10 tips to avoid cowboy builders
Make sure your tradespeople are Indians, not cowboys.
"When I asked you to build me a wall I was rather hoping that instead of just dumping the bricks in a pile you might have found time to cement them together. You know, one on top of another, in the traditional fashion." Basil Fawlty
Which? recently conducted a survey finding that perhaps 2.5m people have had a dispute with their builder or decorator in the past three years. Which? doesn't say how many people it surveyed so, if you read my recent article The dangers of surveys, you should know to take the figure with a pinch of salt. However, every industry has its cowboys and clearly the building trade is an industry.
Up near where my family lives there is a firm of Asian builders with the slogan on their vans: "You've had the cowboys, now try the Indians." So here are 10 tips on how to get the Indians, not the cowboys:
1) Get several quotes
Always get several competitive quotations from contractors, suggests Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward. Which? says: "Get a signed contract that fully sets out the costs, the work to be completed and start/completion dates."
2) Be clear about what you’re paying for
Which? suggests you: "Reach clear agreement with the builder as to what work they will and won't be doing and set a price for as much of the work as possible. Where you can't set a fixed price for the whole job, try to limit the circumstances in which the price can be increased and get agreement from the builder that, if extra work is necessary, they will let you know about it and agree a price with you before starting."
3) Sign a contract
For larger projects, Which? recommends: "Consider using a professionally drawn-up contract. There are a number of standard contracts that you can buy, for example from the Joint Contracts Tribunal."
4) Choose a busy tradesperson
Rated People writes: "Cold-calling builders aren't real builders. Good and reputable builders are always busy builders, so they don't have time to come asking you for work in this way."
5) Assess the appearance of your tradesperson
"Always check his appearance," Rated People recommends. "His van will probably be unmarked and it's more likely that he won't look smart and professional."
6) Be suspicious
Rated People continues: "He'll be really eager to quote quickly and cheaply without even looking at the area or job he's quoting on. He might say that he's doing you a favour or that he has spare materials left over from a previous job that he can use which will save you money. Don't listen to him as it will not ever save you money to employ a builder like this."
7) Check your tradesperson’s qualifications
"Check they're a member of a professional body," Which? recommends, and Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward concurs: "Always check that contractors are members of the relevant trade associations, e.g. anyone replacing a boiler needs to be ‘Gas Safe’ registered, otherwise you may have problems insuring your property."
Rated People has a different take on professional bodies: "There are government and private initiatives set up which work to reassure the consumer, like 'Trustmark', but if the builder you're working with isn't a member of a private federation then this doesn't mean they're disreputable nor does using an official member guarantee that you'll get a quality job done."
8) Get personal recommendations
"Don't despair though," the website continues. "There are lots of great builders out there and the most certain way you can find a good one is to go for a personal recommendation or ask to speak to their previous customers and see their work."
Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward says: "Never, ever accept a quote for a large project without first seeing examples of a contractor's work. Any competent tradesman should willingly give names and addresses of satisfied customers who, if genuinely satisfied, will show you the work and give a first-hand endorsement."
Which? adds: "Another great way to ensure that you avoid the cowboys is to get a recommendation either from friends, family or your architect (if you've employed one)."
9) Get an insurance-backed guarantee
"Ask contractors for an insurance-backed guarantee of the work," Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward recommends. Such an insurance usually protects you if there is shoddy work to fix and the business stops trading.
However, I'm not sure how many tradespeople will offer you that, even if they're very good. Furthermore, since other things can go wrong, such as a dispute you can't solve when the tradesperson stays in business, I suggest a better idea might be to pay using a credit card.
If you pay for a project costing £100 to £30,000 on a credit card (or even if you just pay a deposit of £100 on the card) you can get all the disputed money back from your card provider in the event that the work completed is unsatisfactory. Read more in Why you should borrow to buy furniture.
10) Pay on completion, not upfront
Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward writes: "It is imperative that you do not pay a contractor for any work or materials up front but only upon completion of the project, or in agreed stages, to ensure the quality meets your expectations."
Rated People says: "Dodgy builders will never commit to a specific schedule and will rarely sign anything or give you a receipt. They'll ask for payment in cash up front. Never ever agree to paying in full up front as a good builder will be able to cover the cost of their materials easily or with a small contribution towards the full amount. Make sure any payment you make is only 10% of the full amount."
Which? adds "Request a written schedule of when payments are to be made." It adds: "Don't go for the cheaper option of paying in cash, rather than a properly invoiced job that may include VAT."