Over and above your architect’s minimum qualifications, which is their renewed SACAP registration and the supply of energy efficiency documentation, you should expect the following added values: accounting, legal, interior design and psychological. You may have to pay 30-80% more for the experienced architect but their fee is negligible in relation to the values gained.
Unnecessary areas add unnecessary costs:A well thought out design yields maximum usable area for the least amount of circulation space. Save thousands on an optimised plan by using a professional who is skilled at making spaces flow effortlessly into each other.
Value for money finishes:Pick your architect with a flair for combining value for money finishes that yield stylish and timeless results. They will know where to acquire competitive prices and should pass their supplier discount to you.
Payment certificates:If your architect manages your building contract, they must protect your finances by approving the correct amounts due/withheld until final completion.
Resulting market value: The more experienced your professional the more successful your design and quality of built work. A better building naturally holds a higher market value.
A thorough understanding of the national building regulations is essential. The structure, its sizing, finishes and fittings require minimum specification by law. Insurance companies take regulatory approvals, certification and finishes into account when determining a claim for damages/injuries.Understanding contract law is essential for the strict management of a building contract. Please read my blog: The Principle Agent.
Comprehensive design sketches must take furnishing into account. The size, function, position and approach to your furniture is fundamental to the design. Should you appoint an interior designer they will have ease working with such plans.
Have you ever noticed how a space influences your feelings and behaviour? The built environment impacts one’s lifestyle, movement and mental /physical state. A top architect knows exactly what questions to ask their client, analyse their household’s lifestyle, then complement and improve on those. Successful is the building project where the owner remains, year after year.
I conclude with a quote from Alain de Botton’s ‘’The Architecture of Happiness”: "We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.’’
Based at my own home office and having designed plenty such spaces, I have pleasure in sharing my experience. For obvious reasons, the need for this is reaching a tipping point with our latest global situation.
Provision has already been made in our building regulations for ‘’Home Enterprises’’. The Consolidated Johannesburg Town Planning Scheme 2018, which incorporates 17 other municipalities, provides, amongst other items, that:
The floor area of the home enterprise may not exceed 25% of the total area of the house or 50m2, whichever is the lowest.
The principle of the business must reside on the property
2 additional staff members, who do not reside on the property, may work on the premises
The home business may not affect the neighbourhood negatively with regards, for example, noise, air pollution, considerable increased traffic etc.
Some advantages of working from home are:
Added work time as traffic is avoided
Reduced transport costs
Reduced office property/operational costs
Tax benefits for home-based offices
Access to office at any convenient hour
Practical access to household
Working from home does come with its challenges, but these are easily eliminated:
Motivation to go to work: A comfortable, well designed office with correctly placed functions, a desirable colour palette and the inclusion of personal favourite items can make one look forward to sneaking away to their own private think space.
Disturbance by household: Although its practical to have an internal link to home, it’s also too practical for the rest of the household. I advise the provision of an external door - not only to eliminate disturbance, but to connect to outside/public spaces. The office is ideally situated on roadside of house, especially if client visits are necessary.
Amenities:It may be desirable to visit your home for coffee breaks.These, however, may invite your household to disturb your work time. A small beverage/snack station, for yourself and clients, works well.A guest loo close to office is ideal. Having said that, I found a timed lunchtime break at home is a healthy break away in one’s workday.
Privacy from customers: Clients may enjoy peeking into your private space. A short walk past your home interior may seem harmless but will eventually violate your privacy. Having to neaten one’s home for a meeting can also be an imposition. An entrance lobby that opens directly to the office but screens off the home naturally leads the client to the office.
Parking: For visiting clientele, parking should be off road, easily accessible and out the way of household cars. Professional space: Separating your office and home is already a step towards professionalism. Provide comfortable well positioned seating.Keep coffee tables and desks clear of clutter.Consider where clients will place their personal items.Display your qualifications, work and inspiration on the walls. Colours should balance warmth and cold.You want visitors to feel comfortable, connected with a desire to return. Even in the absence of clientele, you need to feel professional, comfortable and inspired in your own space.
Once you have decided on your building contractor, be sure to pick your agreement carefully. There are plenty acceptable contracts out there, however, I tend to measure them up against the JBCC PBA. An essential element of this agreement is the weighted role of the principle agent.
Briefly, this role involves the administration of the contract on behalf of the employer; overseeing the signing of contract documents; site handover; quality control; progress; variations; delays; payment certificates; coordinating other professionals; issuing defects lists and completion certificates - all this while remaining impartial between the parties.
I have filled this position for 19 years as an architect; however, it is my 9 years as arbitrator that has led to my true understanding of this crucial role. Approximately 8/10 of the disputes I arbitrated resulted from the incompetence of the principle agent. A lack of dedication to strict procedure or allowing the employer to take over and interfering with their independence is a common transgression. These issues are grounds for breach. Parties feel their rights are compromised, a disagreement follows, the principle agent remains silent and a dispute emerges. At that point the only remedy is to enter into expensive, time consuming, arbitration or litigation.
Typically, building contracts kick off in good faith. The client puts up a payment guarantee, the contractor comes with good references and with an airtight agreement what could possibly go wrong? The bliss of this honeymoon period can only continue if strict control over both parties’ duties is maintained. Parties should never reach a point of questioning each other’s performance. If queries do emerge, the principle agent repeats the terms, conditions and consequences. If a party fails to follow an order, without good reason, they must be placed on terms. Any delay in issuing notices compromises parties’ interests and the overall flow of the project.
On signing the building agreement, it is the employer that appoints the principle agent. However, it is essential that the contractor agree with this appointment. An unbiased principle agent, well equipped with a sound knowledge of the building contract and the basics of contract law, guides the parties through an as smooth as expected process, all the way to a successful building handover.
Unless I list all the eye opening, horrific scenarios, the subject of insurance is mostly met with yawns. I’m so pushy about protection, I could have been a broker. To keep things light, I list the following fundamental insurances - just for your peace of mind while you build.
Public Liability Insurance: You more than likely already have this in place for your existing building. Do advise your broker if you adding to or altering your existing building or require public liability insurance on your new building project. This covers third parties that may be injured anywhere on your property and not just where your contractor may be working.
Contract Works All Risk Insurance: Ensure this is in place by your contractor – it may be in your joint names. This is for all works your builder is working, his staff, and for materials stored on site. Please ensure this includes lateral support insurance.
Existing Building Insurance: This should also already be in place for your existing building in the event of burst geysers, extreme weather induced damage etc. You need to inform your broker/insurance that work is being done to your existing building.
Occupational Health and Safety: All the documentation and safety items that need to be in place by both your contractor and yourself are best organised by a health and safety professional.
Performance Bond: Advances in policies now provide cover in the case of builder’s failure to perform or cannot deliver the project for any reason like bankruptcy.
Professional Indemnity Insurance: Bad design, poor specifications and faulty fittings are not covered by your own insurance. Your architect, engineer, quantity surveyor and other specialists should all be covered by their indemnity insurance. Another form of protection is guarantees and retentions which I will discuss in the next blog.
So far, and as far as you know, all is running super smoothly. Your contractor phones to tell you that an inspector just visited and has handed him a notice. This is not the building inspector - your plans were approved and your builder keeps a copy on site. It is a health and safety officer. Your contractor is shocked. What is this new regulation?
Health and safety regulations have been around for years but amended for construction a couple of years ago. Under the general specifications in your drawings, your architectural professional would have given a brief note regarding health and safety regulations as per the Occupational Health and Safety ACT or OHS. This involves registration of all workers with the labour department, reports listing safety measures by owner and contractor, hard hats, site shoes, goggles, regulatory type scaffolding and the list goes on. A good option is to appoint a health and safety professional to implement all the necessary requirements on your behalf.
What are the risks should you not follow OHS regulations. One is law enforcement by an official- leading to delays. The other is if serious injuries are sustained on site and your public liability insurance asks for proof you followed OHS regulation. In a later blog I will list what documents you need in place so you are covered by your various insurances.
How did a local authority know about you building and why are you being targeted anyway? How is your relationship with your neighbour? Did you kindly inform them of the building works and apologise upfront for the noise, mess and dust to follow? It isn’t often that an official would visit a site unless a complaint is received. You are following regulation if, over and above the approved plans and OHS requirements, you have: a permit for material storage on your pavement, rubbish is stored in skips and construction noise, as per regulation, is limited to between 6h00 and 18h00 on weekdays and 6h00 and 17h00 on Saturdays – no noise on Sundays and public holidays.
It is a lovely Friday afternoon, your architect has just told you that your engineer has approved the reinforcing lying in your foundation. Your contractor books the ready mix truck for Monday. Sunday afternoon arrives together with the eagerly awaited rain. Your site is a mud bath. This wasn’t your typical afternoon shower, it is a 2 week monsoon! Who pays for the delay? An ‘’Act of God’’ or ‘’Force Majeure’’ is an event no one could have avoided. Road closures, national strikes etc. are also out of the parties control. In this case, your contractor is entitled to a revision of the date for completion, and with it, the costs to fix any damages to site and other losses incurred that the client, as opposed to the contractor, should reasonably pay for. Now what about the delay when the foreman was off sick and the other when the steel subcontractor didn’t pitch to lay the reinforcing for engineer to check Tuesday. These are delays the contractor could have reasonably avoided by having a back-up. The contractor’s subcontractors are the contractor’s responsibility. Should there be penalties provided in your agreement, you may claim these on late handover due to such delays. Give notice of these early on to avoid later disagreements when claims are due. Should the delay persist, notice must be given to the contractor to continue works as per time frame provided in agreement - hopefully you have a good agreement in place. Once time lapses you may appoint someone else to complete that part of the job at the contractors cost. I will deal with unlawful suspension of works and termination at a later stage. When I say you may give notice or claim etc. I refer to your principle agent, usually your architect, whom you have appointed to administer the contract. The rain has stopped, the builders return to site and finish the brickwork. Standing in your dressing room you decide your shoe collection needs its own space. You instruct your architect to amend the drawings. Your contractor is immediately instructed not to order roof yet. Any building changes, late issue of instruction, delayed payment or other delays caused by client or their agent is to the client’s full cost. While you wait for that revised drawing, take another look at all areas that may need changing right away. You will find the contractors claim for additional costs, management fees and profit on top of all that carries a high daily price.
You are finally ready to build your dream nest. Flipping through hundreds of pintrest images of vintage brick and raw concrete, your wildest expectations are met by your architect's renderings. You are on a high. Just a little delay at the council and your plans are approved. Meanwhile, your builder, sharing your enthusiasm, has already dug some trenches and the engineer is on his way to test the soil. And now? Is this your sudden descent to the land of building issues?
Let's hope your ground is firm - standard foundations would then suffice. If not, your engineer will probably specify over 2m deep trenches refilled with reconstituted soil before foundations are cast.
This is soil mixed with cement compacted back into ground in thin strips - like some layered chocolate cake. You may even need a raft foundation- a structural grid whereupon the house is built, kind of floating on the ground.
Where do you stand economically? In your bill of quantities, foundations are a provisional item, subject to final specification by your engineer. Unlike brickwork, windows, ceilings, doors etc. these items would not have been detailed by your architect. Contractors, more than often, only provide for standard foundations. Other provisional items include tiles, kitchen, door handles etc. where cost is subject to final selection.
If you are working on a tight budget, appoint your structural engineer to test the soil and specify foundations prior to going out to tender. Perhaps ask for details on the lesser surprising structures too like suspended slabs, steelwork , beams and columns. Meet your architect at the building showrooms to get advice and idea of costs. The more detail you provide your builder with, the closer the bill will be to the truth.
After years of contemplation to begin my construction blog, it has been public desperation rather than inspiration that has bulldozed me to begin writing.
21 years as a professional architect and 6 years an arbitrator, I have had to investigate trickier contract matters in last 2 years than ever before. Whether this is due to our economy or the global trend to sue, the fact is, building disputes seem to be on the rise.
My best advice on probably the biggest project you will ever fund is a fail safe set of contract documents. Drawings and specifications by registered professionals, a detailed bill of quantities and a tight building contract must be in place before you send out tenders to your carefully picked builders to quote from.
I will be discussing typical issues dealt with in my own projects and those brought to me for advice by others.
Please note: My advice is given without prejudice and does not constitute legal advice or provide solution to any specific projects.