It is increasingly common on residential projects for many people to approach us with a contractor or builder already lined up, possibly due to past connections or work to a previous home etc, locking in availability and so on. While that is fine in principle, there should always be an appropriate building contract in place before any work commences. This will allow for peace of mind in knowing that any legal ramifications are clearly set in place before work starts on your home.
A building contract is an agreement between yourself as the ‘client’ and the contractor. This sets out the agreed sum to be paid to the contractor in relation to the building work, the number of weeks for the work to the completed, and what exactly is to be built (usually the architect’s drawings form part of what is known as the “contract drawings”). There are also clauses relating to disputes, work running over the expected finish date, practical completion, and much more.
Regardless of the scale of the work, a significant amount of money will be going towards your chosen contractor, so it is imperative to have control over what is happening and when. It is also common for home insurance to demand a legally binding, widely known building contract is set in place as part of any alterations to a building.
Understandably, many may feel intimidated by the idea of posing a building contract directly to a contractor. This is where the role of the architect is key, as we can often “administer” a contract on your behalf. This is where the architect makes sure that the contractor(s) are completing work fully as outlined in the contract – which often contains the architect’s drawings and a specification document. The architect can also manage the valuation of completed work in relation to the contractor’s invoices, and also be responsible for “snagging”. Snagging is effectively inspecting the works and checking to make sure that the build has no major defects and ensuring that any errors or defects found are rectified as soon as possible. The role of the architect in this process is similar to a ‘referee’ – the architect stands in the middle of the interests of the client and also the contractor.
For this reason, it is easier to employ an architect in the role of contract administrator (usually stage 5-7 of the RIBA Plan of Work) than to personally take on the often huge challenge of managing different contractors and trades on a live building project, especially if it is large. We as architects are trained to understand the different details on a building site as well as the building contract itself. Given that we would also be responsible for the technical design, it makes sense continue the architect’s role in managing the build. We can ensure that costs are kept in line with the budget and not exceeded unless pre-agreed. We can ensure that design changes are ratified and signed off before going ahead. We can also make sure that the contractor is focused on completing the works (to the best standard) as per the contract documents.
There are various building contracts depending on the size and budget of the build, ranging from the JCT Minor Works contract, which is typically used for builds under £250,000, to JCT Standard Building Contract.
One of the newer contracts we are encouraging the use of with our clients is the RIBA Domestic Building Contract (while for non-residential it would be the RIBA Concise Building Contract). These were introduced in 2014. The largest advantage is in the plain English wording of its clauses, which are easier to read and understand versus the sometimes intimidating JCT contracts. All of the provisions and clauses found in the RIBA contracts are similar to JCT and have the same legal protections, for example:
- Flexible payment and managing payments to the contractor.
- Proposing suppliers and sub-contractors.
- Project changes.
- Completion in stages.
- Collaborating with the contractor over events that might result in delays or extra costs.
- Contractor design of parts of the project.
- Insurance provisions.
- Certifying the completion of the project.
- Managing defects.
In any case, we can manage all of the above for you and give you one less thing to worry about. Contract administration from an architect gives its value from the reduction of overspend on the construction work itself, which is a huge plus.
Bluebead Architects – West London (Uxbridge)