Renovating house: Individual trades vs combined - pros & cons

23 Mar 2019
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United Kingdom
My girlfriend and I have had an offer accepted on a 3 bed 1960s terraced house in outer London that we'd like to renovate before we move in.

There are several jobs that will need doing and I'm trying to work out the pros and cons of hiring individual trades directly vs having a single contractor (with expertise across the trades) to handle it.

The jobs that we plan to do are:
1) Convert integral garage into extra bedroom (garage already has an internal door to the rest of the house and has electrics and lighting) [ballpark £10k - if we can't fit all the jobs in our budget, we'll drop this job from the renovation]
2) Combine several small rooms on the ground floor (utility room / water cylinder cupboard / toilet / box room), demolishing non load-bearing walls to make an extra reception room with french windows onto the garden [ballpark £4k]
3) Rewire the house, replacing the 1960s fuse box (and moving out of the garage) and installing extra power points (2 new double-points per room in each of 3 beds / 2 receptions / kitchen)[ballpark £4k]
4) Replace hot air ducted heating with standard combi-boiler and radiators [ballpark £5k]
5) Replace bathroom (toilet, sink, bath+shower, flooring, tiling) [ballpark £4k]
6) Replace kitchen [ballpark £6k]
7) Replace carpets downstairs with wood floors [ballpark £2k]
8) Replace carpets upstairs with new carpet [ballpark £1k]
9) Repainting (3 beds / 2 receptions / kitchen) [ballpark £1k]

The ballparks are just that - very rough estimates for now.

I'd appreciate if anyone has views or experience on this? We're first time buyers, so a lot of unknowns for us, but I'm trying to cover as many details as possible to reduce the risks. On the plus side, we should have two months in our rented flat after we complete on the house, so we're aiming to leave the house empty to make it easier to complete the bigger jobs (rewiring / heating / anything involving removing walls).

If I can find a single contractor with expertise/contacts across the trades I see potential benefits in (a) a single point of contact; (b) easier to schedule different jobs that need doing without conflicting with other jobs; (c) possible price savings by scale of the work.

We're about to contact builders/etc to start getting estimates, but I thought I'd ask for experience on here first to see what other people have done in a similar position?

Thanks in advance for any help.

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If I couldn’t do any of that stuff myself, I’d be tempted to get individual quotes in, in order of priority. Get the electrics and heating done before the carpets obviously! Get a flooring contractor in for the floor and carpets, a decorator/handyman for the painting and room conversion etc. Perhaps a builder in for the garage conversion but as you say, leave that till last to see what you have left. A single contractor would be easier but he’s going to slap a premium on all those contractors he calls in.
If I can find a single contractor with expertise/contacts across the trades I see potential benefits in (a) a single point of contact; (b) easier to schedule different jobs that need doing without conflicting with other jobs; (c) possible price savings by scale of the work

A main contractor, like a general builder that mostly does extensions can do that. However they will sub contract the electrics, plumbing, plastering etc out. That means he will want say 20% margin to do so. But he will have tradesmen that work with each other and are probably all good....or he wouldnt keep them.

On the other hand, if you havent a clue and get poor trades that wont work with each and you get the scheduling wrong it could cost you quite a bit to get the right end result.

I would suggest getting individual trades but do your research. Try and get tradesmen that know each other. For example find an ekectrician thats local and ask if he can recommend other trades.

It is a tricky one
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It's a big misconception to think that paying individuals can get a cheaper job, by cutting out the builders uplift.

You won't be cutting out any builders margin, as generally the builder will tell his subcontractors what he will pay them, and the subcontractor either accepts or declines. But the subcontractor won't charge a client the same as what a builder pays him, he will charge whatever he can get, and that will be close to whatever the builder charges his clients.

There are also implications for responsibility for the work, timings, additional work etc, and this can have massive potential additional costs and time over-runs.

It's only worth sourcing individual trades if you know them, can trust them. If you don't then it's a massive gamble which could cost way more than any builder's or project managers 15 or 20% or timescales.

However for carpets and decoration, yes source your own contractors. Possibly for the rewire and hearing too, but otherwise keep this work with a general builder.

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