False economies – why lowest cost isn’t always best


False economies – why lowest cost isn’t always best

A recent article in Sunday Times Home (“You’ll have to dig deep” 04-10-2015) does a great service in assembling the grim facts about the implications of sharply rising construction costs and acute labour shortages for homeowners planning extensions or renovations.

It sets out the facts and they make alarming reading-Turner and Townsend report that since 2010 the cost of bricks has risen by 24%, cement by 19%, particle board by 38% and sawn wood by 10%. According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors the cost of building a typical urban extension would have increased by 17% over the same period. Contractors’ order books have filled up and there are serious labour shortages in some trades such as electricians or site managers.

In these circumstances far too often homeowners are still tempted, frequently despite warnings to the contrary, to go for the lowest price they can find and are then faced with having to deal with the consequences; botched work, cost overruns and extended delays. An architect may help them go to tender, but the client may still persuade themselves that they can do better and they find someone claiming to charge below the lowest cost coming out of a responsible tender. The architect, if they have one, may have to decide whether to resign or may indeed be let go.

Almost invariably in the current market conditions the client will quite quickly find themselves in difficulties, often multiple. An architect will then be faced with a difficult decision as to whether to agree to be retained and help the client out, or to decline to take on what is bound to be a challenging project management assignment.

More needs to be done to alert homeowners to the substantial risks they run. While recent health and safety legislation may over time start to reduce the number of sub-standard builders touting their services, this is unlikely to generate very much impact anytime soon.

A client suitably informed and anxious to avoid the many pitfalls would be best advised to appoint an RIBA chartered architect – an individual not only possessed of the necessary design skills but also equipped to help homeowners navigate the perils of project management. It could save them a lot of time, money and aggravation.