Building the homes

You will have worked out how hands-on your group wants to be long before you are actually at the build stage. It's also possible that your 'build' is in reality a renovation or reclamation project. Whatever your project is, the time when work starts on site is likely to be exciting and stressful - and expensive.

Photo: community housing project

There are different ways of managing your build, from appointing a development company or Housing Association who will project manage and deliver for you, through to individual self-build or self-finish projects. There are options in between with builders being engaged by the group and managed either directly or by an appointed project co-ordinator.

The Hub can help you

  • Identify partners who can deliver your project with you
  • Learn from the experience of other community projects
Photo: excavator on construction site

Developers and Self-Manage

You could get support from a builder or developer that appoints their own advisors to manage the process along the way with the group paying for the housing when it is finished. This is often referred to as 'design and build'. Sometimes this can be useful as the builders may be able to make savings, for example they can work with the designer to use materials they can get cheaper. Bear in mind though that someone will need to make sure that the builders are doing their job properly and you will have more control if you employ your own separate advisors to oversee and manage the development and appoint a builder with their help.

If you do not commission a builder directly or involve a Housing Association you will need to manage the project yourself. Some groups want that greater level of control and therefore want to build the houses themselves. The group will still need technical support, to ensure the buildings are safe.

How will I find a Builder?

If you don't have a specific building firm in mind, it's useful to talk to others doing similar things and find out who they worked with and what their experience was. If you can't find a builder through recommendations you could use a Trade Body like the Federation of Master Builders where you can search for quality builders in your area.

Remember, for many of the funding streams you will need to produce several quotes for the planned work. Use this opportunity to explore the style, quality and ethos of the different companies as well as the cost, as you will need to work very closely with them.

Establish a contract with your chosen builder setting out clearly what you expect them to do against a timetable. It's normal practice to pay contractors in instalments. Your payment schedule can include a percentage which is retained at each installment. If something goes wrong this gives you some leverage to get it fixed. Similarly, once the build is finished, there is usually a 'snagging' period to identify any build issues or faults that may crop up in an agreed period of months afterwards. A withheld percentage of the final payment is made once these are satisfactorily sorted out.

Any planting schemes included in your design should come under a separate arrangement with the builder. This allows for maintenance over a couple of years after the houses are finished as any faults with planting schemes won't be apparent immediately.

Consider taking out insurance in case the builder stops trading before your houses are finished and for any faults that you may find after they are finished. See, for example, advice from the NHBC.

Project Management

There are different ways in which projects can be managed depending on the type and size of project. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) sets out the stages of a building project and the services an architect can provide. This is split into seven stages and can be found on the RIBA website. An architect may call on other advisors where necessary.

You may want to have one adviser such as an architect who will work with other advisers such as a quantity surveyor or planner as part of their service. An alternative is that you have a technical co-ordinator who will help you with the early work, especially developing your business plan, commissioning the architect and other advisors and overseeing their work.

Managing a Builder

Before you agree for the builder to start you will need to think about when the builder will need to be paid and when you will be able to have your loan and/or grant funding in place so that you can pay the bills. You will also need to set aside a small amount extra for things that you didn't expect such as the builder finds that there is a problem with the land, unusual weather that holds things up or if the design changes because something unexpected happens.

Once the builder starts on site they will take over the land, but you will still need to make sure that the builder takes good care of it and does not cause any problems with nearby residents. You will need to keep in touch with your neighbours and make sure your builder deals with any problems. This might be things like blocking local roads with vans, lorries causing problems when delivering materials or digging generating mud on local roads.

You will also need to make sure that the builder is getting the work done in the time you agreed and that the work is being done to a high standard. The earlier you spot any problems, the easier they will be to sort out. You will need to make sure that your builder keeps the site safe and everything is locked up.

You have a legal duty to make sure you comply with Health and Safety Regulations. This includes appointing a 'Principal Contractor' that will be responsible for this.