Do you need a project manager when you are building a house in Spain?

The short answer is no you don’t. What you need is an architectural practice that offers a wrap-around service. Let me explain……….

When I say you don’t need a project manager what I mean is you don’t need someone who sits above the architect and the professional team coordinating and communicating.

This is because in Spain this job is done by the architect anyway. The architect carries the ultimate responsibility. The architect, acting on your behalf, will hold the contractor to account.

It’s true that some architects charge very little and do very little. Indeed some charge a lot and do very little!!! Either way they are responsible for the building and to make sure it complies with the building regulations and the specification that should be agreed with you.

A key measure of your architect’s attitude is the number of site visits they do. This is de -facto managing the project by being there monitoring, solving problems, making decisions, ensuring the quality of work is good. If they do very few site visits during the build in my opinion it is reckless on their behalf given the legal responsibilities they face. It’s also unethical because the architect represents the client (the developer) and the contractor needs their support.

So whilst you might be tempted to use a project manager to keep the architect on their toes in fact it is the architect themselves who needs to fulfil their responsibilities.

What about the fastidious bureaucracy countless visits to the town hall, dealing with payments for the building licence, checking regulations, dealing with the electricity suppliers, and the neighbours, reporting to you, getting your questions answered and so on?

We call this Comprehensive Care and Attention. It may or may not be what you think of as “project management”. We also call it a wrap-around service. If you are a foreigner you really need a local team of professionals you can trust to cover all this. But it’s not a “project manager” that you need who sits above the architect and coordinates. What you need is an understanding of what you, as a foreigner building in Spain, need and a willingness to cover it without being asked. A good architectural practice should cover this. Unless it is explicitly stated you should check….. especially if their fees look low.

What about the countless little design details that really make a difference but are so plentiful you can’t possibly cover them all yourself and in any case you don’t have the training and experience: making sure the width of the shelves coordinate with the width of the washing machine and dryer, checking the height of the sockets in the bedroom? Again it is the architect who should be on top of all this.

Actually it boils down to personality in my opinion. A good architect needs to really care and worry about these kind of things. No check list will cover it. Your architect needs to instinctively understand what you want and care about it.

What about helping you choose the finishes and installations, making sure everything coordinates and that you get the best value for money? There is plenty of work to do recommending specific models, pointing out the pros and cons of different options, helping you to research on your own, recommending and getting you excellent service amongst suppliers. For us this is part of the wrap around service.

Your general contractor also plays a project management role in coordinating all the materials, trades and suppliers. The project management aspect of what they do is part of their job. You do not need a project manager as well: You need a competent general contractor.

It is possible not to use a general contractor. By this I mean it is possible to contract all the materials, trades and suppliers yourself. “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” Alexander Pope.

This is what commonly happens in Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs and is why so many of those projects go way over budget. Sincerely we don’t recommend this at all although, possibly, if it is a small project, you are fluent in Spanish, have friends and contacts in the industry, and plenty of time it might be for you. If you do opt for this then maybe you do need a project manager or at least be aware that you yourself are the project manager. Our clear advice is don’t do it and here is why:

Building a home is a complex process with thousands of ingredients, decisions that are taken every minute, and many different trades. Here are just a few of the issues:
• Coordinating the different trades so they don’t interfere with each other’s work and are not on another job somewhere else when they are needed on site.
• Waste removal: paying for and coordinating waste removal and knowing which trades are discarding what kind of waste and when so it can all happen smoothly.
• Breakages and mistakes: the made to measure window gets broken in an accident but “no-one was there at the time”. It takes 2 months to order a new window and all the trades are expected on different jobs.
• Ordering materials: the special tiles have been ordered but they are 2 square metres short and the supplier has none left of that particular colour.

Furthermore, if you do this and contract all the materials and subcontractors yourself then you will assume the responsibility in law for the health and safety of the workers, the correct payment of their social security and countless other responsibilities. Ignorance is not a defence in law and no-one has the job of informing you. In any case many things may be outside of your control but you are still liable.

I assure you, as a foreigner in Spain in a different business culture, and legal system, you do not want to try this. Use a signal contractor with a proven track record. This general contractor should be responsible for everything under contract.

Author: Eco Vida Homes is a team of Architects, Technical Architects, Builders, an Engineer, and a Chartered Surveyor. We help people design and build beautiful energy efficient home, designed for Mediterranean livin, in Marbella and Southern Spain. There are two things that make us stand out: a sharp focus on our clients’ needs and everything we build is comfortable and energy efficiency………..It’s like Grand Designs………… only without the drama.

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