transpired that his tender was the most economical. The margin was of concern to my colleague and he expressed this to the client. As protocol dictates, he asked the contractor if he would stand over his tender. The contractor duly complied, even after it had been suggested that the margin was extensive. A contract was entered into during the course of which it become increasingly evident that the contractor was struggling to complete the works within his tender. In fact, my colleague estimated the project to have cost the contractor. The clients in their wisdom had removed certain aspects from the contract in an attempt to affect savings. The kitchen was supplied and fitted by the client, the flooring, decoration, site completions, tiling, and other small items were all removed from the contract, thus having a more detrimental effect on the contractor. My colleague believes that the contractor has since emigrated.

This is a typical scenario. But also typical is a reluctance of people to admit their actual expenditure. A more interesting aspect to this story is the client’s subsequent claims to their friends (probably in the pub) that the costs of the project were low. In fact, the costs that they claimed were lower than the contract sum, though they claimed to have completed all the works, including the kitchen, the flooring, decoration, site completions, tiling, and other small items, below the actual contract sum. This was a blatant attempt to appear to have spent less money, possibly with the intention of highlighting that they didn’t have money to spend. Whatever the reason, the effect is that they managed the expectations of others, who then, like they had, established what was ‘possible’.

This reality has a more sinister effect. For it may be possible to have works carried out for the low costs noted. I personally have witness over the years of providing a professional service evidence of these savings. I’ll restate that it is possible to have works carried out for the low costs rumoured, this is due to the effects of pressure for that ‘possible’ and for the willingness of certain ‘handy men’ to exploit these rumours. Mild things like spiders being painted over, painting with no preparation are common. Less obvious are works relating to foundations, floor structure, plumbing and electrical installations. I inspected a house where there had been added electrical sockets in a kitchen, linked to the cooker feed. Should appliances fail, or the sockets themselves become faulty (one was located beside the kitchen sink) the circuit to which they were connected was rated as 32 amps, far higher than the required cut off for the sockets. This could have resulted in fire. I have also seen live wires, still connected and thrown above ceilings to be forgotten, a serious fire hazard in an area filled with kindling. Boilers with no ventilation, unsealed gas units, cheap and rotten chipboard floors on undersized joists, replaced pipes covered, not having been replaced at all.

Who of us would have a general handyman fit new brakes to our cars, in the mere interest of saving money, or saving face. ‘Look I got these brakes fitted for nothing!’. Just before driving into a river. Who of us would even consider this, yet each day people take risks paying people less. When I go to a doctor, I expect a doctor. For my car I expect a mechanic. For my house I would do nothing to risk life, we spend so much of our time at home, we rely on the carbon efficiency of our heating devices, the reliability of our electrics and the comfort of our home.

The only way to manage the expectations of anyone is to tell the truth. It is better not to begin something than to begin ill prepared. I wouldn’t begin a long journey across a desert with half the fuel that I needed.

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