Building Contractor Selection

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The moment you start thinking about building your own house, one of the most important questions you have to address is, who do I hire to construct the building? Your choice of the  building contractor determines the kind of building you get – By Ranti Adedeji

Building contractors are businessmen and their primary goal is to make money in the construction industry. Needless to say, the construction industry in the country is large enough to accommodate every interested individual, hence the various categories of building contractors all around. However, what determines the choice of a building contractor is the size and complexity of the project. Let me illustrate this with an experience I had a couple of years back.

I had bought a plot of land for a client in Ogombo, after Abraham Adesanya Estate along the Lekki-Epe expressway and we arranged to visit the site together one Saturday morning. After the necessary discussions we decided to start fencing the land and requested to know if there is anybody who can do the work. One of our hosts quickly informed us that there is a building contractor in the village which we requested to see so that he can start immediately. We were amazed to see an elderly bricklayer cuddling his tools and”ready to start another project.”

To them in that village, that is the only building contractor they know and whenever any construction is about to start in his neighbourhood, he is the first person to contact, after all, “contractor ni contractor nje” (a contractor is a contractor no matter how you see him). However, a contractor is more than a tradesman; apart from being a business person who supplies the equipment, labour and materials for construction works, he also coordinate site activities and interact with clients and suppliers.  He may select sub-contractors for electrical, plumbing, painting and any other works on site. The contractor may or may not have an engineering background, although most contractors are professional engineers, architects or builders. Big construction companies also employ a good number of engineers, architects, quantity surveyors or builders to provide professional services as might be required on site.

Now let me delve into the categories of building contractors around us. There are some who fall into the class of our gentleman described above. They are skillfully trained and have years of practical experience on the job, even though they are not educated, but you can trust some of them for accurate block-setting and plastering. Some of them can even close their eyes and carry-out building setting-out without error, even if you ask them to use blocks, instead of the convectional pegs, profiles, nails, ropes and builders square.

There are also semi-literate individuals who became building contractors after years of training in technical schools or handcraft training centres. They have studied courses like block-laying and concreting; draughtsmanship; general construction and similar building-related fields of study. Some in this group are very proficient in their trade and can communicate effectively with clients.

There are also graduates of engineering; architecture; building; quantity surveying; town and regional planning and such disciplines in tertiary institutions who became contractors after years of graduation and having garnered enough practical experience from construction companies. Most of them go ahead to become members of  professional bodies like Nigerian Institute of Building, NIOB; Nigerian Institute of Architects, NIA and Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE. These professionals can decide to become building contractors or practice as consultants in their chosen construction-related fields. Besides, on very large and complex projects, these professionals often come together to form a consortium of building contractors.

Meanwhile, there are prerequisites for building contractors on an average project. One basic attribute of a good building contractor is the ability to organize and manage a project by organising workers; delivery of materials and equipment; keeping track of expenses; maintaining a safe project site; and minimizing inconveniences to clients. He should also have an extensive knowledge of and experience in using the latest products and materials and help clients to make the selections that will work best for their project and budget.

He must be familiar with building regulations and town planning policies in the state where the project is located; otherwise he would work against the rules and your project can be marked down for demolition or incur huge penalty. What is his knowledge of the National Building Code?

He should have an understanding of the technical aspects of construction in details and knowing how houses work. They can assess a construction project and explain what is involved, as well as identify potential problems and provide solutions. good contractor knows their stuff in and out largely because of their training and years of industry experience. You need to ascertain this through your initial interaction with the contractor. And a good way to know if they have got this is the quality of advice you are given before the commencement of the project and not during or after the project has begun.

He is expected to have a deep knowledge of the contract documents and interpretation of drawings and specifications. Specifications are written documents for organizing the graphic information depicted on the drawings. All the construction details are shown on drawings as they relate to one another, with no attempt to separate diverse materials. It is the specifications that break down the interrelated information shown on drawings into organized, technical sections so that the contractors is able to identify the work to be performed. He should be able to identify discrepancies and bring them up for discussions with the architect and the client.

Finally, a building contractor should be able to maintain a stable and reliable crew; performs his craft in a skillful and professional manner; uses material efficiently and effectively; offer fair prices and provide adequate site supervision. Similarly, he should have a proven track record; you should be able to talk with his past customers when necessary, look at his previous works, look at the calibre of clients they have worked for and check out their reputation.

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