Georgina Guedes

So you think you want to build?

2012-02-23 14:00

Georgina Guedes

After years of “move or build?” heartache, my husband and I decided to demolish our defunct outhouses and build an office and staff rooms out back when I was pregnant with our second child. Courtesy of a royal stuffing about by our bank (thanks, no really, thanks), the building project started two weeks before our baby arrived.

It was supposed to take three months. Our son will be celebrating his half-year birthday at the end of this month. The builders are still here. So that’s double the amount of time anticipated. The costs have been around 30% to 50% more as well.

All of this I was prepared for, and I must mention that through all of this, we have maintained a great working relationship with our builder and our architect.

However, despite mental preparedness for the project, there was some… let’s call it “hidden awfulness” for which my loins weren’t girded (especially having just borne fruit), that I wish someone had told me about. So, if you’re considering a building project, take heed of the following:

Don’t cut corners

Any corner cut will have to be uncut – at considerable expense. Submit to council for approval. Get neighbours’ signatures if you have to. Helpful citizens phone the relevant departments, and unlike for instance, Municipal Billing, Building Inspection at the City of Joburg is actually quite committed to its job.

We were fastidious about doing it all properly and some neighbour still complained when a pile of building sand toppled half into the road one weekend. Instead of complaining to us, they phoned the Council. You will have to deal with this sort of pettiness and go through this red tape.

Hidden costs

Everyone warns you about hidden costs. You think you’re forearmed. You think you have a buffer that will cover them. You are wrong.

First of all, if your builder’s quote has a chapter called “Contingency”, that’s a good start. Now take that heading, and change it to “Miscellaneous costs”, consider those spent, and add another called “Contingency”. Make that about 30% of the project.

Builders and architects put down every cost they can think of in the quote. They’ve thought of those things. They will bill you for them. There are lots of things they haven’t thought of. Engineers will be suspicious of your soil and require extra concrete. That wall you thought was strong enough to form the foundations of the new building will collapse. You’ll realise you can’t live with the low-cost option roof truss your builder specified. Ka-ching, ka-ching, KA-CHING.

Add to this the fact that most quotes don’t contain things like fittings or tiles because you can have a raw concrete floor or tile your palace in gold. These will be costed separately, but won’t be cheap, even if you go for the kakest option. You’d better have access to extra cash.

You’ll become a crime target

Building sites attract crime. Sorry, they just do. Miscreants know there will be tools lying around and security might be compromised. You’ll get vagrants wondering in when the gate is open at best and at worst you’ll have a full-scale break in. We had both.

Noise and dust

Unavoidable. Not schedulable. Accept this.

Someone needs to manage the project

Even if you’re using an architect, a project manager and a foreman, there are going to be decisions you have to make, things you have to fetch, showrooms  you have to visit and people you have to let in. This thing is going to consume your life.

Whoever takes responsibility, the other partner won’t have any idea of the levels of activity involved or be grateful enough. If you’re the other partner, be very, very grateful.

Deadlines

Those people you have visiting in six months are going to be bunking with your kids. The cottage will not be built. Don’t make any plans, no matter how far from now, around the availability of the new space.

Things will have to be redone

The light at the end of the tunnel? It’s only the floodlights that allow you to see what the things that have gone wrong. These things will need to be fixed. Again and again. The law of hyperbolic consequences states that that which takes a week to build takes six weeks to repair. Your builder will sweat and cry, but he’ll have to fix it. Your guests will have to wait until he does.

Our biggest kick in the teeth was the crooked tiling in the pool. It was off by a centimeter, only visible once the water was in. It is still unfathomable to me the amount of time this has set us back by.

The end is in sight for us and has been for months, but I honestly think we’ll be smacking a bottle of champagne against the side of our new cottage-cum-office very soon (or is that what you do with ships?). I hope it will all be worth it. But if you’re considering building, read what I’ve written – none of it is exaggeration – and be very, very afraid.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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