05 Jun 2018

When to use a small house-builder for a custom-built house

Ryan Abell, owner of Abell Building Services, describes when it can be more advantageous to use a small house-builder for custom house projects.


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House-building seems to continually be at the top of the agenda for the Government, but it is also a very popular way to invest money into something that is personal to you, or which will bring investors the greatest benefit.

Building your own custom house

There are so many modern materials and techniques available when building custom houses today – the advancements have gone past solar panels and underfloor heating to now include cross-laminated timber and insulated windows. So, when building a custom-build house and leading the project yourself, you would want to make sure that any builders you use to help have the same level of commitment to your project as well as knowledge of the latest building techniques and the best ways to put them into practice.

When a small builder is best

The best builder for a job always depends on the quality of the work the builder provides and their level of skill. However, there are two situations where I believe that a small house-builder may be the best option when it comes to building a single custom home.

The first of these is where you as an owner or property developer are relatively skilled yourself. You might not want a whole team of people to come in and help you and you may have sourced willing and able volunteers, but will still need some expertise to direct and project manage the build.

The benefits of using a small builder here is that small building companies have the flexibility to help where help is needed; to provide guidance and to upskill the other people working on the project, where time is allowed.

On the same note, there is the opportunity to bring in extra workers that the builder has worked with before if the project isn’t progressing as quickly as anticipated, due to the lack of skilled workers. This can help a project to get back on track quickly, so that time and money is not wasted.

The other instance that I come across on a regular basis is where there are several mini-projects within the build itself. This could be phase one which needs to be completed by a certain date and then phase two that can only be started once there is budget available (perhaps depending on the sale of another property development). Working with the same builder on both stages can be preferential because they will have an existing understanding of how the owner wants to work and they will have had an opportunity to build up a working relationship, which enables a job to be completed more efficiently.

In both instances, it is important to bear in mind that allowing a builder to have input into the build will always help. All too often have I been called in to repair something that another builder has done simply because they were following the orders of someone who knew what they wanted but didn’t know the best way of doing it.

Good things come in small packages

Not all building firms specialise in the same things – some will naturally prioritise larger jobs and may not have the capacity to spend time on project managing, advising or demonstrating techniques to property developers or DIY builders. Smaller building companies will usually be able to factor this in more easily. Chances are, the builder taking the instructions for the job will at least be part of the team carrying out the job so they’ll be able to hit the ground running with the work and know what to expect.

You can also anticipate a degree of flexibility with a smaller builder. If you need them to recommend the best places to buy a certain tool or building material, or even need them to go and get this for you, then this won’t be a problem. Whilst they’re working with you, you are their priority and if you can carry on working whilst they’re gone, they will be happy to keep things moving by sourcing products or even other specialists where necessary.

Similarly, if you need a small builder to switch jobs because you have a friend or family member who is capable of bricklaying every now and then, it’s fine to ask your builder to turn their hand to another task. This is because it’s almost guaranteed that a small builder will have learnt a full spectrum of construction tasks, rather than specialising in one aspect of the trade like bricklaying. They can be getting on with laying foundations, plastering walls or carrying out any number of tasks, just as professionally as a specialist in each area.

In short, a small builder will quickly become a hugely valuable part of your team, as someone who can get stuck into the full project and who will use their full breadth of skills, expertise and experience to their full potential. They’re reliable, flexible and you’ll also get to know them (and how they like their tea!).

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