We have all heard horror stories about cowboy builders and the statistics do make for some frightening reading. But improving your home doesn’t have to turn you into the victim of a conniving contractor. There are measures you can take to ensure you don’t fall prey to the unscrupulous.
1. Ask for written quotes from at least 3 reputable companies with reputations to maintain. Get referrals from family and friends or your architect wherever possible. Seek recommendations and references, and ask to see examples of their recent work. Make sure that the work referred to is of a similar type as the work you want doing. For instance a builder who specialises in small extensions may not be able to handle a loft conversion. Don’t choose the first trader who knocks at your door! Avoid cold callers.
2. Make sure that you get all estimates in writing along with an outline of what works are to be done, start and completion dates, security and safety, waste disposal and hours of working.
3. It’s common sense, but make sure you get everything in writing, and avoid builders who insist that a written contract is not necessary – it is vital. A contract can prevent misunderstandings and establish the cost and duration of a project. Contracts can also provide you with peace of mind and ammunition if the builder doesn’t complete the job according to your specifications.
4. Establish that the company has permanent base, and be wary of companies that only provide a phone number. Increasingly companies are using freephone numbers, but these give no indication of where the company might be based, and could be linked to a mobile phone. Find out how long the business has been in operation.
5. Some builders will want to be paid ‘cash in hand’ to avoid payment of taxes. If they are prepared to act dishonestly in that respect, can they be trusted to deliver a proper service? In addition, if there are no paper records, you may not be able to prove that payments have been made in case things go wrong. An invoice proves a relationship and can be helpful if a dispute arises.
Ask for details of the required payments. For all but small jobs, the builder may ask for payments at specific stages of the work. The payments should reflect the amount of work already completed.
6. Once the job’s under way, monitor the builder’s progress. If you encounter any problems it is essential not to panic or let the builder carry on regardless. Communicate with your builder immediately if you are unhappy with the work as most things can be rectified before completion. But remember to talk to the person in charge – telling subcontractors that you are unhappy with work or that you want to change your mind about something will only add confusion.