What I wish I had known by Sandy Mitchell – Entry 1

—28th June 2019

Sandy Mitchell has embarked on a building project at his much-loved country home, enlarging the small manor house he and his wife carefully rescued from dereliction 15 years ago — the project that gave birth to the RedBook Agency. With diggers newly arrived on site, he shares this first extract from his confessional diary.

I spend my working life advising clients on how best to launch their building projects and when I told a friend last week that my wife and I were about to start our own building works, he pointed out: “If anyone can get it right, it should be you, Sandy.”

So, in publishing this diary I am taking a risk. My reputation is on the line.

Why write it then? In short, it is self-medication. I know from first-hand experience how stressful building works can be — and how vital tranquillisers are. They are even more necessary if you are living in a house that is a building site, surrounded by giant beeping machines and growing mountains of dirt, as my family and I will be until the end of this year at least.

Diary writing should probably be clinically advised for all property owners doing building works. During the two-year restoration project of our country house, completed back in 2005, I wrote a regular column about it in Country Life magazine. I recall how often I was tempted to explode at unexpected building delays or surprise bills, but was saved from red-mist meltdown by the soothing discipline of recording events on paper.

I hope this personal diary will have a less selfish value, too. It is to share with readers what I wish I had known all those years ago when my wife and I undertook our restoration project, and the valuable lessons I have learned over the years through the RedBook business.

And here is the very first thing I wish I had known: what a truly alarming effect building inflation has on costs. Our new project, which will see little more than a basement as well as a family room and master-bedroom suite added to our old house, will be more expensive than rescuing and enlarging the entire property back in 2003. Inflation has raged in the building industry even as it has dwindled in the general economy over the past decade and a half. Had we foreseen this when we bought the house, we might have racked ourselves financially even further than we did at the time to make it bigger.

Why get the builders in again now? When we bought the house, our daughters were young. The tallest came up to my knee and we had mostly lived in a London flat until then so the space of our new house in the country seemed as infinite as the solar system. These days, the girls are nearer 6ft: the house has shrunk. I can forgive myself for failing to predict the rate of building inflation, but I really should have foreseen rampant “child inflation”.

There is no turning back now. We have signed the builders’ contract — a fat ring-binder full of clauses and sub-clauses — and the digging has started.

What can possibly go wrong?

The builders tell us in full confidence our project be finished on 20 December, “so we will be in by Christmas”, I explained breezily to my friend.

“Which Christmas?” he replied.

RedBook is a specialist consultancy that helps clients and their advisers select the perfect creative and technical team for significant property projects.

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