In most of the country, the winter season is the dry time when most building work gets done, but if you own a rental property or a holiday home in a distant town, it can be really difficult to get improvements or even routine maintenance done satisfactorily without going there yourself to oversee the work.
However, advises Harcourts Africa CEO Martin Schultheiss, there are steps you can take to avoid being disappointed and / or ripped off, especially now that technology allows for instant communication and the transmission of photos and diagrams. “For a major addition or alteration, you should simply hire a local architect and an established and reputable construction company, because they should be capable of securing all the necessary permits and of completing the work according to the plans. “What is more, dealing with a professional and a well-known company will ensure that you have some real recourse if things do go wrong.” Indeed, he notes, smaller jobs - like the conversion of a garage into a granny flat, or the waterproofing of a roof - are the ones most likely to cause you real problems. “Large building companies are unlikely to take on such contracts and you will probably have to rely on smaller operators. The first step then is to seek local recommendations. The estate agent who sold you the property should have a list of reliable local workmen, or friends or neighbours in the area may be able to recommend someone. But even then, you should consider hiring an independent project manager or building supervisor to oversee the work for you and give you regular feedback. Chances are the fee you would pay would be much less than the cost of rectifying a job gone wrong.” At the very least, Schultheiss says, you must ask for and check references from recent clients before engaging any contractor, and never, ever agree to pay any money in advance. “Also, if the contractor requires you to buy the materials for the job, you should insist that he signs for them and keeps a clear account of what is used. “And lastly, you must make sure you have a valid contract that stipulates the scope of the work, who is responsible for securing any municipal approval that may be necessary, the start and completion times of the job, the materials to be used, the quality of workmanship expected and the stages at which progress payments will be made. You should also ensure that provision is made for the final payment to be held back until you are satisfied that the work is complete and up to standard.”