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How to hire guide: builders

The building trade has a bad reputation thanks to a minority of disreputable firms. Here’s our guide to finding and hiring the best builder, and getting the relationship off to a good start.

Finding a good builder

When choosing a builder, a little research goes a long a way. Instead of asking friends and family for recommendations, the best approach may be to find people in your area who have had a building job undertaken that’s similar to yours. Check to see if their house is from the same period and the project was of a similar size. They will be best placed to tell you about any problems they experienced and any solutions they found. 

Reading through the reviews for local builders on Which? Trusted Traders, in combination with the specialities they have listed (such as extensions, loft conversions or plastering), should help you create a shortlist. 

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is a well-regarded building industry association. Which Trusted Traders undergo a rigorous assessment in order to join the scheme, but an FMB membership could provide extra reassurance that you’re hiring a fair and trustworthy firm.

Membership of a professional body alone doesn’t guarantee a good builder. Many years of experience could be more valuable than association membership – use careful judgement when reading reviews.

Getting quotes from builders

You should contact at least three builders, whatever the size or nature of the job. It is unlikely that builders will give you an accurate estimate or quote for anything on the telephone.

Organise site visits to your property. A good builder will be able to give you advice and explain your options. They should collect enough information to issue a quote.

If you already have plans or drawings which were submitted for planning permission, supply copies to prospective builders to help them generate accurate quotes.

Never agree to any work on the spot. The aim of the visits should be to get three comparable quotes in writing and to meet the people who’ll be spending days, weeks or even months in your home. A good builder never pressures prospective customers into a sale.

Make sure that quotes include the cost of all materials, scaffolding, waste disposal, ‘making good’ and so on. Alarm bells should sound if any building contractor offers cash or VAT-free deals.

Remember that the cheapest quote is not necessarily the best. Consider the quality of the survey and, if necessary, revisit online reviews or customer references for a final check. The value of your ‘gut feeling’ should not be underestimated either. As the old adage goes: ‘if it seems too good to be true…’.

Hiring a builder

The first thing to do is check whether your first choice builder is available to undertake the work according to your deadline.

Next, you should insist on seeing evidence of public liability insurance which covers the work to be carried out on your property. You should also ensure that work is covered by an insurance-backed warranty. A good builder won’t mind giving you copies of the paperwork.

Builders should also supply a written contract for larger jobs. The FMB has a Plain English template contract which you could ask your builder to use, or check against anything they supply.

Consider:

  • What happens in the event of unforeseen changes?
  • Are there penalties if the work is late?
  • Would prolonged adverse weather affect the job?
  • What materials will be used and who will supply these?
  • Will outsourced labour be used?
  • What happens in the event of any work not meeting a satisfactory standard?

It sounds trivial, but sorting out the likes of toilet arrangements, skip location, working hours and similar in advance could prevent disputes later.

Make sure you also arrange regular meetings on site for progress updates.

Paying a builder

You should agree a schedule for payments in advance of work starting. This should appear in writing within the contract.

It’s not unusual to be asked for an instalment upfront, especially for larger jobs such as garage conversions or extensions. If the job consists of several phases, you could reasonably be asked to pay for each stage as it’s completed.

On completion, dig out the contract:

  • Is everything complete?
  • Are you happy with the work?
  • Has the site been tidied up?
  • Have all relevant certificates and other paperwork been supplied?

The FMB says it’s reasonable ‘to retain 2.5% of the contract value for a three to six-month snagging period.’ Once the builder has completed any snagging works, you should pay the final instalment.

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