Good builders and how to avoid the cowboys
This is a very topical subject and one which has been extensively covered by the media. Indeed, it even has its own TV programme! However, despite all this publicity, sadly and all too often, people are still being conned. Its not difficult to find good builders.
Having spent over 40 years in the construction industry, I will endeavour to explain how you can protect yourself from being conned or overcharged and help find good builders.
Never let anyone carry out work who has made their approach by just knocking on your door. They may present a good case for something they say they have seen, that puts you in imminent danger from falling debris from your roof or chimney, but don’t be fooled. Ask a neighbor or relative or a good builder to check.
If you are planning to have some work done and need a good builder, there are plenty of reputable websites, like ‘Check a Trade’, where you can find local tradesmen and check out their credentials and feedback.
Finding a reputable builder is the easy party – making sure you don’t overpay for the work can be more challenging.
Let’s say you are planning to have an extension built. You will firstly need to employ an Architect to prepare drawings. Usually these will be basic planning drawings which will only provide basic information. Many people then use these drawings to obtain building estimates – leaving a huge amount of interpretation for the builder!
To obtain ‘apples for apples’, accurate costings, you should also do the following-
Have drawings produced for the building control application- these drawings will be more detailed and are required to have all the information relevant to meeting the government’s laws on building. Send them to your Building Control department for approval- Once they are approved you know what you planning to build is safe and will conform to the latest regulations- (they are constantly changing)
Next, find a quantity surveyor and give them the drawings- they will produce an itemized bill of quantities, right down to the last screw.
When you have all the above – only then should you seek an estimate to build.
From your list of prospective builders, make some preliminary phone calls and sound them out. You can tell a huge amount from the basics – did they answer the phone efficiently and courteously? If you left a message, did they get back to you promptly? Were they helpful and did they take the time to find out what you really wanted?
The initial questions you could ask include:
Are they interested?
How long will the estimate take to produce?
If successful, when could they undertake the work?
As a rule, select three builders- it is often best to use local firms who will have a vested interest in maintaining their reputation in the area. Recommendations from other people you trust are also very helpful.
Send the short listed builders copies of all the documents- and ask them to prepare an estimate which provides an itemised cost for the bill of quantities. Once they see you have employed a quantity surveyor, they will know you are serious and be less likely to just use m2 rates.
A point to note is that good builders are usually busy and if they just receive a set of basic plans through the post, the likelihood is that you won’t even get a reply. Follow all the items above and you will.
When you get the costed, itemised bills of quantity back, they should be easy to decipher and enable you to compare how much is being charged by each respective builder.
During this process, you should expect the builders to want to come and look at the site, giving you the opportunity to meet them in person.
A sensible route would be to ask to see other works they have completed in the vicinity and to ask for references from previous customers.
Generally from three prices, two will be serious bidders and one may not need the work and quote an inflated cost based on chance
Once you have selected a builder- obtain a formal contract signed by both parties – you can find one on this site in pdf downloads
At any time you want to change an item of the work- let the builder know as soon as possible. You can issue a change of work form, also available in downloads.
Costing extra or changed work is straightforward because you will have an itemised bill of quantities to refer to.
If you are busy and do not want the hassle of dealing with any of the above, a way forward would be to consider employing a project manager. This doesn’t cost as much as you might expect it to and will enable you to benefit from the experience of someone who is used to and proficient in dealing with the aforementioned issues. Since the project manager will be able to appoint sub-contractors directly, the resulting savings can often be significant