Step 7: Your Role as the Project Manager

This is step 7 in a 10 step process uncovering whether Owner Building is right for you.

Acting as the project manager for the construction of your own home sounds a lot more professional and difficult than it really is. This isn’t to say that it’s easy, but if you’re well organised and have even a pinch of management ability, you’ll do just fine.

Most owner builders don’t touch a tool until long after their home is in lock-up, so above all else your first responsibility will be to hire the right sub-contractors and tradies and arrange for them to be on site on the right days.

Try to get at least three different quotes every time you are ready to hire a new team of subs. If you haven’t got a lot of great contacts in the building industry ask for references, and call them. Remember that opting for the lowest bid is not always the right choice. As the project manager you’ll constantly be playing a balancing act, looking for the perfect match of price and quality.


Have you got what it takes to give someone the sack?

Hiring the right tradies can be challenging, but unless you’ve got the personality for it, firing the wrong guy can be an even harder proposition. It’s unlikely that you’ll make it through the entire project without at least once having to give one of your workers the boot. Prepare yourself for this mentally in advance. It may be uncomfortable to tell someone that they’ve lost their job, but if you want to be the boss you’ll have to act like it when the time comes.

Speaking of having what it takes, you’ll be expelling a lot of time and energy doing your own project management. As a rule of thumb, count on around one hour of management for every full day “on the tools” for one of your workers. For example, if you’ve got five guys each putting in a 40-hr week, this would equate to roughly 20-25 hours of management work on your part.

Some tasks can be done over the phone or on the computer, such as ordering materials, coordinating with architects and building inspectors, or arranging schedules, but you will need to spend some time on site any way you shake it.


When the cat’s away the mice will play.

Preferably you’ll be on the work site at least one hour per day, and if you live far enough away that you won’t be able to physically check in a bare minimum of two or three times per week, you may want to consider hiring a general contractor.

Without a foreman checking in from time to time labourers are apt to slack off and cut corners on quality. If you’re not around to ensure that stages of your project are completed on time, much of the money you saved going DIY could fly right out the window.

Half the reason an owner builder wants to manage their own project in the first place is to make sure they get exactly what they want. But if you’re not there to keep on eye on things subcontractors will start to make decisions for you, which may cause issues down the line.

Even the least mechanically inclined can manage an owner build, but you’ve got to be there to do it. Project management is an active, not passive, affair.


Construction workers aren’t the tidiest of sorts.

Unless your mum will be stopping by to make sure that everyone cleans up their workspace, the responsibility for keeping your site clear and free of clutter will fall solely on your shoulders. A tidy work environment is important for a number of reasons, and at the top of the list is safety.

As we covered in Step #6, you won’t want to break ground until you’ve protected yourself with a comprehensive Construction and Public Liability policy, but having insurance protection is no excuse for not getting involved in accident prevention. Construction rubbish is not only a major cause of personal injury, but also a primary contributor to construction fires.

Insist that all of your workers maintain a clean work zone and tidy up at the end of each day. Lead by example and pick up a broom when you’re on site. Doing your own clean-up is an excellent way to trim a few bucks off your costs, especially if you’ve got plenty of free time and are on site with nothing to do.


Don’t be that person who’s lost and won’t ask for directions.

Every construction project is a learning process, even for experienced builders. It’s important to not let your ego get in the way when a problem arises that you don’t understand. Ask for help when you need it, you’d be surprised who will be willing to pitch in with free advice when they learn that you’ve got the guts to build your own house.

From sub-contractors to inspectors to suppliers, you’ll be surrounded by folks who are in the know. Don’t be shy. Tap into these resources.


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