Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

How to keep building costs down

"Driblus Lucrere"

Isn’t it funny how when you don’t know how much you’ve eaten you don’t know how much you’ve eaten?

You know what I mean, you go to one of those nibbly do’s (no I don’t mean a romantic evening with a lion tamer) I am talking about one of those 'stand around and talk' receptions or opening thingys or maybe even a Tupperware party with the snobby set. Waiters flit around the gathered throng with plates full of tasty morsels. At the high class dos it is, of course, smoked salmon, oysters and cavier while the recent opening of the Heckmondwyke Wheeltappers Club had the usual toothpicks with skewered bright green onion, cubes of pineapple and processed cheese.

But then of course there’s the booze and that glass of rough red chateau trollup that is never empty. During an intense discussion over the merits of having an organ transplant in a Klungkung International Puskesmas your glass mysteriously fluctuates between a quarter and three quarters full. Just as you are getting a little low some unseen force comes and fills it up again.

After 2 hours of mindless chatter you feel it’s time to leave. You head for the door and, reaching the fresh air outside, you stumble down the steps and realise you’re as urinated as an expulsion of bowel gas and as stuffed as a taxidermists dog.

You are, of course, the guilty victim of nibblus engorgibus and without any warnings to tell you when to stop (such as an empty plate) you realise that over the last 2 hours you have eaten 3 kilos of sturgeons unborn babies, 38 of those yummy little meatballs with that piquante red sauce, 24 smoked salmon, 180 chickens livers, 3 jars of olives (don’t you just love those black olives?), 2 litres of that speckled creamy white stuff you couldn’t quite identify all washed down with 3 crates of rough Chilean red that somehow always tastes better when it’s free.

Do not build without predefined costings.

Unfortunately the circumstances can be very similar when you are building a house without having first obtained predetermined quotations although in this case the latin term is “dribblus lucrere” or as the Indonesians might say “Gerimis Uang”. Many people decide to build a house cheaply. They dispense with the professionals (don’t need them now do we?) and so they don’t get a Bill of Quantities or fixed price quotation before they start. The builder thinks all his Christmas’s have come at once, he is on the gravy train and manages to keep the job going for months endlessly asking for yet a bit more money until one day the bank rings you very politely, but with an ever so slight undertone of assertiveness, to ask if you have anything of value of which they might be able to take ownership. When you finally bother to work it all out you find you have paid out 4 times what the house should have cost. Such a situation is prone to give you that vultures in the stomach feeling.

It is prudent at this point to remember the inescapable wisdom of Wayan’s Law - the price increases to suit the wallet available.

This drip feed of money is particularly common when people are designing as they build “oh I’ll just add another room on here” or if they are endlessly making changes. It is also a common reason why so many people overcapitalise on a building, spending far more on the construction than they will ever be able to get back when they come to sell.

Define what you are going to build before you start and don't make changes.

When building it is rather a good idea to have a plan (“what!” I hear you think “a plan? This is Indonesia where on earth will I get one of them?”). Some might think it a rather boring exercise but professionals in the building world do it all the time. The trick is to make sure everything is covered before you start so there are no surprises along the way. Collect information, check everything, create a design, get the costs assessed, make adjustments then go back and check everything again. For example it is wise to investigate the land and have soil tests done so when the contractor starts building your foundations he isn’t going to come back and ask for a mere trillion extra roubles because the land was found to be unstable.

For builders a gravy train can be a real temptation. Give them an inch (sorry 2.54 centimetres) and they’ll take a mile (well 1.609 kilometres). Anything that might provide an opportunity will be grasped with fervour by those with that ever so tenacious PAG (poverty avoidance gene). ‘Changes as you go’ provide the chance for variations to the contract price which unfortunately always have a way of being in the upward direction (funny that).

“Oh just a minute” (work stops but workers are waiting and being paid)

“I think....” (ah some doubt and the clock is ticking)

“I want the bath over there.” (Ooh goody, goody changes will be needed to the plumbing, that toilet will have to be moved and all at uncontrolled rates.)

“Certainly madam, a good idea. We’ll have to take up the marble floor to move the drain but don’t worry that’s easy, that light is in the wrong place we can move that and the water pipes in that wall will have to be moved. May I also suggest you might like to remodel the ………..”

Do I hear the distinctive sound of nice large blobs of thick brown gravy dripping into a porcine feeding trough.

Negotiate fixed prices for the work and stick to them

It is also important to negotiate prices for completion of a job rather than paying labour on a day rate basis. Many people start by employing tukangs on day labour rates and then have problems as time passes and nothing seems to get done. Hours are lost walking around trying to find where people are and what they are doing. Negotiate a fixed price job and suddenly you’ll see people move faster than a vicar with a bee in his cassock, not only that they’ll be there till midnight and weekends won’t exist. The only problem then is that they may move so fast that, mysteriously, you will miss seeing the foundations being poured or that septic tank installed.

How to control building project costs:

If you wish to build within a tight budget or to a predetermined cost you might consider the following:

  1. Design the building completely before you start.
  2. Make sure EVERYTHING is included and is fully described in the contract documents both in the drawings and the Bill of Quantities. Do not forget to include the costs of the building permit, the connection to the electricity supply, water connection, etc.
  3. Avoid making changes after construction has started. Variations should only be in exceptional circumstances
  4. Get an independent fully comprehensive Bill of Quantities prepared by someone who is not going to bid for the job. This will make sure everything is included, will tell you how much the construction should cost and will also allow you to go through the itemised list and reduce costs by cutting out or reducing excessively expensive items.
  5. Get fixed price quotations for the work and hold the builder to them. Negotiate the contracts yourself.
  6. Make sure that the payment schedule is set in such a way that you have not paid too much up front or at each stage of progress.
  7. Get an independent progress assessment done before making progress payments. I have come across plenty of people who had a 60% completed house having already paid out 80% of the money and the builder has gone off to visit a distant relative who is seriously ill and won’t be back anytime soon.
  8. Buy expensive items such as air conditioners yourself to avoid commissions paid to intermediaries.

Don't pay the cheapest price, pay the right price

A couple of things to think about in this process. You need to pay the right price and not necessarily the cheapest price and this is what the independent Bill of Quantities will help you with. There are roofs collapsing all over Indonesia at the moment because people are saving money on cheap galvanised steel roof frames that are either not strong enough or poorly constructed. Remember you get what you pay for.

When you finally complete your house you might have saved enough money to have a house warming. It might be a good idea to do a buffet rather than holding a celebration of sturgeon infanticide. Somehow filling the plate in front of the gathered throng has a subtle way of stimulating a modicum of restraint.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2012
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

8 February 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180