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Starting a project can be a daunting task, especially when it’s related to a property you’ve just bought, having cost thousands of pounds! You may have a mortgage to pay, costs on the horizon and you need to get your renovation project finished so you can sell it or rent it out.
In this guide I’ll explain some of the key parts to successful renovation project management and help give you some of the basics to build upon no matter where you are in the project life-cycle.
Due to the scale of renovation project management I can only cover a few short topics in this article. If you would like to know more feel free to contact me at; email@example.com. As a qualified project manager I can provide advice every step of the way.
The first question to ask is ‘Do you have a project?’.
An obvious question but have a think about it. I will guarantee that you do. The definition of a project is an activity which is a unique endeavour undertaken in order to meet a specific set of objectives, which could be expressed in terms of a benefit, output or outcome.
Two very different situations but both are projects. You have a specific objective which is not ‘business as usual’.
In the following section I’m going to explain three phases of a project and provide some useful tips and processes you can use to deliver your new project!
To start your project you will need to answer the following questions:
You need to define the objective of the project to determine precisely what you want to achieve. For example with project number two, does the house simply need to be habitable or does it need to be a fully furnished house which is attractive to the very high end of the market?
Once this question is answered you can define the quality standards, e.g. budget finish and basics or high end with modern appliances? From here you can build the project budget and understand the project timescales.
The programme of works is the lifeblood of a project. What are you going to do and when are you going to do it? To build a programme you need to identify the tasks required, the sequence and the duration.
Unless you have programme software such as Microsoft Project I would just use a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I can walk you through the steps required to make a programme.
Pro Tip: Give yourself breathing space, if you think an activity will take one week, its likely it will actually take two. Make your programme realistic!
You may be excellent at DIY and can undertake all of the work necessary, however at some point you will need a trade for things such as electrical certificates, gas certificates, boiler repairs/ replacement etc.
If you need to appoint a trade I would suggest using an online portal such as Rated People. They use a rating system so you can check feedback and select the best trades available. Use the trades to get quotations and to also provide a scope of works.
If you don’t know what work is required then getting the trade to build a scope of works gives you a template to obtain prices against. You can also use this scope to check each item and ensure it is required, so you aren’t paying for unnecessary works.
When appointing trades you may need a contract if the value of works is large enough, as a minimum I email each trade with the specific scope of works they have quoted, making it clear what is required and also getting the timescales put in writing.
Pro Tip: If you have a good relationship from the estate agent you bought the property from (assuming you bought through an agent), ask them who they would recommend. A recommendation is invaluable.
To ensure your project is delivered to your standard you need to record the specification you require. For example if the quality is basic, your specification may be ‘cheap, no frills, white, hard wearing’.
If the quality is high end your specification may be ‘aluminium finish, stylish, higher price for a better quality, also hard wearing’. It’s important to record your specification so your trades know exactly what you expect.
If you want more control look to source all of the products yourself, passing them to the trades for installation only.
Pro Tip: View new-build houses from the large developers. You will see the latest designs and products which the market is demanding.
With an understanding of what you are trying to achieve and the budget, timescales and quality standards you can get started in earnest!
Now that the project is in full swing you will need to manage the process and ensure you are on track. Here are a few sections which will help you manage the delivery process.
The baseline for your project should be the original programme of works and budget. Whenever you check progress it should always be against this baseline of what you originally said you would achieve and when!
Depending on the length of the project you may wish to benchmark progress every day or every week. The more regular the better, providing it adds value.
Start off by reviewing what you planned to do on that day or week, has it been achieved? If not you are already behind schedule! Mark off how much has been complete and see how much is still remaining.
If you are behind schedule you will need to re-think. Will the activity which is late affect other activities? Could the whole programme of works be delayed? This is why you need to track against the baseline, to highlight if you are on track or way off.
You also need to track the budget. If you have completed 20% of the work you would roughly expect to have spent 20% of the budget. This isn’t always true but it’s a good indication.
To track the budget in detail you need to allocate a cost to each activity in your programme of works. When an activity is complete you can check whether it cost you more or less than you budgeted. If it cost more, how will you bring the remaining works under budget to compensate?
Pro Tip: Use an Excel spreadsheet to automatically calculate costs and progress. You don’t want to be doing it manually every day.
As you progress through the project you will need to pay trades. Use the principles above to check how much work has been done and how much should be paid.
Generally you should only pay for works which are 100% complete. If you have a contract in place with a builder you may pay in stages or at the end.
Always make sure trades are paid quickly, this builds trust and as I have personally found out, results in the trade giving you a 5* service, simply because they know they will get paid quickly!
Pro Tip: Use mobile banking. A lot of banking apps now allow you to pay people direct from your device. You can therefore pay them there and then!
If you are doing the work yourself you may think the quality is top notch, and it may be! If you aren’t sure get someone to have a look. They may see things which you don’t and help you deliver a better quality product.
If you are using trades make sure you are checking their work as they go along. For example with electrics and plumbing the work is often hidden and can’t be seen.
Make sure you inspect the works before it gets covered up, you don’t want a leaky pipe causing damage just because of a quick job. You should do site inspections every day to track progress, on a larger project weekly may be ok but the more frequent the better.
Take photos and record it for nostalgia if nothing else! This shows the trades that you are on top of the job, know what is happening and shows you can’t be fooled.
The quality of the finish can be make or break when trying to rent or sell a property so make sure it’s as good as you expect.
Pro Tip: If you can’t do an inspection yourself ask your trades to use WhatsApp, you can then have a video call and they can take you around the project.
Now that the project is in full swing don’t forget why you are doing the project in the first place! Make sure you keep an eye on the end result and are always one step ahead.
Are the works almost finished and the property will be ready to rent in 2 weeks? If so start getting a letting agent involved and if possible start marketing it. Do you want to hold an open day for viewings? Get it booked in and ready to go, don’t wait for the project to be finished.
Forward planning is critical to project success, you need to look ahead and see what needs to be done in one day, one week, one month. As Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.
Pro Tip: Take regular breaks from the day-to-day management to focus on the future plans. You may save one day during the project by working harder but if you forget to plan in the future you can easily cost yourself more.
Now that your project is getting to the end you will need to start wrapping things up and closing the project down. This is an important phase, for reasons explained below.
Snagging is a term used to describe the final review of the finished works before accepting handover and completion. For example if you have just had a new kitchen installed you would ‘Snag’ the kitchen to identify any areas where the quality isn’t up to standard. E.g. door handles not screwed down, this is a snag.
It’s important to do snagging whenever an element of works is finished because the trade will be on site waiting to get paid and wants to move onto the next job, which means you are far more likely to get the issues rectified.
If you pay the trade without snagging the work and find an issue later, it might be hard to get them back to fix it!
Pro Tip: Walk around the finished works with the trade, using the scope of works to check everything has been done and to your standards.
When the project is nearing completion and when it is complete, you will need to update your accounts with final figures. This is a really important step as it will tell you whether you have delivered the project to budget or not!
You shouldn’t have any surprises here as your regular checks would have highlighted any forecasted overspend.
Pro Tip: If you are under budget or over budget have a check to see why. You can then refine your budgeting for the next project with realistic figures.
Throughout the project you will have been using your programme of works to check on progress to see if you are ahead. Now is the ideal time to rationalise what has happened and see whether you finished on time.
Similarly to your accounts it’s a great time to see what went faster and what went slower than planned, giving you more information for the next project.
Pro Tip: When you have completed your programme of works, use the actual timescales involved to build a standard set of timescales. This means if you ever need to produce another programme of works you have set durations for each activity based on actual results!
With the project finished you should take time to think back over the project and identify lessons learnt. For example I learnt that it’s much better to pay a plumber than to do it myself! It saves time, reduces issues and saves on a lot of stress!
Have a think about what went well and what didn’t, what would you do differently on the next project and how would you improve.
Pro Tip: Keep these lessons and refer back to them when you are about to start the next one, you never know what nuggets of information you have forgot since.
Many thanks for reading this guide and I hope that you find it useful. Renovation project management can be an easy job or a difficult job and by implementing even just a few of the sections I have described it should become a lot easier.
If you would like to get in touch for more assistance/ help/ support feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
I am a qualified civil engineer (Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers) and project manager (Member of the Association for Project Management), working on large national infrastructure projects. I'm also a portfolio property investor with my wife in Shropshire.