As busy people with busy lives, renovating or building a home can be massively disruptive to our already-very-full schedules.
And as with anything you do for the first time, it can quickly become overwhelming and all-consuming, as you navigate a process you have little experience in.
I shared in a blog some time ago about the importance of having an agent on site. Many homeowners fall into the trap of believing their agent is their builder.
However, despite how lovely and professional any builder is, their main agenda is to protect their business. Sometimes this can be at odds with being your agent, representing your interests and needs.
So who checks the builder’s work? And keeps them accountable? Who checks that you are actually getting what you paid for?
It is my recommendation that, if you’re not proficient in the world of residential design and building, that you hire someone who is, to be your agent.
There are various professions in the industry who can perform this role for you. Each will take a slightly different tack at it, and it’s ultimately up to you to choose based on what type of support you’re seeking.
One profession that many think of is a Project Manager. I mean, it’s right there in the job title isn’t it? They manage your project.
However, Project Managers can and will do much more than simply be the person who checks in on the builder. How much more? Well, that’s what this blog will discuss.
Ben Larsson, of All In Project Management (AIPM), is a Project Manager who specialises in residential projects.
I asked Ben to tell us about the role of a Project Manager, and a bit about his business.
He gives us his big tips for getting your reno or build to go smoothly, and create the home you’re seeking.
And he has some great advice about the budget blowing mistakes he regularly sees homeowners make!
Ben – can you please tell us a bit about you?
I grew up on the Northern Rivers of NSW, completed a Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning at the beautiful University of Queensland and moved to Sydney 18 months before the Olympics. I’ve since completed a post-graduate certificate in Project Management and a Masters in Applied Finance and Investment.
I’ve a lovely English wife of 13 years, three boisterous and very noisy kids and a newly-acquired Staffie puppy – so I’ve been bumped from 5th to a distant 6th in the domestic pecking order.
My first professional role after moving to Sydney was assessing development applications at Woollahra Council. This was a terrific route into my initial role in property development at Mirvac, as it gave a great insight into the intimate workings of the planning system, and where the lurks and perks lay.
Mirvac called in late 2002 and presented as a massive opportunity to work with some of the best property and architecture minds in the business. At Mirvac, I was primarily absorbed with the rollout of the post-games development of the Olympic athletes village, which became the suburb of Newington.
Stints in the UK and back in Sydney with Jones Lang LaSalle followed before I saw an “All In Project Management”-sized hole in the market….
Why did you start your business, AIPM? What is AIPM about?
AIPM is about being hired by the client, representing the client, and taking full responsibility for delivering on behalf of the client.
I started AIPM after realising that there is a whole lot of risk, time, money and stress associated with the undertaking of substantial renovations, alterations, rebuilds and redevelopments.
I couldn’t find anyone in Sydney that was delivering a client-side project management service where the whole scheme – from concept to completion – was managed on the owner’s behalf.
As a result, busy people with huge levels of qualification and experience in other industries go about making fundamental mistakes early in their project that snowball and result in very nasty outcomes.
With my town planning and property development background, I saw a huge opportunity to take the time and risk out of residential projects on behalf of the homeowner or small developer, assemble the best architect/consultant team for that particular job, and oversee it on behalf of a highly accomplished, but otherwise very busy, client.
What type of projects do you mainly work on?
My current projects range from a knockdown and redevelopment of a large house in North Bondi into two semi-detached dwellings for the whole extended family … to substantial alterations and additions to a Seaforth house with views over Middle Harbour … to a 19 room student accommodation development adjacent to UNSW…to the development of a small apartment building in Maroubra … and a handful of other residential development schemes.
Some are projects of passion, undertaken to accommodate growing families.
Others are financially-driven developments designed to respond to commercial opportunities.
Regardless, the owner benefits from the knowledge that a specialist delivery agent is in the seat, representing their interests and delivering upon the agreed vision and built end product.
What role does a Project Manager perform? Why would a homeowner need you?
As I touched on earlier, people are not getting more and more free time every year – it’s going the other way.
With the volume of detail in a substantial residential project, the number of consultants to coordinate and strategic issues with both Council and neighbours to manage, not every home or land owner is going to be equipped to effectively manage their careers, families and a substantial project overlaid on top.
As such, the AIPM service is essentially a dedicated resource, tasked overall with identifying and addressing project risk, handling time intensive elements and smoothing project delivery.
The benefit is that there is a specialist handling a specialist role, allowing the architect to focus solely upon design and documentation without having to lift off to address non-design issues.
Further, the homeowner/landowner knows that their interests are being represented throughout the project from start to finish, allowing them to take care of the most important things in their lives.
How does this differ from, or not overlap, the work of other professionals on the project?
One of the key elements of the role is that it does nothing that any other consultant (including the architect) would otherwise specialise in.
It’s critical for the client-side Project Manager to procure the right architect and supporting consultants for that project and ensure that their scope of works and overall role is clearly defined.
Although not responsible for the design elements of a residential scheme, my support of the architect extends to ensuring that what is being designed is approvable by Council and reflects each of the Brief and budget.
In taking care of overall project coordination, the Project Manager allows the architect to focus upon his/her core discipline – design and documentation – without wasting time and energy dealing with Council, or briefing/hiring/coordinating a structural engineer, or geotechnical investigation, or BCA consultant etc.
Similarly, I’m not taking levels and producing surveys of various sites – but I’m keenly aware of which surveyors are reliable, cost-effective, capable and available for the type of work a particular project might require.
What are your top 3 big tips for getting it right in a reno or new build?
Tip 1: Don’t try and crack a coconut with a nutcracker
Hire the right professional(s) for your job. Architects are wrongly perceived as being expensive, but they bring a level of expertise, detail and design resolution that a draftsperson is just not capable or qualified to bring.
Tip 2: Ask yourself if you have the time, personality and inclination to manage the project yourself.
Consider whether having someone run it for you, allowing you to minimise costly mistakes and get some sleep at night, is a preferable option.
Tip 3: Don’t put too much stock in neighbour’s or friend’s statements of what their renovation cost to build on a rate per square metre.
Most rational people are incentivised to talk down the cost of their project to either cover up a bad mistake or to demonstrate what an excellent project manager they are.
Further, rates per square metre is a deeply flawed metric by which to compare projects, as it doesn’t take into account what’s included and what’s excluded (landscaping? pergolas? builder’s prelims/margin?), doesn’t take into account site conditions (steep/flat site?) and doesn’t take into account the state of the residential trades market at the time the project was tendered and let.
Where do you mainly see unexpected costs blowing out, mistakes being made or major stress being caused?
A lot of unanticipated cost comes from the third point made above – early expectations not being realistic and therefore not able to be met.
This is not to say that one’s dreams are unattainable and can’t be achieved.
As good architects know, good design doesn’t need to equate to big dollars.
A quality client Brief, developed early, refined and used as a template for objective-led design, is a huge weapon in the battle against scope creep and the realisation of one’s project objectives.
Having all parties on the same page from day one is so critical to good project outcomes.
It allows the architect to roam in the right directions, achieving client objectives while still being able to creatively respond to opportunities in orientation, topography, materials and functionality.
Another mistake frequently made is not identifying risk in each project stage prior to it starting, and allowing that risk to encompass the project.
You can’t address what you’re not aware of, so ensuring each party has a plan for addressing the most costly or likely project risk before it occurs leads to the minimisation of costly project errors.
What’s the most fun part of your job?
I must admit that sourcing and responding to new opportunities is a terrific part of the job.
Being able to step into a specialist delivery role on behalf of a new client who has the desire or need to undertake a substantial residential project, but not the experience or time, is pretty exciting.
Where do you work / service clients?
I set AIPM up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney as I live here, and there is a large, time-poor market right on the doorstep. Most of my projects are local, with one in the inner west and one in Seaforth, but I’m finding that my insight into eastern suburbs Council planning controls and local trades market is driving most of my new enquiry.
Where can people find you?
Best taking a look at www.aipm.net.au where there is a trove of information about the service, existing projects and how I can deliver.
People are often surprised to learn that I don’t charge for an initial consultation or chat about a project, but I’ve always believed that you’ve got to give something to get something, as well as demonstrating a capability and trustworthiness, before anyone is going to hire you.
After all, a significant residential project is a big undertaking, and asking someone to represent your interests and deliver on your family’s behalf, needs confidence in the professional involved.
Thanks so much Ben! So much experience and wisdom imparted in that advice!
Having one professional who acts on your behalf to be in control of all the moving and complex parts of your project can help you
- minimise surprises
- manage risk
- keep all team members on track and accountable
- avoid mistakes
- maximise opportunities
- maintain budget
- be on time
A Project Manager is one such industry professional that can be your agent, and ensure you get what you’re expecting and have paid for.
So did you realise a Project Manager could help you with your home project right from the outset? Any other surprises in this blog or a-ha moments? Pop your comments below – I’d love to hear.
And if you know anyone this blog could help, please share.
Ben Larsson is the Principal at All In Project Management.
Click here to see his website and get in touch with him.