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Video: Project Management with David Aitken from DA Project Management

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James sits down with David Aitken from DA Project Management to talk about choosing a project home builder, the typical construction process, why you should use local builders and much more.

In this interview James and David chat about:

  • The role of a project manager
  • The typical construction process
  • What a design and construct builder is
  • What happens when a property has been cleared to be built
  • How the fit off stage works
  • The typical warranty periods on a new property
  • His top 3 tips when choosing a project home builder
  • Why you should use local builders
  • Plus so much more!

Read on below for the full transcription of our interview:

– G’day everybody. James from mrkts.com.au here, and today we have David Aitken with us from DA Project Management. David is highly experienced project manager and we’re very lucky to have him with us today. G’day David.

– James.

– Good afternoon. Nice to have you here. Dave, just to begin, lets have your CV in under one minute, if we can.

– Okay so after leaving school I completed a associate diploma in applied science in architectural technology. Then after that went to university and completed a Bachelor of Business, majoring in business management. Then got into the work force and worked for a number of building contractors on the contracting side on the Gold Coast, and in Sydney and in Los Angeles. In amongst that I moved from being a construction project manager to client side project manager. Then moved back to the Gold Coast, probably eleven years ago now, and that’s what I’ve been specializing in ever since, is client side project management and superintendent work.

– As you mentioned in your introduction, there are different sides to project management. There’s the clients side and then the construction side, so could you just give me a brief on what is project management?

– Okay, so a project manager is a person who’s responsible for the delivery and execution of one particular project.

– Okay. Project management is a pretty loose term and it applies to a lot of different industries, but where I’m operating is in the construction and development industry.

– So delivering on from fit outs of restaurants or cafes all the way through to building multi story towers?

– Correct.

– And you’ve had involvement across all of those?

– Across all those, commercial and residential yes.

– What was the difference between working in America and working here in Australia?

– Doesn’t matter where you do it, the process is all the same in terms of project management and delivery, they probably use different terms in America. For instance the term super intendant. I applied for a job as a super intendant in America and went through the whole interview process to find out that a super intendant is actually a site foreman in America.

– So, but what was your idea of a super?

– A super intendant in Australia is an individual who’s a party to a building contract who is employed effectively by the principal to administer the contract as an independent party.

– Okay. Then you went to the states, applied to be a super intendant, and then that turned out to be the foreman?

– Yes.

– So that would have been someone trying to make sure the site is organized and tidy and everyone’s following the rules?

– Yes.

– Where as really you just wanted to execute the building contract and ensure that both parties, on the higher level, making sure that they were fulfilling they’re side of the bargain.

– Correct.

– Very interesting. And that’s what it’s about, performance of obligations.

– We’ve discussed already the flexibility of what project manager is by definition.

– Yes.

– A project managers, when found in the property industry, where are they most prevalent?

– I’d say there’s two main project management roles. One would be for a building contractor. So there’s project management role where you’re responsible for construction and the coordination of subcontractors and physical works which are occurring on a building site. And the second, which is what I specialize in now, is client side project management, where you’re employed by an owner, or a principal, or a developer, to manage the construction process from their perspective and you’re effectively controlling the building contractor.

– Okay.

– So you know, on a particular development, me as the client side project manager would be dealing with contractors project manager on a daily basis.

– Okay, so they’re got their building side or their contractors side project manager, and then you guy coordinate to make sure that everybody’s keeping the project on course.

– Keeping the project on course, performing their obligations under the contract, and there’s a number of roles which I have to undertake under the contract as the super intendant.

– And do you have a separate contract for that or is that included in the building contract, or how does that work?

– There will typically be a separate agreement with the developer or building owner for the engagement of our services.

– Like a consultant?

– Like a consultant, yeah.

– Okay, understood.

– So if people are building their own house then, do they need to contract or get a consultancy agreement done with a project manager themselves separate to the builder? Say they go to Metrocon, or someone like that, how does that process work?

– You’re gonna need to go back a little bit.

– Okay.

– Typically project managers aren’t engaged for the construction of houses because people can’t warrant the costs of engaging a project manager against the cost of building a house. My personal opinion is that most houses, if they’re kind of a construction cost of around a million dollars or more, should actually have a project manager because I believe that a client side project manager would deliver the savings to offset their cost, and deliver a better outcome with time cost and quality to the person who’s building the house. But typically project managers aren’t engaged. So I’ve just finished one project which was a residential dwelling, but it was a six million dollar job, but I don’t do many residential dwellings.

– So could you run us through then, Dave, the construction process from start to finish, as best we can, on a house.

– On a house. Okay. So you’d get a block of land.

– Yep, acquisition.

– Acquisition, then you’d probably do your own research about the style of house and come up with a brief of what size you want it to be. Bedrooms, bathrooms, finishes, two story, one story, landscaping, pools, that type of thing. Then go and either deal with a design and construct builder or go and engage an architect to come up with a design for you.

– Design and construct builder, what is it?

– So it can be a builder who’s got an in house architect or drafting team, or something that they use for design work.

– Yeah.

– So you’d go and start working with them and say you’re gonna build my house for me, this is my brief, this is the amount of money that I roughly wanna spend.

– Mhm.

– They would then facilitate the design for you.

– Okay.

– And deliver the design, and once you say you’re happy with it, confirm the price and then you’d go ahead with that contractor to do the building as opposed to going and engaging an architect, coming up with a design, and then going out to tender with a few builders.

– That’s much more hands on, the second run. So people at home, the design and construct model would be like going to a Metricon, picking the style that you like, and then they’ve already done the design side of it, and then they construct.

– Correct.

– Okay.

– But there are also smaller builders who provide that service without having to go to one of the larger home builders.

– The cookie-cutter model?

– Yup.

– So before then, a good recommendation is do your research. So you wanna know the style of house before entering this whole process or before approaching the builder? Or is it good to speak to the builders while you’re doing your research?

– I think before approaching the builder so that you can give them some direction right from the start. Because where a lot of people come undone during the design process is that they’re coming up with new ideas constantly as the design’s being presented to them, and that’s makes, or elongates the design process. Where as if they’ve got an idea of the style of house and the size, they’re able to give a better brief to the person that’s designing it.

– We’ve acquired our land. We’ve got the style of our home sorted out. We’ve gone to a builder and decided on design and construct, so what happens there?

– Then they would be getting the, and this is at a high level, then they would be getting the authority approval for the dwelling to be constructed.

– Council?

– Council, well it depends on where the land is, but sometimes it’s council, sometimes it’s just engaging a building certifier.

– Or a certifier, okay.

– Your approvals, you’ve got your certifier sorted out. What’s next?

– Then the contractors engage and they would start work on site.

– Beautiful.

– So then there’s a process that construction goes through and it’s typically the same whether it’s a house or a large residential building in terms of the steps and the trades. It’s just the dollar value, and the program, and the construction methodology changes. The base methodology is pretty similar through both processes. So the first thing, a contractor would come on site and clear the site if there’s demolition require or clear vegetation of the site. Then lay the foundations for the building. If there was a pool to go in, the pool would go in before the foundations went in. Foundations go in, which would include the concrete slab, then the frame goes up, then the roof goes on, then there’s roughing in of services. Electrical, air conditioning, plumbing, security things like that. Then there’s the external cladding and the internal linings to go in, such as plaster board. Then progressing to paint, and then finishes start going in which would be tiling, joinery, paintwork.

– Say for example people go, well I know that this is what my floor plan is going to look like and I’m certain that cupboard’s gonna be there so I don’t need to worry about the design, changing it all. That’s something people should get their heads around, as you go through those processes.

– So the more information you can lock down before construction starts and before you engage a builder, the less risk there is for the price to vary. So if you’ve made your design decisions and you finish your selections at the start, and you’ve got a contractor locked into a price, it’s to your advantage to not then go and make changes during the construction process. Because then the builder will start charging variations and typically builders make money off of variations.

– And that’s when it can catch up.

– We’ve got the finishes going in. You’ve got the tile, the joinery, the appliances, the tap wear. What’s the next step? Where are we after?

– That’s the final stage, which is the fit off. Appliances, sanitary ware, kitchen appliances, final floor finishes if there’s tiles or floors, timber floors, in their living area, carpet. Then it’s a final clean, landscaping around the outside, and then handover.

– Then you’re in.

– You’re in.

– In Queensland, what is the typical warranty period for people?

– Typically, the building contractor will provide a 12 month defect liability period and then under the QBCC, which is the licensing authority. Major defects, the builders got a warranty for six years and nine months, and minor defects, the builder has got a liability for 12 months.

– Okay. So then the difference between those would be one, if the paint is scratched or something on completion, then that’s a defect that would be remedied under the first 12 month defect liability. And then the six year nine month is if, God forbid, the columns start to crumble.

– It would be some kind of structural issue or a major plumbing issue or a water leak.

– Yeah, so something that is detrimental to the health of the building.

– Correct.

– Okay.

– So the top three tips, I’ll ask, would be when people are approaching a project home builder what would be your three tips to be aware of?

– The most important things are be aware of your budget, to start with.

– I love it.

– Second would be, do your homework, as we discussed previously about what your design intention is and what your requirements are for your house. The third is not making any changes during construction.

– If you can prevent it.

– Yes.

– Okay.

– I’ll say a fourth one is picking a builder who has a good track record with quality and delivering project on budget and on time.

– Beautiful.

– So what are your three key principles as a project manager that you try and stick to?

– The three key principles: time, cost, and quality.

– Time, cost, and quality.

– Yes.

– Controlling those and managing those three factors.

– Yeah, so time effectively costs money. So without sacrificing quality, the quicker the build period, the less it’s going to cost for the contractor and also for you in terms of financing costs and supervision on site. Cost is obviously everyone’s most important consideration, and that cost being managed, and then quality. So quality of work, that’s a huge variance of quality of builders and subcontractors which are out there and you need to do your research to make sure that what you’re getting is or meets what your expectations are.

– And making sure that by making things go faster, you don’t then lose quality.

– Correct.

– And then don’t over spend.

– Correct.

– So it’s always the balancing act.

– And that’s what the advantage is in engaging a project manager, is to manage those three principles on your behalf.

– Because they have experience.

– Yes.

– And experience is paramount in the building industry.

– Yes.

– David, when the people at home are then trying to make some decisions on which contractors to appoint and which of these project home builders they want to appoint, what would you recommend would be some of the key tips for them to keep an eye out for and ensure they’re keeping a handle on?

– Okay, so first of all you wanna do your homework and have a bit of a brief of the size of house, what your expectations are in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms, pool, landscaping, one-story, two-story, those types of things. The style of the house, before you go and approach the builder. The next one is be aware of your budget. How much money have you got to spend? How much do you want to spend? And then also be aware of not overcapitalizing on the particular piece of land which you’re gonna build your house on. When you’re looking at particular builders, you wanna do bit of research in their track record. Have they done work in the area which you’re proposing to build? Do their employees supervisors have contractors work on the Gold Coast as opposed to all coming from Brisbane.

– Yeah.

– That type of thing and they’ve got a history of delivering good quality construction and don’t get complaints made against them about defective work. And the final one is, the most important, make your decisions up front, and once the contracts signed don’t make any changes.

– Don’t make any changes, very good.

– When people are appointing a contractor, should they use builders that are in the area because they maybe would have experience, or that’s not really what you focus on? You look at the other factors that you mentioned, your track records probably more important.

– I think you need to look at all of it, take it all into account.

– Okay, because then they may have a soil test that they’ve done next door or down the road, but you can’t then take that and use it, can you?

– No it has to be site specific.

– Because you had a case recently that I’m familiar with that you had done the soil test, dug the screw piles in, there was a certain amount budgeted, the screw piles are what hold up the foundation, and then you lost them because the soil was a bit different than what you had initially planned for.

– Yes.

– Well you didn’t personally but that’s just what happens in construction. So even if you do a site specific soil test, you’ve got to do it anyway, but just be aware that there are those hidden factors as well I suppose would be something to look out for.

– The biggest risk in any construction is the work in the ground because even though you do a soil test there are sometimes unknown things that occur when the foundations are going in. If you don’t make any changes that’s probably your biggest risk for variations once the foundations are ready to come out of the ground. Then the risk of additional costs drops right off.

– Yeah. Thank you very much David.

– You’re welcome.

– It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. We really appreciate your time. If you want any further information on the interview that we just had with David you can find us on the mrkts.com.au Facebook page, or the group is where the full interviews and blogs will be, and we look forward to talking to you soon. Thank you.

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