How To Choose A Builder

East Border Region > How To Choose A Builder

Our guide to helping you select an agent that’s right for your job and how to make the most of the business relationship

How to choose a builder

People look to appoint an agent when they want to construct a new building, or convert, modify or extend an existing one. Most people will want an experienced professional who will work to a high standard and deliver plans and designs on time.

To help you to select an agent that’s right for your job we have created a guide to help you make your decision with some handy hints along the way.

Recommendation

Ask anyone you may know – friends, relatives and business associates – who has recently used the services of an agent if they can personally recommend someone. Be sure that the recommendation is based on experience and not hearsay. If you are unable to have an agent recommended to you then you should create a shortlist using some or all of the criteria below. Once you have compiled your shortlist check whether there are references available from previous clients.

Experience

The very first step to appointing an agent is to check that they are properly qualified. Many applicants for planning permission will select an Agent (i.e. Architect, Engineer, Surveyor) to deal with an application in its entirety, or alternatively, to prepare drawings, plans and maps which they will submit themselves. In choosing an Agent it is important to select someone who is familiar with the planning process, the Council’s Development Plan and requirements of the Council regarding public health, traffic safety and design standards.

When appointing an architect make sure to check that they are properly qualified. In the UK an architect must train for around 7 years to become qualified. All architects must be registered by law with the Architects Registration Board – visit their website to see if your architect is registered. Membership of RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and RSUA (Royal Society of Ulster Architects) ensures continued professional development and knowledge of new techniques and materials.

The RIAI (Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland) requires high standards of professional conduct and practice from its members. Trained architects (5 years) are only eligible to join if they pass examination after a further two year monitored period of assessment. Until recently in the Republic agents who are not members of the RIAI have been free to use the title ‘architect’ despite having no such formal qualifications. However, from 1 May 2008 the commencement of the Building Control Act 2007 means that all persons calling themselves architects must be measured against internationally recognised professional standards. This aims to provide the consumer with an improved quality of service and a means of dispute resolution in the case of poor service.

Engineers Ireland is the registration body for engineers in Ireland.

Registration of Quantity Surveyors and of Building Surveyors in the Republic is with The Society of Chartered Surveyors.

Fees

Try to get quotes from the agents on your shortlist – a minimum of three will give you some indication of the cost of your project. Agents fees will vary greatly though and it may not be possible to compare like for like. Some agents will only quote fees for the stages of the project that are clearly defined and only provide budgets for later stages. Others will quote a percentage fee based on the final cost of the project.

It’s important not to reduce your selection process to a search for the cheapest available option though. Keep in mind that the agent’s fees are only a relatively small slice of the entire cost of your project. Consider the importance of finding the right agent for you against the importance of your project and the lifetime of the building. Paying a little more is money wisely spent if it means a building that is well designed in accordance to your requirements. The suitability of your agent will affect how efficiently managed your project is.

Relationship

An agent’s role is to translate his or her client’s requirements into the built environment.

The better the relationship between the agent and the client the easier it will be to communicate these requirements and to demonstrate that they have been understood.

Furthermore a good working relationship based on trust is necessary to resolve any issues when problems inevitably occur.

Arrange to meet prospective agents in advance of your choice to determine how well they communicate and listen and with whom you have the best rapport.

In addition to meeting your agent you may like to request a meeting with the practice’s partners or directors.

Specialise

Some agents develop skills in specialised areas such as assessing space requirements, sustainable design or planning law. It may be that you are developing a particular building in which case you should try to identify practices that specialise in this type of construction.

Communication

Try to find out what channels of communication will be available to you once you appoint an agent.

Firstly ask to see what type of drawings and presentations that will be used – it is important that you understand these as your project progresses.

While there is no substitute for a meeting face to face it will not always be possible to do so.

Check whether your agent will exchange information and send files via email or use other IT tools to hold meetings and maintain your project’s momentum.

Appointment

For any project you should ensure that a recognised form of appointment is entered into by yourself and your agent. This type of legal contract will serve to protect you both and will stipulate particulars on fees and payment, scope of service to be provided, insurances and dispute resolution. Make certain that you allow yourself the time to agree and fully understand the contract beforehand. Ensure that you both have printed ‘hard’ copies of your agreement for future reference.