Basic research to ensure you select the best tradesmen for your project
Choosing a builder for a project can be somewhat daunting; horror stories abound of ‘cowboys’ doing a terrible job and vanishing with people’s money sometimes without even finishing the work. The truth is there are plenty of both good and bad builders about just as there are good and bad contractors and companies in most business groupings; some basic questions asked of a builder – or builders – you’re thinking of using will pay dividends.
Don’t feel awkward asking
Under no circumstances should you feel uncomfortable asking builders certain questions. You’re likely making a big investment in work that should hopefully be done right first time and last for many years, so you’re perfectly entitled to ask certain key questions.
Your prospective builder won’t mind in the least if they’re ‘above board’ and value their reputation. They’re used to answering questions from thorough customers, and indeed should welcome them as a chance to display their suitability for your project.
If you have no idea who to first approach, this builder reviews resource for contractors all over the country is a good starting point.
What to ask?
- How long have you been operating?
It may be many years and you may be aware of this is if you’ve seen their vehicles around with something like ‘established since 1987’ or similar sign written on them. If they’re a younger outfit, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker as the people concerned may have many years’ experience working with other building companies.
- Do you provide written estimates or quotations?
Important to clarify which; an estimate is just that – a non-specific value open to change either before work starts or during the course of it. A quotation is a more specific price that they’ll stick to or make clear what elements, if any, are subject to change and under what circumstances.
- Will you provide a full quotation in writing?
Very important of course; you need to know exactly what is covered and the costs itemised including materials. Also, ask them to include any waste removal costs such as skip hire.
- Are you fully insured?
Public liability insurance is a basic minimum, and ensure they’re properly insured and carry the required permits for certain activities such as, say, specific waste removal activities.
- Can you provide references for work completed for other customers?
Builders rely heavily on word of mouth to gain business, so if they’re a reputable outfit they should have a good selection of references to show you and maybe photos of completed projects. It’s even better if they willingly provide contact details so you can check with previous customers directly.
- Are you a member of a trade body?
The two key building trade organisations to look for are the FMB (Federation of Master Builders) and the NHBC (National House Building Council).
- Can you provide a full schedule and time span for my project?
It’s important to have an accurate idea of the project’s duration and what activities are taking place at certain times. Your neighbours may also wish to know what’s happening and when, and it should be made clear what exclusions there may be.
For example, inclement weather may make a difference to certain activities so this should be made clear on the written schedule. Do they offer some type of compensation or reduction in overall price if deadlines are missed?
- What are your payment terms?
Be very wary if they insist on all or even a major proportion of the total costs up front. Most reputable builders will accept payment for labour in arrears with perhaps settlement of materials costs as they are delivered.
The most common payment method is an agreed schedule of staged payments throughout the project with the final instalment due only when the work is complete and you’re fully satisfied with the result.
- Will you minimise disruption to me and my neighbours?
Builders should be used to cooperating with their customers and people in neighbouring households in terms of keeping lines of communication open and maintaining good relations.
They know you have to still get on with the neighbours long after they’ve finished the work and gone, so careful parking of their vehicles and trying to keep noise levels down are basics for experienced builders.
- What is your address and contact details?
A builder using just a mobile and not freely giving out their address should sound alarm bells. You’ll be more reassured if your proposed builder has a landline along with a mobile number and a credible business address.
It’s common to seek a personal recommendation when looking for a builder, but beware of the ‘friend of a friend’ or ‘a man I met in the pub knows someone’ type of endorsement. Instead seek a recommendation from someone who preferably has first hand experience of the builder concerned.
Secondly, secure the services of a thoroughly competent architect. They’ll draw up detailed plans that a builder can follow easily to provide an accurate quotation for you, and may be able to project manage the work should you wish for this type of help.