Before you start

Start with a plan

So you’ve decided to add on that extra room or convert your outbuildings into a granny flat, or maybe you’re all set to build your dream home. Suddenly you have a thousand important decisions to make, decisions that mean money. Where do you start?

Every day hundreds of people build successfully with no problems. How do they do it? The basic answer lies in proper planning, knowing what you want and can afford and using the services of a reputable building contractor.

Whether you want to build a house, add on a granny flat, or alter existing buildings, you need to know whether planning permission is necessary. As a general rule, you will need plans or planning permission for all building work except minor alterations inside your home. But check this first, because each Local Authority has different requirements. A phone call or personal visit to your Local Authority at the outset can save you a lot of problems later on. For additions or major alterations you should ask an Architect or qualified Draughtsman to draw up plans and specifications for the work required.

If you don’t know a suitable building contractor, talk to friends or neighbours who have had building work done. Better still, search our directory of members enterprises operating in your area who do the type of job you want.

Your building contractor will discuss the work with you and give you an estimate of the cost. If you have proper plans and specifications prepared, it’s always a good idea to ask for quotations from more than one reputable building contractor. If it’s a small job that doesn’t need proper plans, it’s essential to provide your builder with a detailed written description of what you want and/or to explain to him your requirements carefully on site, so that he can ask questions. You can then ask him for a detailed estimate in writing. Large contracts can be put out to tender and where work is carried out under the supervision of an Architect, it’s wise to be guided by him.

Don’t forget, there’s a big difference between a cost estimate and a detailed, written offer to carry out the work. Don’t sign anything until you are sure that your builder’s offer is firm and clear and covers all your requirements

If you ask more than one building contractor for a quotation, make sure that each one is quoting on the same written specifications and conditions, so that they will all price on the same basis. Ensure that the question of VAT is clear on the quotation. If the work is extensive, make sure that all quotations are based on model contract conditions. If in doubt, ask the MBA North for guidance. When you’ve chosen your building contractor, make sure you confirm your acceptance of his quotation in writing.

Sometimes a small job can be carried out without a standard form of contract. A written quotation and a signed acceptance of the agreed price will protect both parties in law. If the work is substantial, it would be wise to ask the MBA North for a model Building Contract, which is approved by Master Builders South Africa (MBSA). These are well established and ensure a fair deal for both parties. In any event, don’t start work without a definite written agreement, which sets out clearly what has been agreed, as well as the rights and obligations of both parties to the agreement.

Before starting any building work, check that your building contractor is covered by the appropriate insurance, such as Public Liability and Contract Works Insurance. It’s also essential to inform your own insurance company you’re having alteration work or renovations done and to make certain that you have suitable insurance.

Before any work is started, discuss questions such as storage space for materials, the provision of a place for workers to have their meals and use of ablution and toilet facilities. You will also need to be sure of arrangements for the supply of water and electricity while work is in progress. Once again, proper planning before you start work can save you and your family a great deal of possible inconvenience.

To avoid unforeseen problems, discuss the order of work with your building contractor first, so that the necessary rooms or spaces can be cleared, items stored away, dust sheets laid over furniture etc. Your contractor should clean up during the work and when the job is complete. Don’t forget to discuss the question of a convenient place for debris and rubble and confirm who is responsible for its removal.

Make yourself aware of the local by-laws regarding noise, dust, litter etc. Remember that building operations may cause a nuisance to your neighbours and damage the environment.

There shouldn’t be any extra work needed if your initial specification covered everything. It’s best to try to avoid changes, because extras and/or variations can be expensive. Where they are necessary, establish the costs before the work is carried out, and don’t forget to confirm any changes in writing. Always give your instructions to the building contractor and not to the workman on site. This will ensure good communication.

As a rule, you should not be asked for any payment before the work commences. Beware of the builder who asks for money upfront for whatever reason. You could be heading for problems. If the job is large and you have a contract agreement, you will probably be required to pay interim amounts on completion of certain sections, as specified in the contract. For a small job, you will normally only pay one lump sum when the work is satisfactorily completed.

When the work is complete, inspect it with your building contractor, who may ask you to sign that the work is complete. If you have any doubts about any part of the job that cannot be put right straight away, it is essential to make your comments in writing immediately.

As a consumer you are protected in law against any defects which may appear within a reasonable time after the building is finished. Be sure to put your complaints in writing as soon as any defect becomes apparent. Model forms of contract such as those available from MBA North protect the consumer against patent defects, i.e. where materials or workmanship deviate from the specifications set out in the initial agreement. To avoid problems, discuss this aspect of the agreement with your builder before the agreement is signed. Make sure you both understand your rights and obligations.

If you have any problems with the building work that you can’t solve easily, there are people who can help. If the building contractor is a member of MBA North, there is a complaints procedure and form under the Members tab. Be as clear and concise as possible and suggest a solution that you would find acceptable. The Association will contact the member and ask him to give attention to your complaint. If the matter is not resolved, the Association may also help with mediation and dispute resolution procedures if a member is involved. It’s a good idea to keep copies of all correspondence and relevant documents.

If the builder is not a member of MBA North you can contact the Consumer Council for advice. Sometimes a consumer journalist of a local paper might be able to help. Nobody likes bad publicity. If the dispute involves a small amount, the Small Claims Court may be able to help.

Remember that a good building contractor values his reputation as much as he does his satisfied clients. As a professional he will be as keen as you to see that the work is done properly. But don’t forget that even the most skilled person can’t do a good job for less that its true price. In the end, like everything else, you get what you pay for.

  • Check the question of planning permission and the submission of plans with your Local Authority.
  • Choose a reputable building contractor, preferably a member of the MBA North.
  • Obtain written quotations and read them carefully.
  • The cheapest price isn’t necessarily the best one. There could be hidden costs.
  • Don’t be tempted by special cash deals to ‘save VAT’. This is illegal.
  • Beware of paying money upfront before any work is carried out.
  • Use a standard contract for substantial work. Protect yourself and your builder beforehand by making sure that the rights and obligations of both contracting parties are clear.
  • Check your insurance liabilities.
  • Avoid impulsive changes of mind and/or extra work. These may be costly.
  • “Caveat Emptor” – Buyer beware

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