Be Your Own Project Manager

Take Charge of Your Home Building Venture as Project Manager

An owner builder gets involved in every aspect of the build
An owner builder gets involved in every aspect of the build as Project Manager

Anybody who is serious about owner building will want to have a degree of control to ensure that the project stays on track. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be hands-on. Taking on the role of project manager simply means that you are the chief coordinator. It also means that you can keep a close eye on finances to ensure that you don’t go over budget.

What Coordinating an Owner Building Project Entails

Briefly, any building project involves:

  • Drawing up plans according to the requirements of the National Building Regulations and the local authority,
  • Compiling a schedule of finishes according to the plans,
  • Quantifying and costing materials and labour according to the schedule of finishes,
  • Establishing a construction schedule,
  • Overseeing construction – or ensuring the competent person involved in your project does this,
  • Contacting the local authority at various stages to check building progress,
  • If you have a building bond, you will also have to notify the bank at various stages of the building project to be able to take “draws”.

In addition, because you are owner building, you will need to apply for an exemption from enrolling the house with the NHBRC.

In terms of the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act as amended in 2007, an owner builder is:

  1. a person who builds a home for occupation by himself/herself, or
  2. a person who is not a registered home builder (with the NHBRC) and who assists someone building a home for his/her own occupation.

The Act was initially promulgated in 1998 and did not specifically address the status of owner builders. Instead it stated that all home builders (in the business of building homes) had to register with the NHBRC. Since owner builders are not in the business of building homes, this became something of a loophole. It also became an issue with some financial institutions that refused to approve mortgage bonds unless a registered builder was in charge of the construction project. This can still be an issue, in spite of the fact that the law now allows owner builders to apply for NHBRC exemption.

Note that the NHBRC requires owner builders to retain ownership of the property for at least five years.

If you want to owner build and be your own project manager, you will need to complete a short multi-choice exam with the NHBRC to prove that you have adequate building knowledge. If you don’t, you will have to appoint an approved project manager.


In terms of the National Building Regulations, a competent person (usually an architect, architectural designer or draughtsman) must draw up plans and submit the application to build to the local authority. This means that as project manager, you will need to work very closely with the person you appoint.

Of course if you’re not keen on the idea of being project manager yourself, you could either employ one, or you could ask whoever does your plans to project manage the build for you.

Just remember that at the outset, you need to be sure of the exact role your competent person will play. This will impact both on the degree of responsibility this person takes on, and of course his or her fee.

Schedule of Finishes

Your architect (or whoever you appoint as the official competent person on site) will specify the materials that should be used for the build, in consultation with you. These will include everything from the bricks or blocks to be used, to finishes, like plaster and paint.

In addition to what is shown on the plans and working drawings, a schedule of finishes should include all the nuts and bolts (both literally and figuratively speaking), like ironmongery, taps and other bathroom fittings, cabinets to be fitted in bathrooms and kitchens and cupboards in bedrooms. The more detailed the schedule of finishes is, the more accurate the quantifying and costing exercise will be.

Quantifying and Costing

Quantity surveyors are trained to accurately quantify and cost building projects. Professional project managers and companies that offer various computerized services for the construction industry, also offer this service. But there is no reason why an owner builder shouldn’t do these estimates himself – or herself. It certainly makes sense if you are planning to be your own project manager. You can do this manually, or use a computer-generated costing.

Here are some pointers:

  • Don’t be tempted to work on a cost per square metre. While it will give you an idea of the size house you can afford to build, too many factors will throw this type of thumb suck calculation out.
  • When it comes to concrete, bricks and mortar, you will need to estimate according to surface areas, depth and so on. Owner Building in South Africa has some useful tables that will help you to establish how many bricks or blocks you will need per square metre as well as the volume of mortar you will need, and how to estimate plaster requirements.
  • In addition to materials, labour must also be costed in the equation, according to the general rates paid in your area – which should be at least the minimum wage specified by law (specifically the Basic Conditions of Employment Act).
  • When you cost materials, always get two or three quotes or prices, and check availability. If items are going to be delivered, make sure you add this cost in.
  • Don’t forget to cost in things like plant hire, storage sheds, site toilets, and water and electricity connection fees.

Construction Schedule

The construction schedule is what takes most coordination. While there is an obvious sequence of activities, from setting out to completion, many of the individual activities overlap. For instance, the roof may be tiled at the same time as the electrician is completing the wiring. This means that you, as project manager, will need to make sure you know exactly who must be on site when.

A simple bar chart will enable you to plan when – in real time – activities should be scheduled. As an example, in the first week you will get the site ready (or if you are employing a building contractor, he will), and in the second week you will set the building out. Once this is complete the foundations can be dug, which might be towards the end of the second week. At this point the local authority will need to inspect the trenches. If a site visit is not arranged timeously with the municipality, it can throw the whole schedule out, because you won’t be able to cast the concrete until you get the official go-ahead.

As project manager you will also have to monitor progress. If anything is delayed, you will have to take immediate action to ensure that future activities will not be affected. For instance if the brickwork has not been completed, and the glass for windows has been ordered for a specific date, you should change the delivery date. Similarly, the electrician won’t be able to chase into walls if they aren’t yet finished!

Ultimately, anyone planning to project manage a build should have some idea of the construction process, and the time to be able to spend organizing and checking on other people.

About Penny

Penny Swift is a highly regarded journalist and author of books relating to homes and construction.

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  1. Bobby lombard

    Good day please I need some help with planning and building of a project in south africa I need the cost and regulations for building and managing my own project.

  2. Bobby it’s impossible to give a costing on a project without materials being quantified. In terms of regulations, you need to comply with the National Building Regulations that are available from the SABS. Here’s a link that will give you most of the information about the building regulations that you will need. Unfortunately the regs are not free, but on the site I have linked you to, you can download a previous version of the regs, that will give you some insight into what is expected. I hope that this helps.

  3. Hi Penny,

    I want to be the project manager of our building project. Where do is start, is there a course that I can do through your organisation. Do I register myself.

  4. Hi Yolande,
    Unfortunately we do not have the resources to offer any courses. Your best place to start is the Master Builders SA and the CETA Colleges. If you have a basic knowledge of building you can register with the NHBRC as an “Owner Builder” and get your “Competent Person” to oversee the build with you. Take note that if you do register as an “owner builder” you undertake to not sell your house within 5 years

  5. Hi Penny, very interesting, so if I build my own home with no bond, I don’t need to register with NHBRC, correct?
    Would you be able to give me an estimate on architects fees per m2 in George area, as well as draughtsman fees, I am building a 100 sqm timber home on poles. Much appreciated. Alex

  6. If you plan to build your own house then you MUST apply for an exemption from the NHBRC. They do a relatively simply multiple choice test to ensure you know something about building. If you have an exemption you don’t have to enroll your house and pay those fees to the NHBRC.
    In terms of fees, I’m really sorry but I don’t know. Best idea is to contact a few professionals in the area.

  7. hi can you please tell me what is the minimum grade of construction qualifaction I need to have to do a big housing project? can you please let me know as well what different qualifactions are with the different grades please?

    thank you

  8. There are so many different types of construction projects it’s impossible to say. If you thinking of studying construction, then you should look at what the universities of technology and FET colleges offer.

  9. Hi Penny,
    I looked through the NHBRC owner builder exemption check sheet, there are 2 items that concern me, the one says I cannot sell the house for 5 years and the other says I may never be able to sell the house as I wont get a completion certificate needed to e able to sell the property,
    Please advise

  10. If you opt to owner build you CANNOT sell for five years. That is their way of preventing owner builders from spec building. I’m not sure about completion certificates but assume that only registered houses would be given a completion certificate. If you are owner building you don’t have to be registered and don’t have to enrol the house. You simply have to get the exemption. You could sell the house but may run into problems if the bank your buyer wants to get a bond from insists on NHBRC certification.

  11. I only need the cost and regulations fur building and managing my own project.Thanks.

  12. HI Penny,
    A company is playing the role of a facilitator, As the facilitator, it ensures that all the relevant entities are brought together to complete the project. The facilitator arranges for ground to be made available for low-cost housing, has a Land Availability agreement compiled and signed between the land sponsor and government (plus municipality), gets government to commit to the provision of funding for the construction of low-cost housing, ensures that services etc are installed and ultimately the serviced Erf is transferred into the name of a beneficiary.
    The beneficiary signs an agreement and becomes part of a body corporate – According to the agreement he may not sell the property for 7 years.
    The beneficiary is supposed to become a “Owner Builder” but does not necessarily know much about building.
    The facilitator has a rights building methodology that has been designed to be used by unskilled labour and that has been approved for a certain set of housing designs by the NHBRC.

    The facilitator, in acting on behalf of the Owner and with support of the beneficiary community provides labour comprising 100% our of the local community members.
    To ensure that the building is constructed according to the building plans and building methodology, the labour force is trained on site as part of the construction process to construct the house. A project manager is trained on site to manage the complete project (could be 12 houses in a project), A site supervisor as well as a Quality Controller is trained on site to manage the specific house that is being constructed .Quality Controllers will ultimately quality control 3 houses at a time with set elements to be signed off before further progress may be made (over and above review of building methods being applied). Site supervisor only controls the one house under his control

    The first house is done as a training program under the guidance of the training entity, The second house is done still under view and guidance of the training entity but under the the management of the project manager, Site Supervisor and quality control of the trainee quality controller.
    The third house is done with little to no intervention (apart from fixing of errors) by the training entity under the control of the project manager, Site Supervisor and quality controller.
    The fourth house acts at the certification process which either results in the laborers as well as management team being certified as competent builders of the specific house type and building methodology ONLY.

    All material , labour , training and other related payments are managed by the facilitator and will only take p[lace on approval signature of the owner. On final completion the key is handed over along with the ownership responsibility acknowledgement certificate and the Municipal occupation certificate once the project has reached the phased completion stage.

    The owner is the legal holder of the title deed to the Erf and beneficiary of ground and government funding

    (keeping in mind that the construction methodology has been approved by the NHBRC and a Rational Design has been done and accepted for the house designs and competent persons are brought onto site to certify foundations, roof structure etc at the relevant times and all staged sign-offs are done by municipal inspectors as per requirements)

    > Is the owner seen as an “Owner builder” and can he accordingly apply for exemption
    > Does the Owner need to write a test of any nature – aprat from stage sign-off he is not going to be overly involved
    > Does the facilitator have to be registered with the NHBRC as a CONTRACTOR and if so, why
    Does the Facilitator have to write a test of any nature – apart from progress and payment management and sign-off he is not going to be overly involved
    > Does the Training Entity require any form of NHBRC Certification
    > Should the trained team at any stage apply for NHBRC certification and if so, who in the team should do so and why – they are all effectively part of a team building their own homes under a training program

    Your thoughts will be appreciated

  13. This sounds like an assignment. I really don’t have time to do other people’s work for them. All this information will be on the NHBRC web site, if you’re lucky enough to find it in working order!

  14. Please contact the NHBRC.

  15. Hi,
    I have a stand I want to build a house on. Due to financial reasons I want to build the house in phases. Id like to subcontract the different phases starting with the foundation then later walls and slab, roofing and finally get plumbers and electricians.
    Any idea on regulatory issues even though for each phase I plan to contract registered professionals. Is there time lines for completion after getting plans approved?
    Your site is most helpful

  16. Hi Penny
    I am in Bloemfontein in the Free State. I have applied for an exemption but I think the local office is playing tricks to get my feedback so that they may get kickbacks. How long would an exemption be given and where can I send my complaint if I suspect fowl play. They promised that my application would be dealt with at a meeting of the board in gauteng around week of 12th July 2016 but no feedback has come yet. I then decided to start construction and they came and stopped me that I must wait for the approval please assist.

  17. Do you have approved plans from the municipality? And have you done the NHBRC test required for exemption? If the answer is yes to both questions, then get a lawyer to write a letter and contact your local newspaper.

  18. Some municipalities impose time constraints. Find out what the policy is within your local authority.

  19. I have an idea, find a builder to pay labour charges only,R650m2 buy your materials\fittings which your builder will install,some will do electrical\plumbing, e.g.200m2 house R130,000,bricks by calculator 44,000=R50,000,sanitaryware R25,000, all cupboards R30,000 harvie roof tiles R30,000, windows\doorsR20,000 gutters\downpipes R10,000 tiles R10,000 roof trusses\boards R10,000 plastering R10,000 paints R5,000 tiling flooring R25,000, electrician\plumbing R75,000 single remote garage door R10,000 perimiter wall remote gate R40,000 foundation R20,000 light switches\ fittings plugs grand total R500,000, in comparison @R6,500,00m2 = R1,3mill minimum,standard fittings!! please?

  20. Hi Bobby Julian replying,if you read my comments # 1 these r true facts and figures,the only thing is also to work with a decent architect and shop around locally 4 your materials\fittings which your builder should install 4 u if you have not yet done so since your enquiry,hope this assists u.

  21. Penny,I can with all due respect,respond to answer to Bobby as I am going through with this very process,I have quantified the following,bricks by calculator web,materials for foundation\plastering,roof trusses\boards\tiles\guttering and interior fittings,all information from advisors\websites,hope this helps.

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