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Project management options

An overview of the project management options available to you when building or renovating.

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What will influence your decision

When you decide to build a house, one of the first decisions you make will be who will manage the building project. The decision might be made for you. For example, if you choose a package offered by a group housing company, the project management will be part of the deal.

The factors that may influence your decision are:

  • The complexity of the project.
  • Whether your main contractor (the builder) prefers to work with a architect/designer/project manager, or prefers to manage the project under a full contract.
  • Your architect/designer’s preference to take a project only if they can manage it right through to the end.
  • How well each of the parties work with you and each other – you might choose to have different people managing different stages. But with this option you will need to be very clear where each person’s responsibility starts and ends.
  • The importance of regular site visits and monitoring.
  • The form of contract signed by the various parties.

What are the options?

There are many different ways to manage a house-building project - you have to come to an arrangement that suits you.

Generally the options are:

  • The registered architect or designer manages the entire project.
  • The registered architect or designer manages until building starts, then someone else (the main contractor, the quantity surveyor, the engineer, or you) takes over.
  • A project manager is provided by the company when you use a group, pre-built or kitset company.
  • The builder under a full contract manages the entire project (either the builder provides a design and build service, or you provide the plans and the builder manages the construction).
  • For renovations and alterations, one of the contractors – for example, the joiner putting in the new kitchen – manages the project.
  • You use another type of professional, such as the engineer or a quantity surveyor, to manage all, or part, of the project.
  • You hire a professional project manager.
  • You use a BRANZ Accredited Adviser.
  • You manage the entire project engaging the builder under a labour-only contract and engaging the subcontractors and suppliers when needed.
  • Whatever option you choose, make sure there is a written contract that clearly sets out the responsibilities of all the parties. It is a good idea to get the advice of a lawyer.

Whatever option you choose, make sure there is a written contract that clearly sets out the responsibilities of all the parties. It is a good idea to get the advice of a lawyer.

Advantages of using a project manager

Unless you have some understanding of the process of building a house, and have the time and energy, you are better to use someone who knows the industry and can make sure all the right steps are taken so that the house meets the Building Code requirements.

The manager can also take on the headaches and hassles involved in coordinating the consents, inspections, subcontractors and sorting out problems.

In summary, the advantages of having a professional manage the project are:

  • The professional knowledge and expertise they provide.
  • Reducing the technical, contractual and financial risks to you, for example, meeting progress payments on time.
  • Reducing the risk of litigation.
  • Freeing you from being obliged to monitor every step yourself.

When to engage the project manager

When to engage the project manager depends on the type of manager you use. If it is an architect or other type of designer they will be in at the start – for instance, they will want to see the section before they draw up any plans.

In all cases, it is best to involve your project manager as early as possible, possibly even before you buy a section.

A knowledgable project manager can advise you on the section - such as pointing out possible problems, like soft soil – and organise an engineer’s report for you. They can also organise resource consents, for example, if trees have to be removed before you even get to the designing and building stages.

Choosing and using a project manager

You need to choose someone who is reliable and who you can trust. One of the most effective ways to find someone is by word of mouth – ask around. People will soon let you know if they’ve had a bad experience with someone, or if they found someone who was particularly good.

Whoever you use, whether it’s the designer, builder or someone else, find out about their experience at managing projects. They might be good at building or designing but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the organisational skills, time or commitment to see your project through efficiently.

Make sure you are very clear about who is responsible for what.

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Case study

When Jason and Joan had a house built, they used a builder who claimed to be working under a labour-only contract, although he was responsible for buying most of the materials and organising the subcontractors. The builder left for a holiday in the middle of the project and a procession of other builders and subcontractors came and went. Then the person left in charge in the builder’s absence quit, leaving no one in charge.

After the house was finished, they noticed nails beginning to pop out of the vinyl in the kitchen area and that the floor was uneven. They contacted the floor layer who told them it was the builder’s fault. They contacted the builder who said it was a labour-only contract and to talk to the architect. The architect said the floor was wet when it was put in and as it dried the nails popped. They talked to the company that supplied the timber who offered to replace the timber at cost.

Finally they got an engineer to inspect and report on the house. He found some disastrous faults caused by poor workmanship – there were piles missing, and the deck was only held on by five bolts. Surprisingly, the house had been granted a code of compliance certificate from the council despite these problems. The owners say in future they would make sure they were dealing with only one builder who was prepared to assume responsibility for the project.

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