Should you project manage your own renovation?

So you’ve got big renovation plans for your home.

You’ve chosen your feature wallpaper and ordered your new bathroom tiles. But who is going to pull it all together?

Whether you’re going to project manage your reno yourself, or hire someone to do it – make sure you know what’s involved. A project manager will make sure the right tradies are on site in the right sequence – there’s no point in having your tiler round to finish off the shower if the plumber hasn’t finished work. They’ll also liaise with council inspectors; make sure materials are on site when needed; deal with any problems that crop up and generally make sure everything runs smoothly.

“If you have a project manager and there’s a problem they’ll come to you, but they’ll say, ‘here’s the problem and here are three different solutions we could try’,” says veteran renovator Alice Pearson who has completed several renovations and won The Block NZ back in 2013 with partner Caleb.

READ MORE:
* How to survive a reno without a kitchen or bathroom
* Builder versus architect: Who’s the best choice when renovating your home?
* How to get the order of your renovation right from the very beginning
* The Block NZ: Alice and Caleb are about to renovate their 10th house
* The Block NZ’s Alice and Caleb share their hard-won reno lessons

If you are managing the project yourself, you’ll be the one researching solutions for those problems. And that can take a lot of time. Pearson says her rule of thumb is that a day of work on-site roughly equates to a day of your time sourcing and ordering materials; organising tradies; managing timelines and any unexpected issues. So if you’re time poor – be warned.

But if saving money is your goal – well, yes, you can save as long as you manage it well says Pearson. Do it poorly and it can be a false economy – with time wasted due to poor planning. And a probably less than ideal relationship with your tradies.

“It can be difficult and quite frustrating for tradies if they turn up and can’t do their job properly,” says Pearson. “It can be a waste of their time and ultimately end up costing the homeowner more.”

Builderscrack.co.nz marketing manager Jeremy Gray believes the most important skill in project managing a renovation is “communication”.

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Builderscrack.co.nz marketing manager Jeremy Gray believes the most important skill in project managing a renovation is “communication”.

So how do you get it right? Well, at the top of the list is to be good at dealing with people.

“The most important skill in project managing a renovation is communication,” says Jeremy Gray an “enthusiastic DIYer” and marketing manager for Builderscrack.co.nz. Gray managed his own major home renovation with partner Alana Shinn, when they transformed their 1960s fixer-upper in Christchurch into a modern home.

Gray advises homeowners to communicate well from the start – ensuring clarity around what is expected and what will be charged and having estimates and terms and conditions in writing, rather than just on a handshake. During his own reno, he also had an on-site meeting every morning so everybody knew what was happening that day and they could tell him if they had any questions or problems. If issues crop up during the process, Gray advises homeowners to talk to the tradies about them and find out what’s going on. And if you’re not on-site, “be very clear that calls are welcomed if any unexpected issues crop up”, he says.

The project manager is the person who can ensure your dream renovation becomes a reality.

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The project manager is the person who can ensure your dream renovation becomes a reality.

Of course, it’s not just people you need to worry about. There’s also the issue of materials and making sure things are on site when they’re needed says Gray. It’s no good realising your tiler is coming next week, but the lead time for those tiles you want is six weeks.

It’s a view echoed by Pearson. “Being organised is key and there are lot of good resources out there online. But you will need a schedule of works and timelines and budgets. We have all those and we update them nearly everyday when we’re working on a reno.”

A project has many moving parts and plans can change when the removal of plasterboard or the pulling up of floorboards uncovers some hidden horror. Things like that can mean you need to try and get a tradie out at short notice in order to keep things moving.

Alice Pearson in 2010 after she and Caleb signed up for their first home in Panmure - they have now completed 10 renovations.

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Alice Pearson in 2010 after she and Caleb signed up for their first home in Panmure – they have now completed 10 renovations.

It’s something Glen Kelman, owner of kitchen installers Kitchen Concepts, has seen many times. He gives the example of pulling out an old kitchen only to discover that there was a 300mm gap where the floorboards had never met the wall. As he was project managing the install, Kelman was able to get his regular builder out to fix the problem and then was able to proceed with the new installation. All too often it doesn’t work like this when the homeowner is managing the process.

“It’s just having that relationship,” says Kelman. “We have all these guys we work with regularly, we can get tradies out there fast and it’s just a much smoother process. I would normally encourage homeowners to have one person who’s overseeing things.”

Alice Pearson believes that if you really enjoy renovating then maybe you could give project managing a try – but make sure you do your research first.

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Alice Pearson believes that if you really enjoy renovating then maybe you could give project managing a try – but make sure you do your research first.

There’s no doubt there are many potential stumbling blocks for the DIY project manager. But for the determined Pearson has words of encouragement.

“If you do enjoy renovating, really enjoy it, and you’ve got the time then try it. Just do the research and get the knowledge first. Don’t do it having no idea of what you’re managing.”

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