Damien Finnegan, Managing Director of Finnegan Property Services, looks at the most common obstacles to overcome to ensure successful major works project and reveals that it’s all in the planning.
When commissioning major works to blocks of flats, it makes sense to plan well, select a contractor with the right skills and take expert advice.
You would also need to check that the proposals don’t contravene the terms of the lease, allow time for the statutory Section 20 consultations and make sure you have someone managing the project who knows what they’re doing.
If all this sounds obvious, then it means you are on the road to a successful major works project. Unfortunately, there are many cases where the obvious is overlooked or ignored.
Here are the 10 most common block management oversights when preparing for major work
1. Not having a Planned Maintenance Programme (PMP) or Capex Plan
When you own or manage a building, there’s no escaping the fact that it will need to be maintained and repaired to keep it in prime condition and preserve its value. Of course, this all costs money but, if you procrastinate over repairs, the worse they will become and therefore be more expensive to put right.
Having a PMP/Capex Plan enables you to control the situation by giving you a planned schedule of repairs, over a number of years, allowing you to set realistic budgets. However, if the building has had years of insufficient investment for maintaining its structure and services, the plan will be front-loaded to an extent. But demands will reduce over the period of the plan, and it can be reviewed and reassessed as and when conditions change.
The plan will include a detailed assessment by a building surveyor of the condition of the building or site, from roofs, masonry, windows and doors to services and utilities.
The surveyor gives each element a priority rating and allocates it to a specific year in the plan, together with associated costs. A PMP/Capex Plan should also include an assessment of mechanical and electrical plant by an approved M&E consultant.
By having a proper prioritised schedule of works and associated expenditure, property owners can budget more accurately and effectively, setting reliable levels of service charge and helping to
avoid nasty surprises.
2. Not checking the terms of the lease
Before any work starts, make sure that the proposals are allowed under the terms of the lease. If the works are likely to contravene the lease, the freeholder can be open to challenges from lessees.
Failure to follow the terms of the lease closely can lead to the cost of works not being recoverable.
3. Not seeking professional advice
Everybody is keen to save money and often professional fees might appear to be an unnecessary expense. However, it is often far more expensive in the longer term to proceed with the wrong works or do the works in the wrong way.
It is therefore vital to ensure that the works being proposed are reasonable and carefully considered. Appointing experienced and appropriate professionals from the outset is invaluable in considering the timing and extent of the works required.
4. Not considering who is going to run the project
While having a contract administrator will have an associated cost, this is more than off-set by the savings that can be gained through the application of professional knowledge and experience.
Without it, it is difficult to challenge and probe the contractor on the standard and pace of the work. An experienced professional will recognise and rebut excuses and be able to confidently demand that works be re-done as appropriate. They will be looking ahead and proactively planning for the
next stage, ensuring that required materials and labour are properly planned to keep the project progressing.
They can offer practical advice, problem-solving and the ability to quickly devise suitable alternatives to unforeseen issues that arise. Also, by having an oversight of the budget, they can evaluate variations and requests for extra time objectively to ensure the best value.
Building work is a complex process, with plenty of scope for things to go wrong. A Building Surveyor with the relevant experience is best placed to oversee and administer the works and gives you invaluable assistance and expertise.
5. Not having any system for making client decisions quickly
Groups of resident directors need to consider how they will make decisions as the works progress. Delays in makings decisions, or changes of mind, can sometimes lead to unexpected claims for additional costs by the contractor.
Where there are several directors, forming a working group with a single spokesperson appointed to deal with the surveyors and builders is ideal as it enables clear, quick decisions to be made more easily.
6. Not seeking legal advice on Section 20 consultations
The Section 20 consultation process is very complex and is increasingly the subject of disputes and litigation. It is therefore advisable to consult a solicitor and chartered surveyor to avoid mistakes.
If these procedures are not followed in detail it may affect the ability to recover the cost of works. If Section 20 consultation is not planned properly it can also cause considerably delays.
7. Not selecting the right contractor
Naturally, the first step with any contractors is to make basic checks on their companies before you spend hours showing them around the building and briefing them on the job.
Here are some examples of what you need to look for:
How long has the company been established? Ask to see a copy of the Company Registration certificate.
Track record and relevant experience? Evidence of successfully completed previous relevant/similar projects
Are they members of the Painting and Decorating Association? Check the website for member companies at www.paintingdecoratingassociation.co.uk or phone them on 024 7635 3776.
If structural work is involved, find out if they are members of the Federation of Master Builders – www.fmb.org.uk or call 020 76357583.
Do they offer recognised insurance-backed warranty or guarantees? Request a copy of the certificate.
For larger jobs, are they accredited by Construction Line, the UK’s largest register of qualified construction contractors and consultants, or Sinclair, the largest privately run register of quality construction practitioners in the UK?
Are they accredited by CHAS (Construction Health and Safety Forum)? This does not prove that they are a good contractor, but it does show that they have made a substantial investment in H&S training and have reached a very high standard.
Can they supply testimonials and references?
Do they hold proper insurances? They should have at least £2 million of public liability. Request a copy of the certificate.
8. Not getting a detailed specification to compare estimates accurately
This stage is often bypassed by going direct to contractors for prices using a basic list of works. But, without a detailed and technical specification, it’s impossible to compare the prices accurately – on a like-for-like basis – as they will all differ in some way.
Preparing a detailed specification means that all the unique characteristics of your building will be taken into account and therefore a realistic budget for your particular project can be reached. The specification also provides for firm commitments on prices, and can include estimated items of work for contingency planning. This means you are not left in a weaker bargaining position by having to get prices for contingency items during the project when the contractor is not in a competitive situation.
For smaller jobs, it is possible to obtain quotations directly from the builder/decorator based on a brief schedule of works. A reputable builder will be able to understand and price appropriately.
The tender process needs to be managed properly so that all the quotations are obtained on the same basis and appropriately reported on.
Decorating work will vary enormously, depending on the condition of the existing coatings, the type of substrate, the intended new coatings, the condition of the surface etc. Manufacturers state that, in normal circumstances, re-coat times should be approximately 3-5 years for standard paints, and if you stick to this you should have a good ‘canvas’ to work on. This can be increased to up to 10 years for highly specialised coatings, although these invariably cost much more and require additional preparation and you can soon lose the apparent cost advantage of not having to decorate so often.
Without wishing to state the obvious, old paintwork on timber surfaces should be washed down to remove any dirt and grease, all loose paintwork should be removed by stripping, the edges rubbed down to a smooth surface, bare areas primed with suitable primer, and either one or two undercoats applied, followed by either one or two top coats of paint, typically gloss, to provide a hard-wearing and durable finish.
For masonry work, two coats would normally be sufficient, although three coats can be required in some circumstances.
An experienced chartered surveyor will be able to advise on an approximate contract period. However, it would be foolhardy to lay down a precise time limit for a job as part of a tender unless it really is critical. Far better that the contractor works out the most efficient and cost-effective method of working, given the resources at their disposal, and submit a programme of works as part of their tender submission. In simple terms, one coat needs to dry before the next is applied.
9. Not planning and programming ahead
The preparatory phases have a significant impact on the overall timescales of a project. There’s a lot to be done before the contractor starts on-site. Time must be allocated for Section 20 processes to be administered and funds collected.
On receiving tenders allow sufficient time for queries to be answered and for any cost-saving exercises that may need to be undertaken.
Having identified a preferred contractor, time needs to be set aside for pre-contract negotiations; only when all these stages are complete can a contractor give a firm commitment for a start date.
10. Not enough Security
Don’t forget to quiz any contractor on how they plan to preserve your block’s security.
Access ladders are easy to remove and secure at night. Hoardings should be erected around scaffolding and the scaffolding itself enclosed with netting or Monarflex sheeting.
External lighting of the scaffolding and the use of a proprietary scaffold alarm system, of which there are many on the market, also heighten security to the building during works.
These are just some of the pitfalls but, I can’t stress strongly enough that it’s all in the planning. In other words:
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail!
Posted on 17 March, 2016