The JCT’s contract for home extenders is a very useful document, not least because it turns a lot of those complicated words into drawings we can all understand

Homeowner? Got it in mind to stay put? Got it in mind to extend the living room, add a bedroom, spend the odd £60,000 forming a warm relationship with a builder (and an architect, of course)? Well then, aren’t you pleased the contract document folk have published a form of contract for homeowner and builder? One such is by the JCT.

It might seem depressing that while you and the builder (and architect, of course) are on the verge of forming a warm relationship, you are coaxed by these JCT folk to think about rows and disputes way off in the future, in the footings stage, or the roofing stage, or the plastering stage. Depressing since it’s almost like planning for the rows and disputes you and your future spouse will have at the honeymoon stage, or the wet-towel-on-the-bed stage, or the putting-the-top-on-the-toothpaste stage.

Nonetheless, the JCT’s explanatory notes for adjudicating domestic home extension disputes are useful. Take my word on this. They are also free. And on the web. Now, let me warn you home-extenders. Building construction rows at this level are always, without fail, emotional affairs. Rows at commercial level are emotional too, but only at level three on the marmaliser scale. Rows at home-extender level marmalise at level 10. Oh, one other thing; home-extender rows are ever so ordinary and very much to be expected.

The JCT homeowner building contract has a contractual provision entitling either party, owner or builder (and architect, of course) to call up an adjudicator. This poor soul is appointed by independent organisations such as the RICS, the RIBA or the NSCC. Their fee is £117.50. The disputants present their gripes to the adjudicator and explain how right they are and how wrong the other is. Sometimes the works will be inspected and questions will no doubt be put to the parties. It’s all over in 28 days. The adjudicator’s decision on each quarrel and the redress or remedy is binding. Actually, it’s temporarily binding: either party can take the dispute to litigation, if they wish. Few do.

Credit: Simone Lia

So, what’s the cost of this adjudicator person? The fee limit is £1,000. Moreover, that fee will be allocated by the adjudicator. Probably against the loser – unless the winner was a pain in the neck. So the winner could end up paying nothing for this dispute sorter outer person.

Some hints and tips: the idea is to get a decision one dispute at a time. Come with a barrowload of disputes and the adjudicator may refuse to act. Make sure, too, that your side of the story is neatly explained and supported by evidence. You are there to persuade the adjudicator, and the better your file of papers, the more the odds favour you.

Now, turn to commercial building work and give the JCT a pat on the back. Another freebie (on the JCT website) is “deciding on the appropriate JCT contract”. And lo, it has flow charts! I confess to you that I think, and always have thought, all contract documents are completely daft. Page after page of smallprint. Yes, yes I know you contract drafters have been trying to use plain English, but none of you have won a plain English award. Nor will you. Pictures are what is needed. That’s why I like the flow chart – we are on the way at last. Pictures, diagrams, sketches, even the odd cartoon, please. I really am serious. I was brought up with JCT1963, then JCT1980, 1998, and now 2005. Also with ICE, NEC,

GC Works, Fidic, Dom/1, Dom/2 and more besides. All beautifully crafted by lawyers and meant to be followed by plasterers. Builders are weaned on pictures. They use them every day. Honestly, there is no reason why the extension of time rules in JCT could not be in flow chart form. Turn the bumf into a handbook!

As to the guide itself, it’s ever so useful. Choose your weapon: traditional lump sum, measurement, cost-plus, design and build, management, partnering, frameworks, consultancy, subcontracts, sub-sub-contracts and preconstruction agreements. All we need to do now is scrap the lot and start again … with pictures. Hurrah for the Beano, Dandy, Dennis the Menace and plasterers.