We found Andrew entirely through Charlie Luxton, our architectural designer. We had progressed the design through planning and I had asked to go to a Quantity Surveyor to cost the build before we proceeded any further. We were unsure at this stage whether we were going to use a timber frame or blockwork and wanted to see the different cost implications.
After excellent advice from Mike (Washbourne Field Planning Consultancy) I wanted to try and find someone who could do the costing and then go on to be the project manager. This would minimise the number of people involved and, I hoped, would provide a reliable figure which that person would have a personal stake in proving to be correct.
As we were discussing the design of the building and the low energy principles behind it, Charlie said that he had the perfect person to do the build - Andrew. Charlie had filmed him doing his own build, and knew the quality of Andrew's work and of his interest in low energy design. He suggested that Andrew would be interested in our build and would, importantly, want to contribute to the design of the fabric of the building.
Luckily, this turned out to be true. We met with Andrew a number of times. We went to visit his house that he had just finished constructing. I took references from a previous client and another architect. We were satisfied that we had found the right guy. A really important factor was that he had experience of building a low energy home, his own, and would understand completely what needed to be done. Andrew was prepared to engage in a more collaborative technical design stage between the builder and architect than is usual. After checking his dates and producing rough costings for the build, Andrew agreed to join us as builder and project manager.
I was a bit worried that we had't gone through the tradition method of going to tender, as all the books and magazines recommend. However, Dimitri and Charlie both considered that this was unnecessary, saying that the best way to get builders is through recommendations. Going to tender is usually done when no recommendations have been forthcoming or appropriate. This involves asking a number of companies to look over the technical drawings and specifications and produce a fixed price-cost. Of course at this stage we didn't have the detailed drawings to enable us to do this, in fact some of these are still appearing only days before they are needed on site! But not going to tender meant that we could start the build earlier.
From reading lots of homebuilding magazines we realised that fixed- price contracts are a bit misleading. If costs rise the client does foot the bill, or the company will potentially go to the wall which is a nightmare as no-one wants to touch a half-finished job. It also has massive delay implications.
We are operating on a cost-plus agreement. This is new to Andrew, and us, but Charlie has operated in this way previously. What this means is that we keep an open book and we pay the price, plus a mark-up, for all materials and costs. This takes the risk away from the builder and transfers it to us. If anything is more expensive, it is us who foots the bill; however, the benefit is that builders normally price a contingency into their fixed price contracts at a much higher percentage and so we are potentially saving money if everything goes as predicted. The downside to a cost-plus agreement is that the builder may become complacent about material costs because ultimately they are not footing the bill and it's not eating into their profit, they get their mark-up whatever.
Andrew projected man-hours for each part of the build and we are using this as a fixed cost. It is therefore in his interest to get everything done within the time period as any further time cost is his responsibility to bear. There will obviously be a contingency built into this price. We are all happy that the agreement is equally balanced with both sides assuming some degree of risk. We'll let you know in the end how it all worked out!
Given that our architect, structural engineer and plumber are all called Charles or Charlie, we were suggesting that Andrew change his name, but he hasn't agreed. We're still hoping to persuade Paul.