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What to ask before hiring a builder

A large part of our surveyors’ role is to be out on site each day checking the progress of building projects. We offer advice and check the work meets the building regulations and that it will be safe for you to live in. If you are about to embark on your own building project, we hope that this list of questions will help you choose the best quality builder for your job. 

How long have you been in business?

Employing a builder with an established track record and experience is definitely worthwhile.  Paperwork should help you establish how long they have been in business. Check that public liability insurance is up to date too. Many builders will be members of organisations such the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). In this case the builder has to go through an assessment in order to join. However, years of experience can be more valuable than associate membership so don't be put off just because a builder isn't a member of a professional organisation.

Have you done similar jobs to mine before?

Always make sure they have worked on similar projects to yours. If you are considering a loft conversion for example builders should be able to give you examples of their work and it’s a good idea to ask for some contact details for past customers too.  Call a couple of them and politely asking whether they would be willing to let you see the finished work.  Happy customers will usually be more than willing to show off their new build and give you valuable insight into what it was like to have builders in their home.

Do you operate from a fixed address?

If a builder doesn't have a registered address this should ring alarm bells. Individual tradesmen should be able to provide you with a home address. A building company would usually have a business premises/yard to store materials and equipment.

Can you give me trade references?

Asking for trade references from suppliers is another way to verify the legitimacy of a builder. These will help prove the financial stability and management skills of the builder. 

Are you VAT registered?

It is good practice to look for a builder who is VAT registered. The VAT registration threshold for 2020/21 is £85,000. If a builder isn’t registered this is a reflection of the volume of work they are dealing with. Also, beware if a builder suggests you pay cash to avoid VAT!

Do you provide written estimates and quotes?

We would recommend you get at least three quotes from builders. If you already have plans drawn, give copies to the potential builders to help them quote more accurately. A quote should always be provided in writing and be properly calculated - broken down to include all aspects of the job they are quoting for. Never accept a verbal quote.  When you receive your quote, double check it includes everything you asked for, a date of completion, security and safety on site, catering and toilet arrangements, how rubbish will be disposed of, water and power supplies, working hours. 

When you get to the stage of hiring your builder, if yours is a large project, we would recommend you ask for a written contract to be provided before work starts. This could help avoid any possible misunderstandings later on. The FMB has a plain English contract template here which you could ask your builder to use.

When can you start my project?

It may not always be the case but if builders can start straight away it could suggest they aren’t very busy. It could be a genuine reason such as a cancellation or it could be that they aren’t getting recommendations from previous customers. (Which is how good builders will tell you they get most of their work.)  You should however be realistic about your ideal start date and will need to discuss this with your builder.  A reputable builder is likely to have a busy order book and pushing for an early start date may not be feasible.  If yours is a larger job, a project plan including a timetable of works will help you keep track of timings.

How many jobs are you running now?

This will depend on the size of the team.  If the business is large enough they may be running two or three sites at once. You would normally expect them to have one or two foremen overseeing the day to day running of the projects to make sure work stays on schedule as far as possible and is up to standard.

A small builder who prefers to run one project at a time is likely to have a hands-on approach and be concentrating on your project alone.  However, beware of small builders who take on too much work as you may find time spent on your project or the quality of your build suffers.  Be wary of using casual labour too as this could be more detrimental than beneficial to your project as you have no measure of their standard of work beforehand.

Do you offer a guarantee for your work?

Not many builders offer more than a verbal guarantee and if they do it would only be valid for as long as they remain trading.  The Citizens Advice website has more useful information about employing builders and contracts here.

Paying the builder

Once you have chosen your builder make sure you agree a schedule of payments before work starts. Have this put in writing or included in the contract if you are using one.  It is not unusual to be asked for a stage payment upfront, especially on larger extension projects.  Before you make the final payment, double check that all work is complete, the site has been left tidy and that you have received your completion certificate from building control.  It is not unusual to retain a small amount (2.5% of the contract value) for a 3-6 month period to allow for any snagging.  Once any snagging is complete you should make this payment. 

How we can help

If you’d like to discuss your project in more detail, please get in touch. You may also find our homeowner webinar here useful.  It includes:

  • an explanation of the separate planning and building control application processes
  • what types of projects need an application
  • a presentation by a Trading Standards Officer on employing builders.