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Choosing a builder

Why you should choose your builder carefully

If you are thinking of having building work done, you should choose your builder carefully. It is best to check whoever you are going to choose as this is one of the biggest investments you are likely to make. Many people spend more time planning a holiday than they do considering their options when it comes to building work. Yet the building work may cost ten times as much and involve their most prized asset - the home.

When you commission a builder it's up to you as 'project manager' - for in most cases, that's what you are - to ensure that you get the results you want. You are also legally responsible for making sure that the work complies with all relevant regulations.

Price versus Quality

What‟s the point in having work done cheaply if it results in shoddy workmanship using sub-standard materials? The money you 'save' may end up being spent, along with a lot more, when you have to get another builder in to put things right.
What you want is a builder who will do a quality job, at a sensible price. After all, you will remember the quality of your building work long after you've forgotten how much it cost.

How to avoid the Cowboy Builder

Cowboy builders are very much in the minority, but they are out there; so how can you protect yourself?

Treat builders with suspicion if they:

  • avoid giving you references or details of previous jobs
  • offer you a 'cheap' deal for cash-in-hand.
  • suggest you can avoid paying VAT for cash
  • confuse you with jargon and complicated explanations
  • insist that a written contract is not necessary
  • say they can start tomorrow (a good builder is usually busy)
  • can't give you costings because 'things may change'
  • laugh when you suggest showing them plans
  • give you a surprisingly low quote
  • can only be reached by mobile phone and don't have an address on their card
  • assure you the details are their problem and you don't need to worry
  • knock the opposition
  • directly approach you offering to do building work (you should always make the first approach)

Whatever you do, follow our simple guidelines for choosing and working with a builder.

Our guide to choosing the right builder

Consider employing a professional agent to advise you

This could be an architect, surveyor, engineer or architectural technician. Talk to them about the service they will provide. Is it just producing plans for Planning and Building Control approvals, or will they provide full working drawings showing exactly how the project is to be built with a detailed specification that the builder can follow? Will they supervise the work on site on your behalf? Whether you employ a professional or not, do make sure that you have the relevant approvals and remember to tell Building Control when you intend to start work.

Start with referrals from family or friends

If possible, start by getting a referral from family or friends who have recently had work done, or from your professional advisor. But don't stop there. Follow the rest of these steps even for a builder who was referred.

Ask for references and check them!

Ask each builder for two or three references for the type of work you are planning. Contact these people and find out how happy they are with the work, and the builders conduct. If possible go and view some of the work.

Does the Builder belong to a respected Trade Body?

Always try to use builders or tradesmen who are members of trade associations. There are no guarantees about the quality of their work but most should be reputable. These associations carry out checks on the builders before they gain membership status, therefore minimising the risk of choosing a 'cowboy builder'. All the associations have a code of conduct that members should follow. Check the membership criteria - and make sure they really are a member, rogue builders have been known to falsely claim membership.

Obtain written estimates

Ask two or three builders for estimates in writing. Be clear about what you want done and ask for a written specification and estimate.

Agree the work and put it in writing

You should make an agreement or contract in writing with your builder. It should outline the work to be done, date of completion, security and safety, catering and lavatory arrangements, disposal of waste materials, hours of working and so on.

Make sure there is adequate insurance cover

Ask to see the builder's public liability insurance certificate. The building work may affect your home and contents insurance so contact your own insurance company and check with them.

Never pay in advance

Deposits are usually only payable where specific or custom-made materials are required. Otherwise, avoid paying deposits, and agree any stage payment schedule in writing. Avoid dealing in cash. Don't pay the builder all of the money until a completion inspection has been carried out by Building Control and we have issued a completion certificate. The Building Control surveyor might identify defects during the completion inspection and if your builder has moved on it may be difficult for you to get him back to your job.

Beware - The VAT-free ‘deal’

A VAT-free 'deal' means one of two things. Either the builder does not do much business per annum, or alternatively he is avoiding his legal tax liabilities. You need to ask yourself - 'Is this builder large enough to be able to complete my work', 'Will he be around if any of the work requires repair?', and 'How can I have a valid contract if there is no proof of payment'? Remember! - It's worth taking the time to choose the builders who are most suitable for you and your building needs. The above advice should help to keep you out of the way of 'trouble traders' AND save you both time and money.

Consider taking out a warranty

For added piece of mind consider a warranty it provides you with protection whilst choosing a builder, during the construction period and for ten years after completion of the work.

Avoid changes to the design

Avoid adding to the job or changing your mind halfway through - it will usually cost more and cause delays. If you must make changes, confirm them in writing.

If problems arise, tell the builder straight away

If any problems arise whilst work is in progress, or you are unhappy about anything, talk to your builder right away. If the builder is a member of a trade association they may have a mediation or arbitration service. You can of course ask our surveyors for advice but you must remember our comments will be limited to seeing that the work meets the minimum requirements of the Building Regulations. We cannot provide a quality control service and should not be used as a substitute for your own clerk of works or other professional advisor.

We are here to help. If you are in any doubt over the requirements of the Building Regulations, or if you need further information, please telephone or visit our office. Our details are:

DEFA Planning and Building Control

Murray House

Mount Havelock


Isle of Man


Telephone:+44 1624 685902

Email:Send Email

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