How to choose the right contractor

Private Property South Africa
Martin Hatchuel

Your plans have been drawn up, and your finances are in place. There’s just one more hurdle before you can start your new building project: finding yourself a contractor.

What should you know about the company or person you’re considering for the job?

“Your choice of contractors will probably make the difference between a successful project and a nightmare,” said Nick Brits, a principle at Gauteng’s Evolve Architects (www.evolvearch.co.za).

To begin, he said, you’ll need to know whether the contractor is registered with the National Home Builder’s Registration Council - the NHBRC - especially if you’re financing the project through a bank (it’s one of their requirements).

“The NHBRC is a statutory body set up under the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act that’s charged with protecting the interests of consumers,” said Nick. “Anyone who sets up a business as a home builder has to register with the Council, and any new home has to be ‘enrolled’ with it at least 15 days prior to the start of construction.

“But while enrolling a new home does provide you with some peace of mind - because the law makes provision for limited warranties that cover things like roof leaks and even major structural defects - in practical terms, you’re least likely to have to call on the Council if you’ve got the right contractor on your team.”

COMMUNICATION

Nick said that your first meeting with a potential contractor is crucial. “Pay attention to the way the person communicates, because if you can’t communicate with one another at the beginning, you’re going to land up misunderstanding one another - or worse - down the line. “It’s a difficult call, but I wouldn’t do business with anyone who’s either too reticent or to nice: rather go for someone who speaks with a quiet confidence, but who’s also not scared to recognise gaps in his or her knowledge, and who’s willing to learn and, if necessary, try new things.”

TRACK RECORD

“The larger or more complicated the job, the more experience you’re going to need - so it makes sense to employ a contractor with a proven track record,” said Nick. “The kind of questions you should ask here are: does the contractor have experience doing the kind of work you’re looking for? How long has the company been in operation in your area? And even - does the company have a fixed, permanent address in your area?”

QUOTES

On a new building or a big alteration, renovation, or addition, your architect will probably arrange for a bill of quantities (often through the offices of a quantity surveyor) which will form the basis on which potential contractors will quote. This is invaluable in the bidding process because it allows you to compare prices on a like-for-like basis. “On smaller jobs, though, you probably won’t have an accurate bill of quantities, so there might be a certain amount of guess-work involved,” said Nick. “Nevertheless, you’ll need to know from the contractor whether his price is offered as a fixed amount - to which you can hold him - or as an estimate, which could leave you open when it comes time to pay for the work.

“Some contractors will try to give you a lump-sum price, but you should rather insist on an itemised quote - both so that you’re fully informed about what you’re in for, and so that you can judge whether the builder understands the job.

“It’d be great to be able to take everyone at his or her word - but when it comes to building, the success of your project could rest on the amount of information both parties shared in writing at the start,” said Nick.

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