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If in doubt, DIY

In September 2012, 6 months after buying my first house, I got planning permission to add an upstairs on top of an existing single storey (flat roof) extension. This would allow us to add a third bedroom and an upstairs bathroom, but necessitated a re-wire, re-plumb, new boiler and re-locating the stairs. Simple! What follows is a shortened version of a blog entry I wrote in May 2013….

I have not overlooked the fact that, as a construction solicitor, I will be in for quite some mocking if this project goes wrong and I have inadequate recourse against my builder/professional team. However, now that I am in the client’s shoes, I am starkly reminded that clients often do not want a heavy handed, lengthy, complex document – and a local builder most certainly will not!

I suggested to my builder that we use the JCT Homeowner contract – an “industry standard” 11 page contract that is written in “plain English” and is very much intended to be used without legal advice. I can’t say I’m a fan of the contract and to be honest it didn’t do what I wanted it to, but I initially made the mistake of thinking that as it is “industry standard” my builder would sign up to it and that something would be better than nothing.

Luckily as it turns out, my builder wasn’t a fan either. So I decided to start with a blank piece of paper. Around this time I started tweeting with Sarah Fox and I learnt a bit more about her 500 Word Contract™*. This was really useful timing for me as it helped me to focus and make sure I included all the vitals in my contract. I was actually rather proud to have drafted a contract that, on final revision, is only 374 words long. I was delighted that Sarah agreed that it seemed to be a good contract!

Going back to basics has been an interesting exercise given that much of my day job revolves around a contract that (as I learnt [around that time]) is 85,000 words long in its standard form and, on average is amended by a 20,000 word Schedule of Amendments. That makes my contract, with a word count just 0.36% of that combined total, look potentially inadequate. Hopefully over the next few months I will prove that less is more.

*The 500 Word Contract™ is Sarah’s concept and is a training tool that she is working on. You can read more about it here – www.500words.co.uk
Post script: The building project is complete. I am delighted with the work but please don’t ask me if it was on time or on budget.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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