At risk of stating the obvious I wanted to note that building projects are extremely involving. My first project went very well because my mum was in charge of everything (as I was mostly away) but she is one of the most astute woman in all of Malawi so it's almost impossible to take her for a ride.
I have heard horror stories of people sending money to highly trusted relatives in order to have a project completed and finding all their money misspent. Some unscrupulous individuals have gone to the extent of taking photographs of someone else's building project and sending it to a relative abroad as confirmation that their house is making good way!
If you can be very present when you have a project going on it will be difficult for your builders to be dishonest or to waste time and resources. Here are a few things you will want to keep in mind:
Don't Pay Builders A Salary
If you pay your builders a fixed monthly salary they will spend an incredibly long time on doing everything. It's better to hire a foreman and receive a fixed quote for every job. If he commits to a fixed amount of money for building the foundation he will work very hard to finish the foundation so he can get paid. The same applies to other phases of your project.
Don't Leave Too Many Materials On Site
Firstly, thieves can be a major problem especially nowadays so if you leave too many bags of cement or any other materials on-site you will be a target. Leave the bare minimum there. If possible provide for one day at a time.
Monitor Your Builders
Towards the end of a building project you will have a multitude of tradesmen on-site in addition to your builders: tiling experts, painters, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and so on - all draining your time and financial resources.
For small items e.g. paint brushes or nails running out I give the tradesman cash and tell him to buy the required item. I request a receipt to be handed to me when the item has been purchased. For larger or more expensive items it's better to go with the tradesmen because if you go on your own you might be given lower quality or inappropriate items. If the builder goes on his own he may obtain an inflated receipt.
Recently, I was having all the bathrooms fitted and my plumber listed all the joinery that would be required to complete four bathrooms - we already had all the toilets, tubs, sinks, tissue and towel holders but by the time we walked out of the hardware shop I had paid MWK230,000! A few days later getting the waste pipes as well as the pipes for cold/hot water etc. cost MWK60,000. I couldn't believe how costly it all was but I was onsite 24-7 and it appeared that everything we bought was used.
I've also found that going to purchase items alongside your builder helps you to learn what goes into building a house. Everything is more complicated than it seems. Varnish isn't just varnish, there are many different types. Indeed, things as seemingly inconsequential as tile adhesive vary in quality from one brand to another.
I've shared a little of my experience above, I would summarise by stating that the more involved you get in a building project the more you will keep costs down (and the more you'll learn).
“No great manager or leader ever fell from heaven, its learned not inherited.” Tom Northup
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For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.