We are just finishing up rebuilding our house, a week later than our soft date (Dec 1) and well before our hard date (Dec 22). In the process we learnt a few things, or found a few things we wished we had learnt before we had started.
1. A stitch in time saves nine. I was lucky enough to be able to come into work half an hour late a few days a week (and sometimes quite a bit more). This meant I could check on the building work on a number of mornings and catch things before they got out of hand. I would walk in with a ‘shopping list’ of things that needed to get done, walk the builders through everything and try to answer their questions. The ‘grand plan’ of what happened week-to-week had already been done and we had a great prime contractor to track everything and keep all the plates spinning, but questions always arose at handover points (tiles to wooden floor, kitchen to electricity and water, boiler and thermostat, boiler and radiator, boiler and boiler, bloody boiler!). Working side by side to answer queries directly was crucial.
2. Find a great tier two contractor and be willing to pay the extra 20% to get the very best. We got screwed by the big telco/ISP/cable company (Wanadoo, no – Orange, no – Online) as well as by the little one-man companies (with some notable exceptions). You need someone you can work with, talk to face-to-face and, if need be, call up every day to bug. We found a builder who lived on our street and who had a few reference customers on our street. He was significantly more expensive than the other offers, but –
3. Goedkoop is duurkoop (you get what you pay for). In other words, a relatively high absolute cost can be reassuringly exensive if you know it comes with quick & responsive lead times and the ability to get the job done quickly. You’re looking for getting things done fast for a reasonable price, not finding the lowest ever price.
4. Expect problems and wherever possible have a back-up plan. In the last weeks, getting our kitchen tiled was critical path. On D-Day, the tiler called in sick. Quickly, our prime contractor was able to find not one but two new tilers who finished the work — just on time.
5. Have someone who lives and breathes the project. My wife was the mastermind behind the operation. She thought through every little detail and worked out how everything was going to fit together. She was thinking of the end goal whether she was asleep or awake.
6. Management by walking around. Make sure that you get to see how everything is going as often as possible. Be willing to spend time with those that do, not just those that talk. Ask lots of questions and do not be embarassed to show your ignorance. Use your enhanced knowledge to think ahead of what might go wrong and try to anticipate it.
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