Building your own home is a big-ticket item and likely to be the largest expenditure you’ll ever make – as well as being an incredibly exciting venture. In fact, around 15,000 people do it each year. It’s not always obvious though, whether you want a building firm or main contractor to help bring your dream to life. Both have their merits; and whilst there are key differences, there are some overlaps too.
We’ve sat on both sides of the fence. When we started our business in 2012, we were a building firm working mainly with domestic clients. Now though, having found our niche, Enrok is a main contractor. Most of our work comes through clients who want us to develop multi-house sites or single high-end projects, with a value ranging from £250,000 up to £8 million. Occasionally though, we’re approached by an enthusiastic homeowner who wants a small one-off house build, home extension or some internal remodelling works – which isn’t our line of work.
We still want to add value though, to the people who pick up the phone and talk to us. So what we do, is help them to understand the differences and guide them in choosing a reputable and accredited building contractor.
Working with a Building Firm
Let’s say you’re downsizing and want to build a smaller home or, looking to develop two modest houses, then a building firm would be a much better fit. But if you’re looking to construct a large dwelling with a lot of architectural detail, then we’d steer you in the direction of a main contractor.
A building contractor will…
- More than likely bring their own crew to work on your project from start to finish – they’ll have a team who are capable of doing most types of work, so they’re quite versatile.
- Only usually sub-contract out jobs which need special licenses, like plumbing and electrical works. You may know someone in the trade and want to organise some services yourself, which you couldn’t normally do with a main contractor.
- Most likely ask you to source some or all of the materials. Sometimes things like bricks and blocks, and other times the kitchen, bathrooms and tiles. You might be absolutely fine with this – but it’s worth pointing out.
- Require more client time and input. Some people relish the thought of getting involved – while others will find it quite stressful.
- Generally take on multiple jobs at a time in order to keep the team busy – this means working on your project, completing it to a certain point, before moving onto another job. So occasionally, there could be some downtime between being on one job and coming back to yours. It can be quite a juggling act, but they’re very skilled at programming the work.
- Often have to pay for materials up front and labour on a weekly/fortnightly basis. Some builders will happily price a whole project, some will do labour only and others work on day rates – it really does depend.
- Probably ask you to pay the individual tradesmen at the end of the week. This can sometimes be time consuming, but also means that many can operate under the VAT threshold, so you may well save this on the labour.
Whilst there are many very experienced and reputable building firms to choose from, who will do you proud, sometimes your project would be much better in the hands of a main contractor.
Working with a Main Contractor
Usually, you’ll work with a main contractor on larger construction projects, which in our experience start upwards of £250,000. These are big and busy projects with a high contract value. Think of a main contractor as ‘headache removal’. As a client there will be very little, if anything, for you to do, apart from focusing on the desired end result.
A Main Contractor will…
- Take full responsibility from start to finish for the entire project, only handing it back to you when it’s finished, quality controlled and signed off. Main contractors don’t always have to take on start to completion projects though – occasionally, they may be asked to build a large development ‘shell ready’, to be fitted out by others.
- Either work to your drawings if they have enough information or work with consultants to get the detail they need. They may well take full control post planning permission and get a full set of drawings done then. In any of these cases, they would ‘value engineer’ the scheme to build it as cost-effectively as possible.
- Either work to your own spec or get one drawn up – working closely with you to suit your favoured finish and budget.
- Organise, co-ordinate and liaise with all subcontractor trades – from ground works to roofers, electricians, plumbers and plasterers – they’ll make sure each trade shows up when they’re meant to, keeping your project on track. You’ll never be expected to book something in or source a trade yourselves.
- Source and supply all your materials – they’ll have buying power too, which you’ll most likely benefit from.
- Only charge you for work completed – so each month, you’re likely to get an invoice for finished works.
Whichever route you decide to take, it’s always smart to do your homework. In our experience, recommendation and referrals is most definitely best.