Planning Your Project

When planning and funding renovation, restoration and general DIY projects, you need to think about the social costs as well as the financial ones. Finiding good builders and other trades is often a challenge. Make sure you snag the work, looking for defects before you complete the payments.

Social Costs

The social costs of a project are the stresses on you and your family. Think about the upheaval, dirt and arguments. For many of us living in older houses, there is a love-hate relationship - we love the feel, space and history of an old house but we hate having to do the work. Perhaps we like researching and planning it. Finding and buying paints, papers, door furniture can be an entertaining challenge. But filling and sanding, dealing with paint drips, handing wallpaper; all frustrating and tedious.


To fund a project to repair or refurbish a period house, you have several options:

  • a loan or mortgage
  • grants

Whatever the sources of funding, you need to minimise the cost and a key component to manage is VAT (Value Added Tax).

Finding Builders and other Trades

This task is always a worry - until you have found a reliable company.

To get your shortlist, begin by asking neighbours and local friends. In a few areas, people have set up their own directory. Once you have someone you trust, ask them for recommendations. For example, a good builder may recommend a reliable electrician. You can also try a web site directory.

If you resort to Yellow Pages. You may need to call four or five to get two or three to turn up. Ask for references and ask them questions about their opinions on, for example lime; test their knowledge on older properties.

Estimating and the Contract

Estimating jobs is always difficult and we are always wildly optimistic. Use the Bricks & Brass Rule of Eternal Optimism; estimate the time, double it and double it again. You always forget you need a tool, run out of filler, or else uncover an unexpected problem. This is probably also a good rule to apply when involving a professional; the best estimates will take all these factors into account.

If involving a builder or other contractor, prepare a list of the work to be carried out. Specify the work in detail, for example the design of wood and plaster mouldings, and the style of electrical fittings. It is sometimes best to buy these yourself.

Get a 'quotation', not an 'estimate', and insist on it being in writing. Make sure the quotation explicitly addresses what is on your specification. If the work is major, get three or four quotations. Think about the quotations offered; do not accept one immediately.

If the trade is covered by a professional association or any quality scheme, ask to see evidence of the firm's membership; contact the association to check the company.

Ask the company how many concurrent jobs they are committed to; a common problem is when a builder disappears to work on another project.

For the successful company, ask them to prepare a contract stating the agreed work, the price including VAT, and the start and finish dates. If the work has not started by the finish date, then cancel the project.

Once the contract has been accepted, avoid making changes to the work agreed. Ensure that any subsequent changes are recorded in writing.


Although you want to remain on good terms with the company, make sure you complain about problems before you receive the invoice.

Never pay up front, even for materials; a decent tradesman will buy his/her materials on account. With larger jobs, it is reasonable to pay for the work in stages.

Paying by a credit card gives added protection in some countries, including the UK. Although 'cash in hand' payments are tempting as you can save on VAT, this is illegal and weakens your case if the builder fails to complete the work properly.


Check the work done during the project; record faults in writing and supply the developer with a copy.

Before completion and before payment, you must conduct a final check of the work done. Look for failures to deliver against the specification, look for defects and poor quality finishing. Some faults can be cosmetic but other snags can be serious.

If the project is large or complex, contact a professional snagging company who will help you with your survey.

Send your own report and a copy of the report from the snagging company to the developers. You can also contact your solicitor to add a retention clause in the completion contract. You will withhold a sum from the payment until the faults are remedied.