If you want to find a builder for your project, you will not only need to assess whether they are good, but also if they are the right fit for your project. If you’re building an extension, updating your kitchen or landscaping your garden, there is no point in getting in a huge building firm that specialises in self build.
On the flipside, if your plans are ambitious then you’ll want to look further than a local bricklayer who has only built a few extensions.
Here we explain everything you need to know to find a builder and how to assess if they are the right builder for your project.
1. Find a Builder Working Locally
Finding a builder locally can have huge benefits when it comes to your build. Time on site, their knowledge of local planning, builders’ merchants and other local trades are all invaluable nuggets of knowledge that you’ll welcome on site.
(MORE: Planning Permission)
There’s no harm in taking a walk around where you live or going on a little drive locally to spot any works going on in your area. It’ll give you an idea of the builders who are active close by.
You don’t necessarily have to like the style of work they are currently carrying out – after all, many people opt for ordinary extensions and new homes – but a builder can only produce what’s on the plans in front of them.
If you see a board, it’s a sign that at the very least this is a builder proud of their job and looking for more.
2. Find a Builder Other Tradesmen Recommend
Most tradesmen get used to seeing the same familiar names around the sites they are working on and often have preferences for who they like to work with — and who they see as a good source of work.
If you can engage with one of them, you can open up a whole network of local, reliable names.
3. Find a Local Builder Through a Friend
It’s a cliche we hear mentioned whenever we’re on the look out for a trades person but asking friends and family if they’d recommend anyone is always a good place to start.
A lot of trades rely on word of mouth and if you can find a builder through someone you trust and whose work you can go and visit, then you can make a decision about whether they’ll do a good job.
4. Always Talk to Previous Customers
Once you’ve found a builder you like, don’t be afraid to ask them for a list of previous customers; they should be happy to provide details if they’re confident they’ve done a successful job. This will give you an ideal opportunity to really find out what they’re like and see examples of their work first-hand.
Meeting previous customers is a great way of finding out not just about the quality of a builder’s work but also other things that are important:
5. Find a Builder Online
Bear in mind that while these sites provide a source of builders’ names who are more likely to be reliable, in no way should it be seen to replace the usual checks that should always be carried out.
A good place to starting looking online to find a builder is on sites like the Federation of Master Builders.
They have a search tool where you can find specific trades in your area and look at their references. All FMB members are vetted and independently inspected, and are checked to ensure that they have the correct insurances in place.
If you’ve found a few contacts, take a look at their website to find out what work they cover and to see if you can look at examples of their previous work.
6. Ask your Designer to Help You Find a Builder
Many local designers will have experience of dozens of projects similar to yours, in your area. Depending on the extent of your arrangement with your designer, they may be able to help you find a good builder.
Even if your designer is offering no more than a fixed price design service, they remain one of your few early contacts who will have experience of the local building scene and are still worth tapping up for a few names.
You cannot benefit from zero rating for VAT on a new build, or most of the VAT concessions on renovation work if the builder you hire is not VAT registered.
7. Ask the Building Inspectors
Local authority building inspectors are a much under-utilised resource for helping local people taking on building projects.
Although some inspectors are unwilling to do anything off the record, the majority now are progressive enough to help out self-builders and renovators looking for builders by giving hints, nods and winks as to local builders they have known well for many years.
Understand that these aren’t recommendations as much as informal guidance and no building inspector would ever guarantee a trouble-free project.
8. Beware of ‘Too Good to Be True’ Quotes
A high price is not necessarily a sign of quality in a building firm but, more than that, it is important to resist the obvious temptations of a low price. If one building contractor comes back with a quote for your work which is significantly lower than the other tender prices, you need to be suspicious.
It is far better to have an accurate and realistic quote in the first place and it is your responsibility to make sure of this.
It may just be that the other quotes are excessively high and the one firm is simply good value. But, more than likely the one firm is putting in a speculative bid to try and get the work — and aims to make more profit on the project by, for instance, cutting corners or introducing a range of extra charges as work progresses.
This can lead to disputes further down the line — when it is much more difficult to do anything about it. Either that or, as they begin to find the work hopelessly unprofitable and end up making a loss on it, they simply pack up and walk off to more lucrative pastures.
How to Assess a Builder's Suitability
Once you have a list of recommended builders, it is time to look at exactly what they offer. There are a few questions you should be asking.
Firstly, where are they based, and what jobs do they already have on the go? Whether a trade is local and what they’re already committed to will tell you a lot about whether it’s realistic for them to deliver what they promise.
Equally important are matters of qualification and paperwork.
- Are you hiring someone who will be able to sign off on gas and electrics?
- Have they got the right insurance and warranties in place?
- If they’re a member of a trade organisation, what does that actually mean? Does it commit them to a higher standard of work, or have they simply paid for the right to display a fancy logo on their van?
Another good indication that someone is worth hiring is time served — look for experienced workers where possible.
Lastly, find out whether your prospective team is employed directly or self-employed subbies. Neither of these situations is particularly preferable, per se, but knowing will give you a clearer idea of what you’re paying for.
If your job is a significant undertaking, seek your builders’ advice as soon as you have the initial drawings through. Get them in early, and they may provide crucial advice that will save you time and money. They may have built something similar previously, affording you the opportunity to see the finished job elsewhere — almost like try before you buy! You may love what they’ve done, but you may also see some areas that you want to tweak.
Another good way to size up potential builders is to speak to people who are having work done by them while they’re not there. This will let you ask off the record what they are like to have in the house:
- Are they polite?
- What’s their communication like?
The answers to these questions are nearly as important as the quality of their finished work.
Project management comes with a lot of responsibilities and takes up a lot of time. These responsibilities vary depending on the job, but broadly include the following:
- Making sure the necessary trades are on the job at the correct time
- Liaising with trades to make sure all the materials they need arrive on time
- Attending regular meetings with the client to keep them updated
- Arranging impromptu meetings to allow the client to make important decisions that arise as the build progresses
- Arranging and running meetings with building inspectors
- Keeping on top of any extra works, including organising trades, sourcing materials and keeping the client in the loop
- Liaising with the architect and structural engineer on any amendments to their work that become necessary, and organising these works moving forward.
If a job is run well, it will generally run on time and on budget and be relatively stress-free.
After considering all this, you might find that your head is spinning. In the end though, there is something to be said for your gut feeling. It’s impossible to weigh every single little thing up, so if you have a good feeling about one particular builder or contractor, and the price is right, then go with it.
How to Evaluate a Builder's Estimate
Once you get your estimates back from potential builders, you need to ask the following questions in relation to each:
- How detailed is it?
- Is it broken down?
- Is there a split between materials and labour?
- Is client relationship management (CRM) included? This is the job of keeping everyone in the loop — most importantly you!
- Is a Health & Safety report included in the price?
- Does it cover everything you have asked for?
- Are there any elements which stand out to you?
- Is it clear whether VAT is included?
- Is there a project management fee included, or will you be running the job for yourself?
- How many site meetings are planned to keep everything communicated and up to date?
- Has waste been properly accounted for?
- Are skips and muck away lorries included?
- Has allowance been made for building inspectors’ fees?
- If the estimate is for next year, have year-on-year price increases been taken into account, especially when it comes to materials?
Found a Builder? Here are 5 Ways to Keep Them Happy
A contract that details the extent of the work to be carried out in return for the agreed price – in addition to recording any extras as yet unagreed – is a useful point of reference in the event of any dispute.
It will protect you in the event of anything going wrong, and documents everything to provide both parties with peace of mind. JCT offers the most popular jargon-free contracts.
Don’t be a cowboy client — pay promptly at each stage. You will also need to agree on payment terms – i.e whether you will be making stage payments, weekly payments, etc – and this will also be detailed in your contract.
Paying for work not yet carried out is a recipe for disaster and any request by a builder for labour payments upfront might be a sign he’s in financial trouble. However, you should be willing to fund large material items yourself upfront — but make sure they are bought in your name.
The best guarantee of success is to not change your plans.
Keep all avenues of communication open throughout the build, whether that be face-to-face, email, phone call or text, or all of the above. This is key to keeping everything transparent and to ensure both sides remain happy.
A good relationship will ensure the job runs smoothly, that meetings progress well, work is kept up at a good pace and any unforeseens are dealt with in the most professional manner.
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