External redecoration advice

As you arrive home to your block and look up, are you thinking it could do with freshening up, a lick of paint to the flaky windows and a bit of TLC? It sounds as if you might be in line for the next external redecoration project.

In many buildings the lease dictates a frequency for such works while in others it may be more arbitrary, stating something along the lines of ’as often as is necessary’. The generally accepted frequency for most buildings is between five to seven years.

In an ideal world, this milestone should be considered by the RMC or property manager in good time, perhaps by inclusion in a PPM.  If this is the case then the preparations and funds required will be well in hand. If not, all is not lost and there is scope to have works underway next summer  - but there is no time to lose!

Timing

Bear in mind the need to comply with legislation, two statutory notices (Section 20 Notices) each of a month’s duration need to be issued, specifications and tenders need to be arranged and monies may need to be collected.

Even with money in the bank and no adverse objections from flat owners, on average it takes around four to five months from pressing ‘GO’ at the start of the process until the men are on site.

External works are best done in the summer months for obvious reasons. The duration of the works will depend on the building concerned and scope required but assuming anything other than the most simple job taking say, eight weeks, it is not uncommon to find projects running for up to six months. If you want the project completed by early October when the weather (normally) breaks, allow plenty of time to get the work done by starting as early as possible.

First steps

The first step is to appoint a firm of surveyors or similar to handle the process. If you don’t have an ongoing relationship with a firm seek proposals and interview companies with a track record of this type of work and especially with experience of leasehold property projects.

Proposals should contain initial observations specific to your block and be clear about the fee structure proposed, including what you will and won’t get for your money. References and details of previous projects of a similar nature are always very good barometers.

Once appointed, the firm should clarify the brief, prepare some ball park budgets and proceed to draft the specification for approval in line with some mutually agreed timescales.

In tandem, managing agents need to draw up and send the first consultation notice.

Points to consider

A large part of the cost of any external project is the scaffolding or similar access. Make sure that the scope of works to be done is comprehensive; there is nothing more frustrating than paying £1500 for scaffolding to fix a £150 leak a year after a major project has been finished.

A good yardstick is to ensure that every element is assessed in terms of whether, if left now, it can last the next five years or so until the next set of scaffolding goes up?

Review maintenance history. If there have been numerous leaks or such like around the building in recent years, make sure the surveyor has the details so they can properly address such underlying issues.

Consider phasing the works if the budget is tight. It is far better to do half a building comprehensively one year and the rest the following instead of trying to get away with a job of limited scope in one hit. This frequently leads to a lacklustre final result when the scaffolding comes down.

Make sure someone checks the leases to clarify who pays for what. If balcony surfaces and window units are demised to flat owners, while it is logical to have these attended to under the main project, provisions for obtaining their consent and payments need to be factored-in as the specification is drafted. The time involved will extend the programme, so the tenders need to make allowances for this to be done.

Obtaining bids

Take care in the selection of contractors invited to bid for the works. The final list should be such that all are of comparable size and appropriate to the job in hand. It is pointless asking a large firm with high overheads to bid alongside a selection of small traders and vice versa.

Any previously unknown firms should be vetted carefully by your surveyors. Even those nominated under consultation procedures may be rejected if they cannot demonstrate suitability.

Mindful of the often large sums involved, be sure the process is conducted fairly and honestly. Most firms dealing with such matters will invite bids via sealed tenders so check that your project will be done in this way. In our practice, clients are always invited to attend the tender-opening exercise for their own peace of mind.

Finally, be realistic on the costs submitted and the surveyor’s observations. From time to time, despite rigorous checks beforehand and as part of tender analysis, a contractor submits a low bid and steadfastly holds the price when short of work. If the job clearly can’t be done for the money concerned - heed the advice of your surveyor. If this situation arises and the bid is accepted, serious problems almost always arise as works progress in terms of quality of work, disputed claims for ‘extra’ costs and - in extreme cases - the insolvency of the contractor mid-works.