You have the designs in place. Now you need to find a builder who can turn your plans into reality. But where do you start?
It doesn’t matter what size project you’re taking on – whether it’s a kitchen refurbishment, a large extension and remodelling scheme, or a self-build project – you will be investing a lot of money into it, and will therefore want to find a builder you can trust with your money and your home.
Finding the right builder is an important choice and can make or break your project. Here’s how best to start your search (and how to keep a good builder once you’ve found them).
Find a Builder Through a Friend
Recommendations go a long way. 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.
A good place to find a builder is online 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.
Checkatrade.com and the Guild of Master Craftsmen are also good places to find a builder where you live. They offer stringent checks, which should give you more reassurance.
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.
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.
Ask your Designer to Help
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 in the search for 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.
Find a Builder Working on Local Projects
One of the best ways to find a builder who’s currently active near you is to find local building work that’s going on. Check out builder’s boards – they remain the most rudimentary and most effective form of advertisement for them.
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.
Always Talk to Previous Customers
This is a great way of finding out not just about the quality of a builder’s work but also other things that are important:
- do the builders turn up on time?
- are they polite?
- do you have regular meetings with the site manager/boss?
- what are their labourers and trades like?
- do they clear up after themselves and keep the site tidy?
- was the project was brought in on budget and on time?
- were there any extras or hidden costs?
Once you’ve found a builder you like, 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.
Check VAT Registration
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
Ask the 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.
Find a Builder other Tradesmen recommend
Tap into the local tradesman community and you’ll quickly be able to find a builder who’s name commands local respect (and the ones with a less than golden reputation).
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.
Low Priced Quotes: Beware
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 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.
5 Ways to Keep The Builder You’ve Found
1. Use a Contract
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.
2. Pay on Time
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.
3. Never Pay Upfront
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.
4. Don’t Change Your Mind
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.
MORE: Want to stay on side with your builders? Here are five things you should never say