before you build

Owner builder – Managing the Building Process           

  • Creation Date: Tuesday, 14 May 2019

 11 April 2019

Owner-building can be managed in a number of different ways with the assistance of a variety of different professionals.  If you are not sure which way to go it may be useful to make several copies of your plan and put them out to tender with various providers to get a good idea of the costs involved.


At whatever level you are involved in building, it is essential to have contracts in place between you and all the parties in the building process.

  • Basic elements of a contract should include:
  • The objective of the contract.
  • An itemised list of everything that IS covered.
  • An itemised list of everything NOT covered.
  • Responsibilities & duties.
  • Responsibility for removal of rubble.
  • The costs should be itemised for each stage of the building process.
  • The time allocated for each stage of the building process.
  • Costs in respect of possible escalation of prices.
  • Costs relating to delays.
  • The terms of payment.
  • Retention.
  • When drawing up contracts it is essential to take into account the following:
  • Building Contractors
  • If you use a building contractor to supply, build and fit everything related to the building process this is not strictly-speaking owner building, however, some building contractors are happy to quote on, for example, just erecting the shell, whilst the owner-builder will get quotes for the plumbing, electricity, etc.
  • If you are going for a shell only, make sure that both you and the contractor have a contract in place that details exactly what is being provided and what is required. Does the contract, for example, include ceilings, plastering, glazing, etc? Who will arrange the plumbing and electrical work? Will you sub-contract out the built-in-cupboards, tiling, kitchen etc?
  • The devil is in the detail!
  • Subcontractors
  • Subcontractors are usually employed on a labour only basis or supply and fit or perform a combination of these functions. There are no fixed rules as to what the subcontractor can undertake.
  • One way of owner-building is to take your plan to one of the larger hardware departments who can supply you with a detailed, item-by-item quantity and costing plan.
  • The owner-builder can then subcontract a builder to erect the shell and subcontract other work out to various other service providers.
  • Sometimes owner-builders will just employ casual labour especially if you do know something about building and are able to keep an eagle eye on the process at all times.
  • Owner-builders can source and supply all the materials themselves – this way you can shop around to get the best prices, buy materials that are on specials, thus saving yourself some of your hard-earned money.
  • You may also elect to hire several different subcontractors, one to put up the shell, one for plumbing, one for roofing. Get as many references as you can from friends, families, people who are building houses. Haunt the building sites and try and speak to the owners and get their recommendations. You will probably get the most honest recommendations from those already involved in the process of building.
  • For each and every person involved in the building process, you need to have a contract in place itemising everything that is required of that particular subcontractor.

Other things to take into account for costing purposes:-


  • Bricklayers are usually involved in setting out and digging the foundations, mixing and pouring the concrete foundations, the foundation brickwork, backfilling and compacting, laying the damp-proof course, casting concrete slabs, all the main structural brickwork for setting in of doors and windows, gable ends and walls.
  • An experienced bricklayer with two labourers can lay between 600 to 800 plaster bricks or about 400 face bricks per day. Face bricks need careful attention as they will not be plastered and need to be laid very carefully with attention to evenness. Obviously, factors to take into consideration would be whether they are working from scaffolding, or if there is only one labourer to mix concrete, etc. If you have two bricklayers working on the site, three labourers should be able to mix enough mortar for them to work consistently and efficiently.


  • Many bricklayers are competent plasterers as well and can undertake a lot of the internal and external plasterwork as well. As a general rule one plasterer working with two labourers should be able to complete about 25 sq. m. of wall a day.


  • It is vital to the safety of your family to use the services of a competent registered electrician, one who is registered to work in your area and fully compliant and conversant with the local regulations.
  • Before you subcontract an electrician make sure both parties know who is going to pay the deposits to the local authority and other fees, who will arrange for the connection and official inspections. Applications for the mains connection and final inspection certificate should be organised well in advance. Contact your local authority to find out all requirements.
  • Usually, your sole responsibility will be to supply the light fittings.
  • Tiler
  • Usually an owner-builder will get in a professional tiler to do back-splashes, showers, bathrooms, kitchen, floors – however, you may choose to undertake these tasks or some of them yourself.
  • If you, as the owner-builder, are getting in a professional, make sure the contract includes all costs, for example, the tiles, grout and adhesive or if you supply the tiles, make sure you have cost in for the grout and tile adhesive.
  • These costs all mount up quickly.


  • Depending on the time you have available, usually, one subcontractor can be employed to do all of the carpentry work. This usually involves the erection of the roof structure as well as fitting fascias and barge boards. This can also include ceilings and cornices, hanging of doors, skirtings, pelmets, shelving, staircases, even kitchen and bathroom fittings if you are not employing a professional kitchen installer.


  • Choose your painter with caution. Visit the local paint shops and make enquiries of people they can recommend in your area. Some external paint finishes require specialists to achieve a certain look. Get as many recommendations and see first-hand for yourself what these look like. It is difficult to visualise by just looking at a swatch in a store. That beautiful palest soft pink on the little piece of paper in the store can look shocking on a whole wall!


It is common practice to withhold some monies until the completion of the building process is to your satisfaction. This is known as retention and is generally in the region of 5 – 10% of the value of the work completed. Ensure that the amount is included in the contract.

Usually, owner-builders obtain quotes from various suppliers and service providers in order to get the best prices.

With regard to the contractor you use to build, whether it is a building contract, project manager or scubbies (as subcontractors are known in the building industry in South Africa), owner-builders agree on lump-sum payments rather than an hourly rate.

Always keep detailed accounts of where the money is going. Keep a written record and ensure that the contractor or subcontractor signs his agreement with the amount each time he is paid.

You can obtain a standard building contract from Free Legal Docs which you can adjust to suit your requirements.