The DIY culture in Britain has lead to a number of people managing their own renovation projects. Although many people can be very successful in handling builders, budgeting the works and organising schedules with few issues, if you embark on this expensive and important project then it's important do do so with the correct knowledge and appreciation of the situation. There is a tendency in the general public to believe that running a renovation project is 'easy' and 'smooth' - two words that a professional would never use to describe a job of any size.

How you manage your project and your involvement in the works are something you should decide very early on, as there are a number of ways to organise your work force to minimise both costs and mistakes. The decision should also depend on the nature of the works and the size of the project - simple refurbishment jobs are more flexible in the way they can be managed, but more complicated and larger scale projects should most certainly be left to the professionals.

Managing a Builder
If you're not afraid to get your hands dirty and are confident in your own abilities both as a builder and as an organiser, you may consider doing the works yourself - with the help of builder or small team of builders. This means you should have a good knowledge of the building industry, building materials and technical know-how in construction beyond being able to hammer in a couple of nails. You should also be ready to be on site at all times, ensuring that the builders are carrying out the works safely and correctly and staying on schedule.

This kind of approach would only be advisable for small refurbishments of a simple nature (mostly redecorating, perhaps putting in a new doorway in an internal stud wall or installing a new bathroom with the help of a plumber - at most a straightforward extension if you are particularly confident). It would also be advisable in this kind of approach to see yourself as both a builder and a project manager - your role would be not only to manage the builders, but to keep an eye on the budget, place orders and pick up building materials.

Whatever your team of builders, it would be folly to enter into any kind of building project without some kind of formal agreement between you and your team. You should be confident in negotiating the price with the builders and writing a schedule of works. If you can put together a set of drawings, this would be helpful (some people hire a surveyor or architect for this stage of the works).

Being in charge of your own project in this 'DIY' way is a cost saver so long as everything runs smoothly - you should factor in the risk-factor that there might be problems, delays, mistakes or overlooked cost factors. Unexpected problems are not unlikely on any renovation project, as things become uncovered and the fabric of an old building starts to be unpicked. If the project is managed well, you could save on the cost of professional fees (designers, project managers and even contractors). However, you must be able to fully commit your own time to make up for the lack of vital project personnel.

DIY Project Management / Coordination
If you don't want to get right down into the building works and lack thorough knowledge of practical building, but still feel you can manage the works yourself, you might want to consider DIY project management. Designers usually refer to this service as Project Coordination - especially if there is a main contractor on site, as the contractor would be seeing as the project manager of his team, with the designer coordinating the builders, the client, the budget and the orders, ensuring the design is implemented correctly and liaising between the various parties involved.

We advise many of our clients against doing this as we don't feel that many people quite understand how much time they should be committing to being their own project manager. This really is a full-time job and you should be able to put in most of the working day into monitoring the works on site and ensuring works are being carried out correctly and on schedule. It is the role of the project manager to monitor the quality of the building works so you need to have at least a general knowledge of the industry. You should be meeting with the main contractor at least once a day (or more, depending on the nature of the works).

You should also ensure that the appropriate JCT contract is used, especially as the nature of the works become more detailed or more specialised. The contract should outline the responsibilities of you (the 'project manager') and the contractor - the contractor should be responsible for delivering information to his team, whereas your role becomes more of a coordinating and budgeting role. The exact role of each party will depend on the nature of the project and the specific details that you agree with the contractor and with your other advisors or hired specialists.

Overlooking problems or missing vital information on site could lead to problems being found later (or too late) and costs rising above the expected - unless you are fully committed and have plenty of available time and a strong skill set in organising and managing people and your budget, trying to be your own project manager could turn out to be a false economy. However, a good DIY project manager could save you a sizeable chunk on your budget as it is often the specialised professionals who's time comes at a cost.

Leave it to the Professionals
If hiring and managing builders is not something you feel confident you can do, it would be best to leave the project in the hands of a capable professional, such as an architect or interior designer who offers project coordination services - they will be able to find a builder and manage the whole project for you.

We advise most of our clients (and not just for personal gain) to leave it to the professionals. If you have an experienced and professional team behind you, you could find that you save both time and money on your refurbishment, for a number of reasons.
1. The professionals take the risk: if you are incorrectly advised or important cost factors are overlooked, it is down to the professionals to fix things.
2. An professional team is an efficient team: with years of experience, the professionals know the order that things should be done in to maximise efficiency. You will most likely have agreed on a deadline and a fixed rate for the works - it is in the interest of the professional builders and designers alike to finish the works on time.
3. Professionals pay less: almost all builders and designers make use of trade discounts and many will pass some form of discount to you so hiring a professional could even be saving you money, as surprising as it might seem.

For example, if you agree on a fixed rate for the building works labour but supply the materials yourself, it's likely that you will not only pay more for the materials but slightly more for the labour (as the builders add a contingency cost incase you supply them with materials they would not recommend themselves). Another example is that if you buy a kitchen through your designer, you could be saving more than the cost of the designer's fees just on one transaction - effectively covering the cost of the design fees.

Of course this is all project-specific and what works for one refurbishment may not apply on another. In many cases, hiring professionals is by far the most expensive route - however, if you lead a busy life or are in full-time employment, this may be the only realistic way of running a renovation project. If you opt for this route, it is essential to have a formal contract, clearly outlining the duties of each party and the Schedule of Works.

Even with a professional team, there is no reason you could not still take part in the process and be on site to see the progress - you just take less risk and more of a 'back seat'.

It is clear that in many cases, hiring a contractor, an architect, a designer, a structural engineer and a project manager will be the most expensive route overall. What our advice would be when making this decision is to ensure you have at least one professional advisor on your team who understands the process of the refurbishment, whether this be a main contractor that you trust, a well-organised interior designer acting as project coordinator or an architect that is available for ad-hoc advice as needed.

It is down to you to assess the nature of the works - if it is a simple project, you may not need a whole team of expensive specialists. However, if the project is complicated, you cannot afford to embark on this journey alone. Look at your available time, your budget, your skills and your deadline and how much risk you are willing to take personally in ensuring the success of the project.

With the right team and the right skills, your project will soon be on its way - right on budget.