Five tips for finding a good builderWe’ve all heard horror stories, seen the TV shows and used the word ‘cowboy’ next to the word ‘builder.’ So, we know it’s an issue, and when it goes wrong it’s messy, stressful and expensive. The good news is that most builders aren’t cowboys. It’s a difficult job and most builders want to do quality work and for you to be happy. Most do a good job of balancing the complexities and cost of building with managing the customer relationship through what can sometimes be a fairly stressful process. Here are five tips for finding a good builder and someone who you feel you can get along with, which is just as important. You can also get the builder’s perspective here.
1) RecommendationsBy far the best way of finding a builder is through a recommendation from a trusted source. I don’t necessarily consider Check-a-Trade or Facebook trusted sources, though they are good places to start a long-list. A trusted source is a neighbour, friend or friend of a friend. Or a construction professional like a structural engineer, surveyor or an architect like me. I have an approved list of builders that I have worked with regularly over several years and I generally only work with these companies.
2. Previous CustomersA good builder will happily put you in touch with one or two past customers, so that you can see the work for yourself. Visit at least one recently completed project and ask the customer: • Was the final cost close to what you expected it to be? • Was the work completed in the timeframe you expected? • Did they show up regularly throughout the period? • Did they finish the works or was it hard to get them back to complete the last 10 percent? You may not know exactly what you’re looking at, but does the finish product look of a good quality? I instinctively look at details like plastering and how window and doors are positioned and fit within the openings. It’s hard to distil 25 years of experience here, but in short: is it neat, tidy and smooth?
3. Site InspectionsBelieve me when I say this is a no brainer! Arrange for a construction professional to visit the job three or four times during the project. Having an independent professional with years of experience observing builders and building work, gives you a expert view on whether things are in order is invaluable. Why wouldn’t you get that assurance? Agree with them when is best to visit before work starts, get the dates in the diary and inform the builder. Allocate £500 on top of your construction budget for this.
4. Quotes and costsThere’s a difference between a rough estimate and a written quote. A quote should be a detailed breakdown of what’s included and takes a builder some time to produce. Every builder has different approaches to pricing, so when you’re comparing quotes, always check what’s included. The general rule is don’t pick the cheapest, although that doesn’t necessarily apply from a trusted source. Most of my projects are priced by three or four of our trusted builders. In general, if a quote is much lower than the other you want to make sure they have allowed for everything.
5. ContractsHaving some kind of contract with your builder is crucial. It can be an exchange of letters/emails or a formal contract. At the very least, make sure you have a quote in writing that details:
(a) what’s included in the works
(b) how long it will take
(c) how much it will cost, including payment termsHere’s my list of what to agree in a contract:
- dates for starting and – importantly – finishing the work. You will need to be flexible, small building projects rarely run to time and I advise a month’s contingency.
- payment terms – agree at the outset and don’t move on them. On larger projects payments are often four-weekly. On a smaller job I think every two weeks works well. You don’t want to be paying too much up front. You need a carrot at the end, and you need to protect yourself from builders going bust. It happens. Working with small, trusted builders paying 10 per cent upfront is fine. Then either divide the contact sum up equally over the length of the build and pay bi-weekly, or agree amounts based on works done and at key stages.
- Costed items: you don’t need every last screw, but the headlines items like foundations, walls, roof etc. Compare your quotes – they won’t all include the same items.
- Documents: for example, have the drawings, specification and engineers’ calculations been priced in? You should also include planning and building regulations consent certificates.