Sunday, April 20, 2014

Built Environment Professions - Part 3 - Mentoring - A Professional Necessity



New members of staff require time and if a mentor does not allocate sufficient time to train and supervise them then the consequences are likely to result in a demotivated member of staff who is not developing and likely to make mistakes. If this is the case an employer should question their selection of mentor or ask themselves if they have made provision to fulfill the role effectively with the mentor’s workload.

Source: http://caithnesschamber.com/
Any successful business will undoubtedly have staff development as one of their core business objectives and understand the importance of the continued professional development of their employees.  Although training and development should occur at all levels of a business, a key part of the process involves training of new and junior members of staff when they are embarking on their new profession/role for the first time.  These are the type of people who will be extremely ‘green’ and have maybe decided on a career change or just left education and think they are now ready to enter the stresses and strains of the professional world.  If we take a second to think back a few years (in some cases, like myself, more than a few years) to the time when this was us, you may remember feeling lost, often alone and generally overwhelmed at times. 

If your experience was anything like mine, you were thrown in at the deep end and allowed to sink or swim and basically learn by your mistakes.  Unfortunately, times have moved on and the litigious nature of the professional world, no longer affords us this luxury.  Nowadays organisations appear to be much more inclined to take the training of their newer employees much more seriously and often attach individuals to mentors.  Mentoring is defined by Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring, as: "Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be’. The role of a mentor is therefore a significant one, usually allocated to an extremely busy individual who will be expected to work closely and oversee the activities of a new member of staff for a defined period of time.

Source: http://shetakesontheworld.com/
For mentoring to be effective it requires time and commitment from the mentor. However time is often a commodity in short supply and if the mentor is not aware or does not take account of the time needed to adequately fulfill their role then the results can be disastrous. Employers need to select mentors very carefully and try to ensure they are appropriately trained, they know what is expected of them and importantly the extra time needed to fulfill the role is taken into account in the mentor’s workload.  If an employer does not take account of these things when selecting a mentor then a number of things will happen.  Firstly, the allocated mentor will immediately feel that the employer is allocating them an additional responsibility with no consideration for their current workload.  Secondly, the new member of staff may be seen as a hindrance (which is actually true in the early days!). Finally the new member of staff, will pick up that they are unwanted, which will make them feel disillusioned and unhappy. This is unfair on the mentor and the employee and creates a situation where nobody achieves what they want.

A good mentor however is invaluable and will realise that every minute that they spend with a new member of staff will be repaid tenfold.  Having acted as a mentor on many occasions I soon realised that the first few weeks required some intensive supervision, which meant that I needed to put certain things on hold so that I could make enough time to allow this to happen.  In these first few weeks I would set a weekly timetable, which would also include time slots where I had arranged for members of staff in other parts of the organization to facilitate certain activities.  For example, I would allocate a day with administrators, so that an appreciation of filing, photocopying, incoming and outgoing post and other policies and procedures could be attained.  All of these are fundamentally important activities within the business.  I also arranged for time to be spent in other departments, so that an appreciation of the wider business activities was also attained.  If you do take the time in the early weeks to spend time to train and supervise appropriately, then you will find that your new colleague becomes an asset who you can allocate ‘real work’ too, which will help to develop them and ease the burden on you.  The problem with a lot of people, however is that they focus on the here and now and are too short sighted to see this!

It is also very important to make new people feel welcome and at ease in their new role.  Always remember that one day you had been in this position and that no matter how busy you are politeness and courtesy costs nothing.  As stressful as a work environment may be, there is absolutely no excuse for shouting or being rude to your colleagues.  I say this because in the past I have seen a number of members of staff almost reduced to tears as a result of being inappropriately spoken to by more senior members of staff.  This is totally unacceptable and in most cases was due to the fact that the member of staff had not been given adequate support and supervision from their mentor, which had resulted in a number of mistakes/issues occurring. New members of staff require time and if a mentor does not allocate sufficient time to train and supervise them then the consequences are likely to result in a demotivated member of staff who is not developing and likely to make mistakes. If this is the case an employer should question their selection of mentor or ask themselves if they have made provision to fulfill the role effectively with the mentor’s workload.

If you are currently acting as a mentor, I refer to the definition stated earlier and ask you to consider whether you are encouraging and supporting your colleague to help them manage their own learning in order to help them to develop skills to maximise their potential. Or, do you see them as a burden that has been thrust upon you, where you have no time to help them.  If it is the latter, then I suggest that you speak to your employer and see if they can find someone more suitable, as this is not fair on the person you are mentoring.

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Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NEC Contracts – Who is Responsible for Managing Defects?



Guest article from John Peel BSc (Hons) – Assistant Lecturer at Coventry University

....when things go wrong between other people named in the Contract the natural reaction is to look in the direction of the Project Manager (PM) to resolve the issues. It could therefore be argued there is almost an implied duty on the PM under the NEC to attempt to resolve conflicts before they get to adjudication

Source: http://www.saice.org.za/
As a Project Manager (PM) under the NEC I was always glad that the role of defect management was essentially allocated to the Supervisor. Having been party to many long winded arguments over defects under other forms of contract such as the JCT it came as a breath of fresh air to pass the duty of notifying defects, carrying out tests and inspections and issuing the defects certificate etc. to the Supervisor.  Indeed simply not having to draft pages and pages of snagging was enough to make me want to embrace the new procedure under the NEC when I started working with it.

The role of the Supervisor defined by the NEC is that of essentially ensuring the works are built in accordance with the works information. The role of the PM whilst broader in overall scale than that of the Supervisor is essentially limited (when it comes to defects) to the actions of the PM under clause 40.6 and 43.4 as well as the duties when accepting defects under clause 44 and dealing with uncorrected defects under clause 45.

Why then have I recently been involved in long winded protracted arguments over defects under the NEC option A contract? Something must be amiss!

The alarm bells first started to ring when the Supervisor and Contractor could not agree if a defect actually existed. The issue related to an element of the works being designed by the Contractor. The works information contained a specific thickness of material on a drawing but an overall requirement in specification to build to a specific standard of thermal efficiency. Both drawing and specification was included in the Works Information. The Contractor had altered the thickness of material but achieved the required thermal standard. The Supervisor notified a defect when he measured the thickness of material and found it to be not the same as stated in the Works information. The Contractor pointed to the fact the standard had been achieved and that the difference in material thickness had no adverse impact on the building. The issue had not been apparent in any design the Contractor had submitted for acceptance.

Source: http://www.ty-newydd.com/
The relationship between the Supervisor and Contractor was already strained at this point and the Supervisor was adamant that the change in material thickness was not “in accordance with the Works Information” and as such it was a defect. The notification was duly issued for the Contractor to correct it. The Contractor then made the argument of “inconsistency between the documents” under clause 17.1 as the specification was a performance specification allowing the contractor a degree of flexibility and the drawing gave a specific thickness thus conflicting with the flexibility in the specification. The Contractor then sought an instruction from the PM resolving the inconsistency. One interpretation of the apparent inconsistency was that both documents are read in conjunction with each other. So the Contractor has the flexibility of the specification to select products and comply with the standards but the thickness shown in the drawn information should be adhered to as a minimum and thus there is no inconsistency. However, playing devil’s advocate one might also look at the above scenario and think that as long as the Employer is not in any way at a loss as a result of the change and the performance standards are complied with then the process of achieving the end result is the Contractor’s to manage. After all that is essentially part of the process of design and build.

As PM I could see both sides of the argument. I suspect that had relationships on the project been better, an amicable solution could have been found. However, no agreement was reached and with the defect correction period nearly up the Contractor and Supervisor were becoming more animated in their dealings with each other. Eventually, I was asked to decide who was right and who was wrong which brings me to the crux of the matter from the perspective of the PM.

Contractually there is no role in clause 40-45 for mediation by the PM in disputes over defects. The only negotiation the PM need actually carry out is that related to agreeing to accept defects. We could not reach any such agreement in this case because clause 44.2 requires both the PM and Contractor to agree to consider a change to the works Information to correct a defect. The Contractor did definitely not agree to any such change! Ultimately the process would have been to wait until the defect correction period expired and then apply clause 45 to the matter (dealing with uncorrected defects). If the Contractor is unhappy with the results he has the option of Adjudication under the Contract.

However, there is the concept of a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation to consider. In this instance should the PM acting in such a spirit mediate between the parties to find an amicable solution before the matter gets to Adjudication? This is a difficult point because you cannot “force” co-operation. However, I do believe that all parties have a duty to co-operate and also foster co-operation in others. When one can clearly see parties are not co-operating someone should probably step in to point this out. The onus on the PM to administer most aspects of the Contract also means that when things go wrong between other people named in the Contract the natural reaction is to look in the direction of the PM to resolve the issues. It could therefore be argued there is almost an implied duty on the PM under the NEC to attempt to resolve conflicts before they get to adjudication.

However, there are areas of the NEC where the duty of the PM to determine if actions are reasonable, or unnecessary are expressly stated. For example clause 40.5 require the Supervisor to carry out tests and inspections without causing “unnecessary delay” to the Work. If the Contractor believes that in doing tests and inspections the Supervisor has caused unnecessary delay then he can notify the PM of a compensation event under clause 60.1.11. It then falls on the PM to determine if the delay was necessary or unnecessary.  The PM must also decide if other failures by the Supervisor to act in accordance with the Contract are compensation events although these are far more objective (clause 60.1.6 for example is easy enough to determine simply by looking at the period for reply and the date of a communication).

In conclusion, the PM takes a backseat to the Supervisor when it comes to the process of defects management and the role is strictly speaking limited to a specific few functions. However, the PM might well become more heavily involved in defect management if the process breaks down and the parties are no longer able to co-operate or begin to act unreasonably or cause unnecessary delay. It might well therefore be wise for the PM to take an active role in overseeing defects management to be able to proactively head off issues before they deteriorate. This is certainly the lesson I have learnt the hard way.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Built Environment Professions – Part 2 – Building a brighter future



Due to the decline in the amount of people choosing a career as a construction professional as well as the inevitable skills shortage that will ensue over the coming years, there is an argument for categorising certain building professional roles as ‘at risk’

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/
In my previous article I identified a number of quite alarming statistics that showed a 24% reduction in entrants onto undergraduate building related courses in the five years between 2007/08 and 2011/12. In addition, the number of enrolments onto Architecture, Building and Planning courses is much lower than the vast majority of other subject areas such medicine, sciences, business, social studies and many others.  I then went onto discuss a number of possibly reasons that may explain this, and emphasised the importance of addressing the decline in order to try to safeguard the future of the Construction Professions as we currently know them, in the UK. The main content of this article will therefore consider what can be done to encourage more entrants in to the Construction Professions. I appreciate that there are similar issues with recruitment at other levels of the construction industry, particularly some of the traditional trades (something I will tackle in a later article), however for the purposes of this article I want to focus on Construction professions.

1. Raise awareness of professional career opportunities with the built environment

As I mentioned in my previous article I regularly encounter Careers Advisors in Schools that have little to no knowledge of the range of career opportunities that are available within the built environment.  Careers Advisors are the people that interact with large groups of school kids and have the ability to influence their future career choice.  If we can raise the profile of built environment careers, particularly the relationship with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and educate Careers Advisors about these opportunities we then ‘have the ear’ of a much larger pool of potential future professionals.  It goes without saying that you cannot expect a young person to choose a career that they have never heard about!  We therefore need a national strategic approach to bring built environment careers into the classroom, targeting Careers Advisors as a focal point.


Source: http://www.realstreetstaffing.com/
2. Change the perception of Careers in Construction

Many young people I speak to think that a career in the construction industry only relates to wearing a hard hat, working on a muddy site, lifting heavy materials and primarily involving the physical construction of a building.  If this is the general perception of a career in the construction industry it is easy to understand why other subject areas may seem to be an attractive alternative choice for a young person.  Therefore most young people associate working in construction as becoming a bricklayer, carpenter, plasterer, plumber etc.  Whilst these are obvious career routes for which a person can enjoy and make a perfectly good living, there are many other professional roles that are available. Part of addressing this issue can be achieved by raising awareness of professional built environment careers as described in point 1 above, however more needs to be done to portray a professional career in the built environment for what it really is; ‘exciting, diverse and challenging which leads to good career prospects and a good salary’.

3. Encourage more females into Professional Construction Roles


Source: http://www.constructionweekonline.com/
The Guardian (online) published a recent article (21st March 2014), entitled; ‘High-tech, multi-skilled construction industry needs more women’ (Link); Given the stereotype I have just described above it is interesting that the main image within the article is a female with a hard hat and safety goggles, standing in front of a half finished building! The article provides interesting reading and states;
Women are transforming the world of work. The number of women in the workforce has increased by more than 20% over the past 20 years, and today they make up nearly half of the workforce. More women than ever before are going to university and more are in vocational training. Women now account for 50% of all staff in financial services, 49% of all those working in the media, 46% all doctors, 27% of all police officers and 24% of all judges.
But not every industry is welcoming women into the workplace. As the latest Smith Institute report shows, construction remains largely a no-go area for women. Despite the fact that the sector is a major employer and is desperately short of skilled people, women only account for 11% of the workforce – and only 1% of the manual trades.
We need to attract this vast amount of ‘untapped’ female potential in order to address the disparity between the number of males and females within the construction industry. Clearly, encouraging more females into the Construction Industry provides a huge opportunity for the future of the Construction Professions.  Addressing points 1 and 2 above will help, however more needs to be done to promote these exciting careers to females who may not have contemplated this type of career before. A strategic targeted events programme, providing a ‘taster experience’ of different construction professional roles should be introduced to encourage more females into the construction industry, in addition to other events and marketing activities.

4. Government Support

Given the significant contribution made to the economy by the construction industry each year (circa 8% to 10% of GDP), the UK Government should be lobbied to provide support and assistance to safeguard the industry for future generations. Due to the decline of the amount of people choosing a career as a construction professional as well as the inevitable skills shortage that will ensue over the coming years, there is an argument for categorising certain building professional roles as ‘at risk’.  This should then attract funding to those identified careers to encourage more people into the professions and could take the form of grants or subsidies to help support tuition fees, funding of targeted marketing campaigns, funding of education programmes in Schools and Colleges and numerous other initiative.

The above represents a number of suggestions of how we can address the current decline in the numbers of people, particularly young people choosing a career as a construction professional. The suggestions are far from exhaustive and will hopefully act as a starting point and generate debate on how we can react to the problem in order to safeguard the future of the Construction Professions.  Ignoring the problem really in not an option!

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested


Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Built Environment Professions – Part 1 – An uncertain future?



In the vast majority of cases school children have very little knowledge of careers or opportunities that are available within the built environment and in most cases have never heard let alone understand professions such as Building Surveyors, Architectural Technologist, Construction Managers, Building Services Engineers and the like

Source: http://www.accessaudits.com.au/
Working as a professional within the built environment provides an exciting, diverse and challenging career that in most cases leads to good career prospects and a good salary.  Evolving technologies, innovation and ever changing regulations require the modern construction professional to be knowledgeable, adaptable, and objective to meet the challenges of the future.  All in all working as a built environment professional offers so much diversity that there is a career available for almost anybody who wants one.  Despite all of these positive attributes, recent statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that student enrolment in undergraduate Architecture, Building and Planning courses are in decline:


The table above shows the relatively small number of enrolments onto Architecture, Building and Planning courses compared to the vast majority of other subject areas. These statistics relate to full time undergraduate enrolment only.  The issue of part time undergraduate and post graduate enrolment are articles in their own right and something I will discuss in later postings.  For the purposes of this article I therefore want to focus on full time undergraduate enrolment.  The decline in entrants onto building related disciplines is even more evident if we isolate these from Architecture and Planning disciplines.  The table below shows a 24% reduction in entrants onto building related courses in the five years between 2007/08 and 2011/12, which is particularly worrying.


The HESA statistics above highlight two primary questions: 1. Why are Architecture, Building & Planning courses deemed to be a less attractive option compared to other subject areas; and; 2. Why are numbers of student enrolments on Building related courses in decline? I will attempt to answer these questions in a moment, however, to compound the issue it is also worth noting that UCAS have indicated that the 18 year old cohort is set to fall by circa 10% by 2020.  So not only are numbers currently declining for Architecture, Building and Planning courses but there will be a steady decline in 18 year olds applying for courses generally over the next five years, resulting in further pressure on recruitment for these courses.

18 year old cohort set to fall 10% or so by 2020




1. Why are Architecture, Building & Planning courses deemed to be a less attractive option compared to other subject areas;

As part of my role at Coventry University I am Admissions Tutor as well as lead for recruitment and outreach activities in my department.  Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to visit a number of local Schools and Colleges, where I provide careers advice and generally try to raise awareness of built environment professions.  Sadly, in the vast majority of cases school children have very little knowledge of careers or opportunities that are available within the built environment and in most cases have never heard let alone understand professions such as Building Surveyors, Architectural Technologists, Construction Managers, Building Services Engineers and the like. Quantity Surveying and Civil Engineering professions are often recognized, but not fully understood.  The only built environment career that is generally recognized is the role of the Architect. 

During my outreach visits I also take the opportunity to speak to careers advisors and worryingly in most cases the vast majority have as much knowledge of built environment careers as the school students themselves!  Careers advice in schools tends to focus on traditional career paths in computing, legal professions, medical professions, sciences etc, depending on the focus of the school.  When I speak to school students about the built environment they often think purely in terms of the practical trades such as bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing etc, and have no concept of professional roles.  I explain to them that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a construction trade as a career, however, the opportunities for them are much wider and I then go onto explain the difference between a trade career and a professional career.  The situation is not so bad in Higher Education Colleges, however this is due to the fact that most of the Colleges I visit offer specific Built Environment courses.

Clearly, lack of awareness of built environment professions, particularly in schools, is a real issue because how can we expect someone to select a professional built environment career if they have never heard of them in the first place?  My visits to Schools and Colleges really just scratch the surface, but highlights what I think is a significant contributing factor to why Building & Planning courses in particular are deemed to be a less attractive option compared to other subject areas.

Also, I suspect the recent recession and all of the negative publicity, particularly around the construction industry that ensued, would not have given a great deal of confidence for those looking at a career in the industry. Historically the construction industry has always mirrored the UK economy and has been subject to peaks and troughs as the economy has dipped into recession and eventually recovered. When the economy bounces back the construction industry bounces back strongly and this in turn creates opportunity.  Even in times of recession there were still opportunities for built environment professionals and when the recovery starts to gather pace there will undoubtedly be a shortage of built environment professionals, due to high demand.

2. Why are numbers of student enrolments on Building related courses in decline?

Much of the answer to this question lies in the answer to the first question above in respect of the general lack of awareness of many built environment professions, as well as the impact of the economic downturn.  There are however other factors that could explain the reduction in student enrolments on Building related courses.

Most people will be aware of the significant changes to University funding over the last few years and in particular the significant increase in the amount a student is required to pay if they want to go to University.  In reality the cost of most undergraduate courses has not changed, what has changed is that the government no longer subsidise a large percentage of the fee (for the student) which they used too.  The outcome is that students are now faced with tuition fees of around £9,000 per year (fees vary between universities), resulting in an investment of between £24,000 and £27,000 for a three year course without even thinking about living costs and other expenses. Although a low interest loan can be sought to cover tuition fees, in addition to their degree, most graduating students will leave University with a large debt.  All of this has resulted in students thinking very carefully about the type of courses they will undertake or whether they will go to university at all.  Nowadays, apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications may be considered as an alternative to going to University to gain a career in the construction industry due to the high costs involved, although in most cases these routes will initially lead to trade careers as opposed to professional careers.

The UK construction industry is an extremely important sector within the UK economy, making a significant contribution to GDP.  For the future, we must ensure that we have a regular supply of knowledgeable, well educated and motivated people entering the construction industry at all levels and avoid the inevitable skills shortages that we often see when productivity progressively increases.  It is clear from the statistics above that less and less people are choosing to enter the industry, particularly in building related professions, which will inevitably impact on the progress of the construction industry and the wider economy as a whole. So what do we do about it? – This is something I will look at in my next post, where I will make a number of suggestions in respect of raising awareness/publicity of built environment professional careers, lobbying the government to support ‘at risk’ professions, encouraging a higher percentage of females into built environment careers, alternative modes of study and how Higher Education can influence the future of built environment professions.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Property Investment - 5 Tips to Maximise Your Buy to Let Investment



It is still possible to make a good return on buy to let investment however this is not always as easy as portrayed in the media.  An investor will need to carefully plan their investment, ..... to have any chance of achieving a good return

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
With property prices starting rise in many parts of the UK and with the Bank of England making noises about when (not if) interest rates will start to rise, anyone with property or considering buying property will be watching closely to see what happens.  The property market in the UK has proved difficult for many over recent years due to the global economic downturn, a consequence of which is property prices consistently falling in the vast majority of areas within the UK. Many have found themselves in negative equity (this is where the value of the property reduces to a point where it is worth less that the amount that is outstanding on a mortgage loan), and are faced with the dilemma of being ‘cocooned’ within the property market and waiting for things to improve or making a financial loss (sometimes significant), in order to be able to move.  In fact BBC News Online recently reported ‘Negative Equity currently afflicts over half a million households in the UK.(Link)

Despite the difficulties discussed above, property in still portrayed as a ‘safe investment’ within a number of popular TV programmes and has no doubt contributed to the rise in private property investors. These programmes have helped to paint a picture that anyone can invest in property and that anyone can maximise an investment and make large sums of money.  Whilst this is partially true, this message is also misleading as to maximise a property investment takes knowledge, skill and money.   Property can be a sound investment, which can provide exceptionally good returns, but only if you know what you are doing!  Like myself I am sure you have read/heard of many examples of those who have listened to this message and decided to ‘dip their toe in the water’, without any real knowledge or experience and have ended up losing large sums of money, which in some cases has sadly led to repossession and even bankruptcy. Below I offer a few tips for consideration for those who are thinking about entering the buy to let market for the first time.  I appreciate that some will consider buying property, refurbishing it and then selling it on (something referred to as ‘flipping’), however for the purposes of this article I want to focus on the buy to let investor.

1. Undertake an Investment Appraisal  

Source:  http://encorepropertysolutions.co.uk/
Careful consideration should be given to your objectives with a focus on what you are trying to achieve.  Ultimately, this should be to maximise your return.  New buy to let investors may often not understand the importance of this basic objective and that they are now in the World of business and are therefore trying to make a profit.  Before taking the plunge to invest, careful consideration should be given to weighing up or calculating what the likely costs (outlay) will be, balanced against the likely return.  Failure to undertake this initial assessment or be tempted to ‘take a chance’ is extremely unwise and can result in significant losses being made.  For more information on investment appraisals see my previous article ‘Property Investment – Why an Investment Appraisal is crucial for Buy to Let Investors’ (Link)

2. Research the Market

It is important to understand the property market in the area that you are planning to invest.  Nowadays there is a vast amount of information at your fingertips, just by undertaking simple internet searches.  Gather information on local property values and rental incomes to give you an idea of the type of investment that you might want to make.  Websites such as Righmove and Zoopla are good initial sources of information for property prices, as well as websites for local Estate Agents and Letting Agents to provide more local information.  The information you find during your research will help you to establish the likely investment value and give you an assessment of the likely rental returns, which you can feed into your investment appraisal. If you decide to buy at auction, this research will be crucial in deciding what your maximum bid limit will be.

3. Condition of the Property

The condition of an investment property can have a significant impact on any likely return and therefore needs to be carefully considered.  There are bargains to be found, however, in general terms you normally get what you pay for.  Always undertake a thorough inspection of a property before committing to purchase to establish its condition, particularly auction properties.  This is because buildings have a habit of concealing a variety of nasty surprises, which you want to find out about before you purchase, not after!  Rectifying problems within a building that you were not aware of and not budgeted for have the ability to completely wipe out any profit and in some case can result in a loss. Surveyors should pick up any significant issues during the conveyance process however this is something to be particularly cautious of when buying at auction, where sufficient inspection may not have been undertaken.

4. Keep Control of Repair/Refurbishment Costs

It is worth continually reminding yourself that you are planning to let the property and therefore you must ensure that you spend money appropriately/efficiently.  The specification for any repair or refurbishment works should reflect the area, type of property and tenants that you likely to attract.  You must expect tenanted properties to accommodate some wear and tear so durability should be considered along with how the building will look. If you are investing in an area where rental incomes may be on the low side, then spending money on expensive fixtures, fittings and finishes will not be cost effective.  On the flip side you may be required to provide a high specification in certain locations to attract high rent paying tenants.  The point here is to know your market based upon doing your research above and control repair and refurbishment costs appropriately in order to try to maximise your return. Do not be tempted to do a high specification finish, to your own tastes, where this is not warranted.  Remember, this is a business and wasting money unnecessarily just eats into your profit.

5. What Permissions/Approvals are required?

Something that is often overlooked by investors is the impact of obtaining various permissions/approvals and how this can increase costs.  In most cases issues arise due to a complete lack of awareness by members of the general public. Awareness of statutory approvals such as Planning Permission and Building Regulations approval seems to be improving, however, other types of approval such as Party Wall approvals are less understood.  The type and extent of works proposed will determine which permissions will apply, which can often run into may thousands of pounds especially when you factor in professional fees. 

With regards to Planning Permission, an investor may consider scaling down a proposed extension to utilise permitted development right.  This will reduce costs and save time by not going through the formal planning process.  It is always worth obtaining professional advice in respect of whether or which permissions/approvals apply.  This may generate a consultancy fee, however, this could save a lot of money further down the line and will therefore be money well spent.

In summary, it is still possible to make a good return on buy to let investment however this is not always as easy as portrayed in the media.  An investor will need to carefully plan their investment, taking into account some of the points discussed above to have any chance of achieving a good return.  Buying property and rushing into the property market on the assumption that you cannot lose is dangerous and completely incorrect.  I am sure that there are many who can bear testament to this fact, who have lost considerably more than money after investing in property. Successfully investing in property takes hard work, knowledge, money and often a good dose of luck! If you are thinking of investing in property in the near future please make sure that you take on board some of the suggestions above before taking the plunge.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested


Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Air Tightness and Ventilation in UK Dwellings - A sensitive balance!



In the near future it will be interesting to see how our buildings are reacting to increased air tightness, together with ventilation.  In truth only time will tell if this is working when these buildings have been occupied and used for a number of years

Source: http://www.brookvent.co.uk/
In order to tackle climate change the UK government have made commitments under the Climate Change Act 2008 to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% (from the 1990 baseline) by 2050.  Buildings in particular have been identified as a means making significant reductions to meeting these targets: According to BBC News (2006), Transport consistently grabs the headlines on climate change emissions but buildings pour out about half of the UK's CO2 - 30% from homes, 20% from commercial buildings’.  The Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) completed an assessment of a variety of impacts of various sectors may need to prepare, which included the Built Environment: ‘The UK’s built environment includes: 27 million homes, commercial and industrial properties, hospitals, schools, other buildings and the wider urban environment. At the current replacement rate, around 70% of buildings that will be in use in the 2050s already exist.

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within buildings, particularly carbon dioxide, can be achieved in two broad categories, the first is the way in which we create energy and the second is the way in which we can conserve or limit waste of energy.  In an earlier article, why should we both with renewable technologies? (Link) I considered the former and emphasised the importance of installing and utilising renewable technologies within buildings, which will significantly reduce our dependency of burning fossil fuels and subsequently reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  For the purposes of this article however I want to briefly focus on conserving energy in buildings and in particular the important balance between air tightness and ventilation.

Source: http://www.airtightbuilding.com/
In order to try to make buildings more energy efficient UK Building Regulation, particularly Approved Document L has evolved beyond all recognition of the last 15 to 20 years.  Those like myself who were in practice prior to this will remember a much shorter, single Approved Document (now there are four parts, L1A, L1B, L2A & L2B), where the most complex issue was how to navigate your way through a SAP calculation.   Nowadays the focus on external envelope is only part of the story and there is now a requirement to consider carbon dioxide emissions for example: under Approved Document L1A , all dwellings must be designed and built in a manner that their Dwelling Carbon Dioxide Emission Rate (DER) measured in kg of CO² produced annually per m² floor area is no worse than a defined Target Carbon Dioxide Emission Rate (TER), as well as air permeability (or air leakage).
Since 2006, Building Regulations in England & Wales and Northern Ireland have required mandatory air leakage testing of new homes. These regulations were further revised in England and Wales in October 2010. ‘Air leakage, air permeability and air tightness are all terms that refer to the uncontrolled loss of air from inside a building to the outside and the infiltration of air coming from outside to inside. This loss or gain of air through cracks, holes or gaps in the fabric of the building is often felt to us as draughts.
Achieving a good level of air tightness is important for the energy efficiency of the building. The benefits of improved insulation and more energy efficient heating systems are lost if warm air can leak out of the building and cold air can leak in. Poor air tightness can be responsible for up to 40% of heat loss from buildings’ Source: http://www.nhbc.co.uk/
The above statement makes a good point in relation to heat loss in those buildings with poor air tightness and that by ‘plugging the gaps’, so to speak, we can ensure that our buildings remain warmer for longer.  This in turn will mean that we will not need as much heating in our buildings and consequently reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the process.  The added other benefit should be a reduction in our energy bills.  Constructing or upgrading a building to meet these air tightness standards is all well and good but we must also consider a balance with ventilating a building.
Ventilation is an important consideration in buildings as it helps to control the internal environment in respect of health & comfort, control of condensation and humidity, discharge of emissions from fuel burning appliances and removal of any airborne pollutants.  Building Regulations Approved Document F provides requirements for ventilation rates in various rooms such as kitchens, bathrooms etc as well as rates for whole house ventilation. The Approved Document also provides examples of different forms of ventilation such as mechanical, background, passive stack etc.  Consideration of the Approved Documents will be crucial in firstly complying with Building Regulations and secondly ensuring that there is an adequate balance between air tightness and ventilation. It would be a mistake to consider each of these in isolation.  It is important to realise that the level of air tightness achieved within a building will have an important influence on the overall ventilation rates that will be achieved (higher levels of air tightness, lower ventilation rates) and the type of ventilation strategy that should be adopted.

In the near future it will be interesting to see how our buildings are reacting to increased air tightness together with ventilation.  In truth only time will tell if this is working when these buildings have been occupied and used for a number of years.  As an example; with the increased use of construction methods such as timber frame which is nicely concealed within a highly air tight environment it is easy to foresee problems in the future with timber decay and other common defects if the balance between air tightness, ventilation and indeed detailing is not adequately considered.  This is also the case for control of both surface and interstitial condensation (condensation that occurs within the fabric of a building), which are both influenced by air tightness and ventilation in conjunction with other factors. We will no doubt find out within the near future if we have got this balance right.

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Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Importance of having a Written Contract for Household Building Work



Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is usually only after a dispute has occurred that a householder will reflect on why they did not enter into a written contract in the first place. By this point however it is usually too late!

Source: http://www.thehomeguru.net/
In general terms we are very trusting folk here in the UK and we often rely on good will as well as blind hope, in the expectation that work being undertaken to our homes will be done to a high quality, within agreed costs and without any problems.  In an ideal World this would no doubt be the case, however the reality is very different.  TV shows such as Rogue Traders, Cowboy Builders and the like highlight some rather stark examples where the initial excitement of building works have quickly evaporated and been replaced with anger, stress and worry, as the relationship between a building contractor and householders turns soar. I published an article about this time last year (link), which provided some practical suggestions of how a householder can avoid this scenario happening to them.  One of the suggestions I made within the article was to ensure that everything was recorded in writing (I mainly focussed on costs), however for this article I want to consider a more formal arrangement, such as the use of a written contract.

If a householder requires work undertaking within their homes, a usual first port of call would be a telephone conversation with a building contractor, followed by a visit.  During the visit the householder will outline what works they propose and the building contractor will give an initial assessment and invariably the conversation will come around to costs.  Very rarely, particularly at this point will the issue of a written contract be considered and in fact it is likely that the vast majority of works carried out within UK households, are completed without any written contract at all. Even in the absence of a written contract, a householder can enter in to a legally binding verbal contact with a building contractor, however, as you would imagine, in the event of a dispute, it will be much more difficult for either party to prove that particular terms and conditions were discussed and agreed. 

Source: http://easyplanbuildingsolutions.co.uk/
It therefore seems to make sense for householders and building contractors to enter into a written contractual agreement, which will clearly set out the various terms and conditions that they agree, but crucially however provide written evidence of the agreement.  Through the UK doctrine of freedom of contract, both parties are free to enter into whatever terms and conditions they want, without interference from the courts.  These terms and conditions could be written in whatever detail and format both parties are comfortable with and can range in complexity from a single sheet of A4 paper to a standard form of contract such as a Homeowner Contract or a Minor Works Contract.  There are many other standard forms of contract available, however, the nature and complexity of the vast majority of householder’s works will not require anything more complex than those contract types indicated above. Standard forms of contract can be ordered on line and vary in costs depending upon the selected contract.  For example a householder can purchase a JCT Homeowners Contract at a cost of around £20 (link), which given the disputes and costs that can be avoided is money extremely well spend.  These types of contract are written in a very understandable way so you do not need to be an expert in order to use them.  Also, standard forms of contract allow for adding and deleting of clauses, sections and words as deemed necessary by each party, prior to signature.  Just remember to undertake amendments carefully, as once the contract is signed, both parties are legally bound by the terms.

In the event that a dispute arises during or even after the works have been completed both parties can refer to the written contract to help them to resolve the dispute.  All too often disputes occur and indeed escalate because there is a difference of opinion about ‘what was said’, or ‘what was agreed’.  A simple written contract can therefore set out terms for costs, payment dates (and amounts), timeframes. More detailed contracts will stipulate procedures for variations, dispute resolution, insurance provisions, procedures for termination etc. Without a written contract both parties are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk and uncertainty should a dispute arise. This is something that householders often choose to ignore when undertaking building works in their homes, possibly as a result of lack of awareness, possibly ignorance, possibly not wanting to be viewed as ‘unfriendly’ by the building contractor and even possibly just plain acceptance that there just will not be a written contract.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is usually only after a dispute has occurred that a householder will reflect on why they did not enter into a written contract in the first place. By this point however it is too late!

The lesson here therefore has to be that once a householder discusses work (and costs) with a building contractor, they should ensure that they also make the building contractor aware that they plan to ask them to sign a written contract prior to the works commencing.  In order for this to happen the householder should be satisfied with the scope of work proposed, the timeframe suggested and of course the overall cost of the works, are what they expect and therefore what they are prepared to agree too.  This may require a number of weeks (possibly longer) of negotiation between both parties in order for them to arrive at mutually agreeable terms.  Once this happens both parties will understand what is expected of them and this will help to eliminate any uncertainty.  This in turn will reduce the possibility of disputes occurring and in any event, will provide a way of dealing with disputes should they arise.  If you are a householder planning an extension or a refurbishment or in fact any other building works to your home, in the immediate or near future it is worth taking the time to prepare and negotiate a written contract with your building contractor prior to works commencing for all of the reasons discussed above.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.