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HANDY MAC: Protect all parties

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Check contracts meticulously before launching into renovations and ensure all building has been appropriately approved

This week I am offering you some more guidelines on how to have a successful build. The price Obtain quotations from at least three reputable contractors. 

To compare costs, make sure each contractor is quoting on the same written specifications and conditions, and ensure the quotation includes VAT.  Be cautious of unrealistically low quotations. Do not begin any work while the price is still under negotiation.

Accepting the quotation Don’t sign acceptance unless the contractor’s offer is firm, in writing, clear, covers all your requirements and is signed.

Make sure the agreement includes the starting date, the approximate duration of the work, the anticipated completion date, cleaning up during the work, including the disposal of waste or rubble, the order in which the contractor will proceed while on your premises, and payment details.

Protect all parties by using a Master Builders South Africa or Master Builders Association-approved building contract. Insurance Your contractor should be insured for public liability and contract insurance.

Appropriate insurance should be agreed to cover damage to your existing building and contents. Inform your own insurance company that you are having building or renovations done.

Defects If you are unable to determine defects and quality workmanship, employ a building consultant or architect to monitor the construction. Ensure the appointed person has the expertise to undertake construction-related inspections.

Defects during the construction stage must be dealt with in terms of your contract document. Extra work and/or variations Establish the cost of any extra work you want the contractor to do, again in writing, before the work is carried out and confirm any changes, in writing, with both parties signing acceptance. 

Payment You usually should not be required to pay a deposit before work starts, or be asked to pay the wages of workers during the contract. With fairly large jobs, interim payments on completion of certain sections may be agreed on or specified in a contract or agreement.

A request for a progress payment should be accompanied by an invoice detailing the percentage and value of the work completed. For a small job, payment is usually made in one lump sum when the work is satisfactorily completed.

Before making the final payment, inspect the completed work and detail in writing your complaints or defects regarding workmanship or materials used. It is acceptable to withhold money for defects or incomplete work, but it is extremely unfair to withhold a large sum of money for minor defects.

Q and A

Ebrahim has a roofing problem:

Roof tiles may need to be uplifted to replace the underlay in ceilings. Picture: Supplied

Q: My house is 35 years old, about 240m², built of face brick with “Riviera” roof tiles. There are no roof leaks.The problem is the yellow underlay tile sheeting has become brittle and torn almost everywhere, especially on the north-facing side, where I have noticed quite a bit of dust on the ceiling floor – coming from the outside.

The ceiling has just one air vent. The ceiling floor is covered with 75mm pink Aerolite which is dusty in some places. It’s about 30 years old and looking good. Renewing the underlay means removing the roof tiles and replacing the battens. This scares me, though I can manage the cost. ABC roofing quoted me about R36000 last year. Other quotes were too expensive – about R60000. Can I just leave it out altogether – in other words, not replace the underlay? 

A: The plastic underlay has completely disintegrated in my own roof and I have decided not to replace it. The underlay is not there to stop water coming through, but to keep out the dust and to stop uplift. In fact, on new builds we now use a fibrous product, not plastic.

Although the plastic is not there to prevent the ingress of water it does help with small leaks and your 75mm Aerolite could be hiding a few small leaks. At this stage I would advise you not to touch the roof. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What does bother me, however, is the difference in the quotations you received.

If you do decide to reroof, ensure you check the quotes thoroughly – there is a reason someone is quoting half the price of the others. As I have said before, the thing to look for is what is not in the quote, rather than what is in it. Unfortunately being based in Cape Town I cannot recommend any Durban contractors. Check to see if there is a local roofing contractors’ association, or check in with your local Master Builders Association.

Jean asks:

Q: Please advise the best way to get rid of large black spots on the shower wall. Is it mildew, or what?

A: Jean sent some photos and it was easy to confirm mildew, a typical mainly winter problem while we are all trying to keep warm.

Nobody likes to keep their windows open when it is cold, but without good circulation of air the steam from the shower sticks to the walls and encourages the growth of mildew. Keep the bathroom well ventilated or have an extractor fitted to ensure a good airflow. 

There are many patented products on the market, but bleach or Dettol will remove it. However, you need to ensure you get it all off so it does not grow again. 

If the walls are quite old or the paint is fading, now is the time to repaint with a good quality, high acrylic paint. The grouting on the shower tiles also should possibly be redone.


I was talking about cracks the other day; Niva has a problem: There is a hairline crack in the wall between the lounge and family room, where an extension was built, probably more than 50 years ago, as I have been in the house for 46 years. I have filled it with Polyfilla several times, but it just keeps reappearing and I have to rescrape and refill. Would it be better to fill it with white Pratley’s putty? It is vertical jagged crack about 1.5m long.

Don replies: It is strange how cracks come and go. I have quoted on contracts, photographed the cracks and when I have gone back, the crack has disappeared. Buildings do move, usually during a change of season as ground conditions alter. For this type of crack, I would use a flexible filler – in theory the filler will expand and shrink as the building moves, and this type of filler is easy to work with.


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